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Issue #1728      April 27, 2016

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Another coup in “Washington’s backyard”

Australia’s ABC news soberly reported the other night that the Brazilian parliament had voted to impeach the President for misusing public funds, and mentioned in passing that the country was in the grip of a corruption crisis. Viewers were effectively invited to draw the conclusion “a bunch of swarthy foreigners had been caught indulging in their typical corrupt practices.”

That brief report however did not give the whole picture, and hence did not give the true picture either. The current President of Brazil, Dilma Roussef, is from the Workers’ Party (PT). She is no Marxist-Leninist, but is nonetheless too left-wing to suit the Brazilian oligarchs or their friends in Washington. She is in her second term, but despite her popular support has had to struggle against the machinations of the right-wing opposition.

The latter’s political parties are presently enmeshed in a nationwide graft scandal called “Operation Car Wash” by investigators. The leader of the opposition party and house speaker, Eduardo Cunha, is not only being investigated for his role in the scheme but he was also named in the massive leak of documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca which disclosed enormous tax avoidance manoeuvres by politicians in numerous countries. Cunha was exposed as having secreted away millions in a Swiss bank account as well as other offshore tax havens.

Desperate to get out from under “the cloud of scandal”, the opposition parties apparently decided that their best defence was to attack, taking full advantage of their control of the monopoly-owned mass media. In scenes that have become familiar from Moldova to Ukraine to Venezuela, well-organised (and well-publicised) street demonstrations erupted in Brazil’s capital protesting against “corruption” by the Workers’ Party and the President.

The US government has been unashamedly organising the overthrow of elected governments in Latin America at least since the 1950s. Then it was the US-owned United Fruit Company that demanded the ousting of the government of Guatemala. Since then, US governments and corporations have been implicated in numerous coups and other murderous events, including (amongst many others) the arming and training of the “Contras” in Nicaragua, the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and of course the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile.

In the 21st century alone the US has backed right-wing coups in Paraguay in 2012, Haiti in 2011 and 2004, Honduras in 2009, and Venezuela in 2002. In fact, the US government and its intelligence agencies have had to work very hard to combat the constant pressure from the poor and the landless across South and Central America to improve their living and working conditions and to take control of their institutions and governments. To the dismay of US governments, left-wing administrations have frequently been elected into office in the region, necessitating intervention by Washington involving bribery, corrupt political manipulation, assassinations, coups or outright military invasion.

Brazil has long been a political battleground in this continuing struggle. For many decades the country was dominated by right-wing political parties backed by Brazil’s wealthiest families and individuals. In a syndrome Australians will readily recognise, those same wealthy groups also run the nation’s major media outlets, allowing them to influence public opinion at will.

In 1964, with US support, the armed forces overthrew the government of President João Goulart, and instituted 21 years of military rule. Even when democracy was restored, Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party lost three elections before he was able to overcome the wealth and power of the Right (and its control of the mass media) and become President by popular vote.

The current president Dilma Rousseff is a protégé of Lula. The country has been wracked for some time by a deep recession and inflation compounded by a health crisis caused by the Zika virus in the northeast. In a scenario reminiscent of the experience of the Whitlam Labor government in Australia, the right-wing controlled media of course conveniently tries to blame all this on President Roussef or at least blame her and PT for not doing enough to fix the crisis.

Despite the fact that Rousseff has not been accused of any crime – which Brazil’s constitution requires, for a motion to impeach to be legally enacted – her right-wing opponents in congress voted in overwhelming numbers (367 of the 513) to impeach her!

“This is an attempt to reverse the results of the 2014 presidential election by unconstitutional and illegal means,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the US Centre for Economic and Policy Research. “It is a coup being carried out by the legislature, parts of the judiciary, and perhaps equally importantly, the vast majority of the media. The president has not been linked to any corruption nor convicted of any actual crime.” In fact, Rousseff has never even been accused of corruption and is not implicated at all in “Operation Car Wash”.

In Brazil the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) also described the impeachment vote as a coup d’etat, saying, “Unlike President Dilma, the politicians calling for her dismissal are corrupt and are as dirty as they come.”

Former president Lula da Silva says: “It is a coup because while the Brazilin Constitution allows for an impeachment, it is necessary for the person to have committed what we call high crimes and misdemeanours. And President Dilma did not commit a high crime or a misdemeanour. Therefore, what is happening is an attempt by some to take power by disrespecting the popular vote.

“I believe that these people want to remove Dilma from office by disrespecting the law. Carrying out, the way I see it, a political coup. That’s what it is: a political coup.”

Glenn Greenwald writing in US journal The Intercept pointed to the role of Brazil’s “homogenised, oligarch-owned, anti-democracy media outlets” in instigating the coup, describing the manufactured media narrative as “crass propaganda designed to undermine a left-wing party.”

The support organisation “Friends of the Landless Workers Movement” points out that opposition leader Cunha and 37 of the 65 members of the commission responsible for investigating the impeachment request “are being investigated for corruption.”

“If they manage to depose the president,” writes Friends of MST, “in exchange they expect to see the charges against them for the fraud they have committed dropped.”

The anti democratic nature of the action being taken by the Right in Brazil is so blatantly obvious that even the normally conservative US labour organisation the AFL-CIO has joined the global critique. In a statement AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka actually expressed solidarity with the Workers’ Party of Brazil.

“We firmly support the democratic, pro-worker programs for social justice that have been pursued and administered with professionalism and success, lifting over 40 million people out of poverty,” Trumka said.

“The most representative labour organisations in Brazil have long supported democracy and the rule of law, while calling for political reforms to eliminate practices that have made corruption endemic there,” argued Trumka. “Many of those now leading the call for impeachment have long blocked such reform and profited from corruption.”

Someone else speaking out who was formerly seen as a mouthpiece for Washington is Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS). “There is no criminal accusation against the President,” he says. “Rather she has been accused of the poor administration of public resources in 2014. This is an accusation that is political in character, and that does not merit an impeachment process.”

Almagro also points out that the impeachment has drawn public criticism from 130 members of Brazil’s public prosecutor’s office as well as from the United Nations and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

The vote for impeachment in the Brazilian Congress was a raucous display of class bias, with rightwing politicians standing up one after another to loudly dedicate their votes to various family members and figures from Brazilian history. Tellingly, one even dedicated his vote to the general who led the anti-democratic coup in 1964 that ushered in decades of military dictatorship.

Like the unbridled rejoicing among right-wingers in Venezuela during the short-lived coup against Chávez, the glee displayed by right-wing Brazilian politicians reflected their delight at finally getting rid – they hoped – of a President elected by landless peasants, Indians, the poor and the supposedly powerless.

The impeachment plan has been shrewdly concocted. If Congress votes to impeach her (in breach of the Constitution), Rousseff must step aside for 180 days while the charges against her are investigated in committee. During this time, her vice president Michel Temer assumes power on an interim basis. Temer is a member of the opposition right-wing party, and has also been implicated in the “Operation Car Wash” graft scheme.

Within 180 days, a full plenary of the Brazilian senate must approve or reject the impeachment. If two-thirds of the senate approve, Dilma Rousseff will be ejected from office and Temer will be president until the next election in 2018. It is a variation of the removal of the Whitlam government in Australia and no doubt similarly originated in a Washington think tank.

These think tanks – with the monopoly mass media – have developed to a fine art the techniques of counter-revolutionary mass action. “Dilma has robbed the people with corruption and inflation. We must get rid of her,” the English Guardian quoted Raquel Rosas, a school teacher, as saying at an anti-government rally.

Commenting on the silence of the Obama administration (that staunch defender of democracy), Mark Weisbrot said it was most likely because the Obama administration “would like to get rid of the Workers’ Party government.”

You think?

Next article – Contrasting two systems – CPA Youth in Politics roundtable

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