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Brazilian Politics Begins Moving to a New Beat


For release October 12, 2002

Lula Lá - Brazilian politics begins moving to a new beat

* Will Lula remain being Lula in the advent of a likely second-round electoral victory?

* Complications for U.S.-Brazilian relations

* Complications for U.S.-Venezuela relations

* Complications for U.S.-Mexican-Brazilian relations

On his fourth try at the Brazilian presidency, Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva is poised to capture it in the second round of voting on October 27th. Although Lula's 46% share of the first round votes was just shy of the total predicted by previous polls, analysts in Brazil have been quick to point out that outgoing Fernando Henrique Cardoso faced a similar task when he was first elected in 1994. And now José Serra, the ruling coalition's candidate, must confront a Herculean task if he is to surpass his meager first round total of 23% and achieve victory in the second round. Not only must he now recast his original, remarkably negative campaign, which is likely to severely hurt him in a one-on-one contest against the charismatic Lula if left unchanged, but he will have to contend with the hostility of powerful pro-Lula Brazilian politicos such as the Bahian Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhães along with the fact that Ciro Gomes already has switched to supporting Lula and hopefully will bring with him his 4th place tally of nearly 12% of the presidential vote.

Speculation is rife that Lula, in order to politically survive, will wheel and deal and break Brazil's heart just as all of his predecessors have done. While some members of the financial community are apprehensive over the possibility that his expansionist policies will open the door to inflation and instability, many of his supporters fear that he will sell out to the vested interests, just as Cardoso had done. But it is much more likely that Lula will do both: he will moderate and conciliate but not turn his back on his entire spiritual, cultural, ideological and psychological heritage as a man of the left. Lula will likely stand fast, seeking a mixed economy, an FTAA that will hold the door open for Cuba's eventual adhesion, a warm abrazo for Castro and Chavez, a prideful independence from the U.S., and the creation of a mixed economy that doesn't automatically assume that private is superior to public and that an entirely open market economy is intrinsically superior to other possible forms.

Changing rules of the game

Lula's likely victory on October 27, and the toppling of the country's traditional power elite from the peaks of national political power, is a manifestation of a wider political phenomenon taking place in Brazilian political discourse, which has been accompanied by a series of law-and-order and judicial moves which would have been unthinkable in the recent past. While several political dynasties have emerged victorious in this election - most notably Antonio Carlos Magalhães (ACM), the Senator from Bahia who resigned his seat last year to avoid expulsion from Congress - others have either lost or suffered significant setbacks.

In the state of Alagoas, Fernando Collor (Brazil's former president, who resigned in disgrace in the face of proceedings to impeach him for corruption and malfeasance) was soundly defeated in the first round of his bid for the governorship. In the state of Maranhão, Roseana Sarney (Liberal Party), the daughter of the former president, resigned the governorship early in 2001 to seek the presidency, but had to content herself with a Senate seat after a March raid by federal police discovered an undeclared 1.34 million reals in 50 real notes in her campaign offices. Sarney's appointed successor for governor, José Reinaldo Tavares, managed to barely make it into the second round contest after the revelation, just days before the vote, that one of his chief advisors had been arrested while traveling in a small plane with an unexplained 371,000 reals bundled into packages marked for specific polling districts.

While such episodes have not been conclusively proven as bona fide attempts to buy votes, in the state of Acre a court order mandated that banks record the identity of any individual withdrawing more than 10,000 reals during the week before the vote. Perhaps the most remarkable electoral reversal took place in the Federal District, where sitting governor Joaquim Roriz went from a commanding lead and a forecasted first round victory to capturing just 2% more of the vote than the Worker's Party candidate. At the root of Roriz's campaign implosion were a series of tapes that graphically captured the abundant corruption swirling around the governor's office. While the tapes have not been publicly broadcast because of a gag order obtained by Roriz, the governor's running battle with the press on the issue has likely torpedoed his chances for reelection.

New political reality

The prospect of a new political era, one marked by a great yearning for change from past traditional practices of cronyism politics, the swapping of government offices and arrant favoritism in contract letting, is not causing the panic it would have brought about only slightly more than a decade ago, when Lula first ran for office. At issue is not the core of the best of contemporary Brazilian public policy - fiscal responsibility, development of export markets, alleviation of poverty and inequity - but the tainted political practices that usually won the day over sound public policy and civic rectitude. The most telling indication of this new, stable reality in Brazilian politics came over the O Globo national TV network, during its election night coverage of the Lula victory. A succession of past and current presidents and officials of the powerful São Paulo Industrial federation FIESP were paraded before the cameras to offer their view on the election. While they all expressed a desire to see Serra win, they pointed out that it was only because they felt the Pernambucan was the best prepared to lead the country. The then very real prospect of a first round victory for Lula did not strike fear in them. One past president went so far as to express his personal admiration for the Worker's Party candidate, both as a decent human being and as an exceptionally able negotiator.

Given the almost non-existent nature of party loyalty in the Brazilian congress, it is this last mentioned quality which may prove to be the most important factor for Lula in building a majority coalition in the legislature. Despite the concerns by the international press over Lula's lack of a clear legislative majority in either house of Congress, such analyses significantly overestimate the strength of party loyalty in both the upper and lower chambers. Indeed, the strongest sense of party discipline in contemporary Brazil is found within Lula's Worker's Party (PT), with other parties' ties bearing a greater resemblance to political cliques such as the one surrounding the dean of the Liberal Party (PL), rather than fully institutionalized political movements.

The most important characteristic of a Brazilian president in this era could be his ability to negotiate and to achieve consensus, characteristics which some observers of national politics do not naturally attribute to José Serra. Indeed, Lula's choice of a running mate is suggestive of a desire to actively seek consensus; José Alcancar, his selection, is president of the conservative National Liberal party. Perhaps even more important are the noises coming from the Lula camp that they do not wish to wait for their candidate's investiture before they attempt to wield influence. Rather, they intend to use the transition period, and the office facilities that will be graciously provided by the current administration, as a base from which to encourage Congress to address and enact a number of Cardoso initiatives, which are currently stalled in Congress and which Lula would like to see made law before assuming office.

As Marcos Coimbra, head of the polling company Vox Populi, told the publication Correia Braziliense, there has been a fundamental shift in the attitude Brazilians have towards their politicians. They are no longer looking for people with grand schemes and a slick image. Instead, people are looking for a candidate who is honest, who is serious and who is going to be conscientious about addressing the nation's problems one by one and then be held accountable. Lula's political resurgence is a natural reflection of this desire as well as a rejection of some of the more cynical movements and the questionable personalities known for the kind of political deal-making so in evidence during the Cardoso administration. The one aspect of Lula's campaign which has not been fully transmitted to the outside world is the seriousness with which he addresses his country's challenges. After 12 years of campaigning for presidential office, Lula has an unparalleled appreciation of the problems afflicting Brazil, an understanding which appears to be matched by his willingness to listen to others and seek out the expertise needed to adhere to the national motto, 'order and progress.'

Brazil likely to replace Mexico as regional interlocutor

A major concern for foreign onlookers has been the effect that Lula's victory may have on some of the major hemispheric issues of the day. Brazil almost unquestionably will play an increasingly important role in inter-hemispheric affairs as Mexico becomes increasingly "NAFTA-ized" and more inclined to relate to Washington's agenda than that of the rest of Latin America. The sad decline of Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castañeda as a credible figure, whose political positions were once characterized by dignity and ethics, and whose views before joining the Fox presidency, had to be noted. Once admired as an inventive and innovative thinker who was the object of attempts to marginalize him during the Reagan-Bush administrations, his appalling recent conduct has robbed him of his respectability, with his fall creating a foreign policy vacuum that Brazil will be quick to fill. The sad fact is that, rather than being a strong interlocutor representing Latin American interests and sensibilities to the U.S., Castañeda has become little more than a booster for U.S. regional interests, in fact, he has become Mexico's Iago. He has authored a series of intensely controversial initiatives, which were so appallingly disfunctional in their impact, and so un-Mexican in their nature, that some of his legion of critics say that the extraordinary sea change that he has undergone would have made him a candidate to hold a comparable office under the slavishly pro-U.S. ex-president Carlos Salinas, rather than in the Fox administration. Further investigation must be conducted in order to address questions arising over the strong rumors that Mexico, under Fox and Castañeda, may have authorized or was used as a pass-through for funds earmarked for the Toledo race for the Peruvian presidency, as well as to those Cuban human rights activists who accept foreign funds, and whether Fox, in contravention of Mexican electoral law, took funds from right wing Miami Cuban sources for his own race. This might help provide a lead to explain Castañeda's bizarre anti-Castro antics, which are at total variance to his recently stated views as an academic and pundit. Also of deep distress to his once admirers, is why Castañeda at first charged the highly regarded former Mexican ambassador to Havana, Ricardo Pascoe, with financial irregularities, a charge that was quickly withdrawn, and then promptly fired him, producing a wave of revulsion against Castañeda within the foreign ministry, Mexico, and now throughout Latin America, including Lula, who is known to view him with contempt and as no friend of Brazil.

A Lula victory will allow Brazil, now the main advocate for the interests of the region, in alliance with some of the U.S's adversaries, to replace a discredited Fox government with a genuine Latin American thrust as to the region's main spokesperson. Lula has shared left-wing roots that will to some extent align him with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. He most certainly will extend a level of protection to the Venezuelan president, which will help buffer him from Washington's minatory gestures, thus making any overthrow of Chavez as a result of the general strike at the end of the month far less likely. In fact, any U.S. meddling in the affairs of leftist leaders will most certainly cause a Lula-led Brazil to take a strong stand in the Organization of American States and jeopardize the formation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, one of Washington's major hemispheric initiatives.

It is Lula's apparent conversion from dogmatic ideological rhetoric to a more consensual, consultative approach to public policy that has earned him the growing trust of the Brazilian public. Meanwhile, voters have ignored international interpretation that suggests drastic economic decline and political isolation if he is elected. It is Lula's ability to manage to keep to this new approach, which holds the key to eventually gaining the confidence of Brazilians of various ideological convictions, as well as the international community, thus challenging the doomsayer's false prophecy of default and economic collapse in South America's most important nation.

This analysis was prepared by Sean Burges, lead scholar for COHA in Brasilia, Brazil and Kerry Ezard, Research Associate at COHA in Washington.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "One of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policymakers."

Council on Hemispheric Affairs 1444 I St, NW, Suite 211, Washington DC 20005 Tel: (202) 216-9261 http//

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