Article from the Feb. 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

Social revolt in Brazil

Eyewitness accounts

Socialist Party members Joe Higgins TD and Michael O'Brien, along with Hannah Sell (Socialist Party England & Wales) were part of a 70-strong Committee for a Workers' International delegation that took part in the World Social Forum. Below they report on some of the events in which they participated.

WSF - Lula and Chavez speak

Michael O'Brien reports from Porto Alegre

OVER 155,000 participants gathered re-cently at the fifth World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The idea behind the Social Forum is that activists in different campaigns, non-governmental organisations and trade unions felt the need to create a space for discussion and debate about how global justice can be achieved.

The World Social Forum was once again deliberately timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum (WEF) which is taking place in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF brings together the world's main capitalist leaders with the heads of major banks and finance institutions.

Large protest movements

Latin America is an appropriate continent for an event like the WSF. In recent years this continent has been rocked by large protest movements on issues ranging from water privatisation (Bolivia and Uruguay), indigenous people's rights (Ecuador) to a collapse in the banking system (Argentina).

These events have contributed to the election of candidates and parties who have focused on fighting poverty, debt repayments and opposing the role of US imperialism in the region.

However all those who have been elected quickly come up against the limitations of what can be achieved within the economic straightjacket of capitalism. Rather than fulfilling their promises to the working class and poor, these leaders tend to succumb to the threats and pressures from international capitalism.

President Lucio Ignacio da Silva (Lula for short) of Brazil and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela were both visitors to this year's World Social Forum. When Lula last visited the World Social Forum two years ago, (some two months after his election as President), delegates openly wept for joy at having their first working class President with ostensibly impeccable trade union and socialist roots.

"Lula, your place is in Davos"

However the mood has since sobered up considerably. The dominant chants at the opening march of the WSF were "Lula, what treachery, the trade union reform is for the bosses" and "Lula get out of Brazil, your place is in Davos". Lula arrived at the Gigantinho indoor sports arena on the first day of the WSF. He addressed a largely bussed in crowd of his Workers` Party faithful about his campaign to end world hunger. This did not wash with the protesters outside the meeting who speak bitterly of a man who has failed to make a difference to their lives.

Indeed alongside President Uribe of Colombia, the US State Department regard Lula, despite his past, as a model pupil in the region.

Hugo Chavez also spoke at the Gigantinho arena. His impending visit to Porto Alegre was advertised by big loud posters and billboards as if he was a visiting rock star. Chavez, a former military man, who first came to notoriety in 1991 during a failed left wing coup against a civilian dictatorship, served time in jail, turned to politics and has since 1998 won two elections, several referendums and survived a number of lockouts by the employers.

The internationally acclaimed TG4 documentary, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was about the initially successful US backed right wing coup to overthrow Chavez that was halted when the urban poor spontaneously mobilised to throw out the coup instigators and restore Chavez to the presidency.

Chavez' Bolivarian revolution

Chavez reforms include developing a public health system with the help of 45,000 Cuban doctors, a mass literacy campaign in rural areas, land redistribution and enshrining the rights of Venezuela's indigenous population in the constitution. Taken together, these reforms are still mild when compared to Allende's government in Chile in the 1970s or the Sandinista's in Nicaragua in 1980s. But Chavez appears more radical than he actually is when he is compared to the neo-liberal governments that dominate the majority of countries.

The pace of his reforms has picked up since he won the recall referendum last October. His reforms have largely been funded by revenue from the state owned oil company which have increased because of high oil prices. The rest of the economy, including the bulk of the media remains in private hands. The first significant nationalisation recently took place at Venepal, the paper company. The bosses sought to close the enterprise down but under constant pressure from the workers the enterprise has been taken into public ownership.

In his speech at Porto Alegre, Chavez, who previously spelled out that capitalism could co-exist with his reforms and that he was not a socialist said that he was in favour of socialism "transcending capitalism through democracy". Chavez did not explain how he intended to create a socialist, society in Venezuela. Chavez also incredibly praised Putin (Russian President) and the Chinese and Iranian dictatorships for "standing up" to US interests. His praise for Lula was greeted by booing amongst sections of the 25,000 crowd.

Unless Chavez goes further and breaks decisively with capitalism in Venezuela, it is possible he could be overthrown. His intervention in Porto Alegre unfortunately indicates that he does not intend to do so.

On his way to the World Socialist Forum JOE HIGGINS visited Indian communities in the Brazilian state of Matto Grosso do Sul. Joe reports on the struggles of the Indian communities against evictions and poverty.

Indian's struggle for their land rights

BRAZIL IS known as one of the countries with the greatest inequality in ownership of wealth on the face of the earth. It is one thing to read or hear this statistic. It is however quite a shocking experience to be confronted with the reality of what this means.

Matto Grosso do Sul is one of Brazil's 26 states, situated in the southwest of the country. It is four times the size of the island of Ireland but has a population of only two million. It has millions of hectares of very fertile land, home at the moment to 24 million of the fattest cattle you will find. It has some of the richest ranchers on earth, some owning farms of up to 40,000 acres. Yet a report published by a state organisation in January 2005, found that children in the indigenous Indian villages were dying of malnutrition and related diseases.

Indian land rights

Before going on to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre this January, I spent six days visiting remote Indian villages discussing with the inhabitants and seeing at first hand their conditions of life. My guides and interpreters were members of a small but very dedicated Indian support group, working to assist them reclaim their fundamental rights, including advising the Indians on their land rights and assisting them in the process of trying to reclaim lands from which they or their ancestors were expelled.

The result of hundreds of years of land theft and oppression means that many of the 60,000 Indians in the state of Matto Grosso do Sul are penned into small reservations, totally inadequate to their needs.

I visited such a reservation in another town, Amambai, and saw first hand the squalid conditions in which the Indians are forced to live. They live in shacks, with the roof sometimes made of black polythene where they did not have enough of the native reeds to have the traditional thatch like roof, which at least had a cooling effect in the burning temperatures of summer. There is no electricity and no sanitation. A cold water tap shared between families is the washing point both for people and clothes. Food is cooked over stone fireplaces, although collecting firewood is an increasingly difficult problem. However, Indian communities in Matto Grosso do Sul are now fighting back with great courage and determination to reclaim traditional lands and to try and secure a better future for their children. I visited a number of villages where the Indians staked their claim to the surrounding land by occupation. In these areas you can see plantations of manioc, beans, potatoes, rice and bananas to sustain the families.

One such area is Tacquara. This occupation was initially led by Marcos Veron who once worked for the ranchers but then went on to play an enormous role in the Indian struggle for land. On a tour organised by the Latin American Solidarity Centre, Marcos Veron visited Ireland in 2000 to seek international support for their occupation at Tacquara. Tragically, in 2003, he was murdered by the ranchers' henchmen. He was dragged from his home together with members of his family in the early hours, thrown into a truck, was badly beaten and then dumped on the roadway many kilometres away. Marcos died from his injuries. His son Ladio, who was also beaten, survived as did Marcos' wife Julia and some other children.

Eviction threat

While on our visits to the Indian villages, we got an urgent report that one particular community of Kaiowa were under threat of immediate eviction from lands they had occupied.

The Indians have sown manioc, beans, potatoes, rice and bananas, managing with great sacrifice to get resources to buy the seeds. These crops are now growing. Now, however, a federal judge in So Paulo has issued an order to the families to leave their lands and Federal Police could be used to evict them.

We resolved immediately to visit this community, but first I wanted to see what political pressure I might be able to bring to bear on the Brazilian government by virtue of being a member of the Irish Parliament. I asked the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs to make representations to the Brazilian authorities that this eviction would not be carried out and contacted the Brazilian Ambassador in Dublin to make a protest with the same demand. I also sent a protest letter to Lula, the President of Brazil.

When we visited the community threatened with eviction, there was a village gathering of men, women and children of over 100 people. I spoke to the meeting and promised that I would attempt to raise solidarity internationally with the struggle of the community and this was greatly appreciated. The next day I met with the Deputy Governor of the state of Matto Grosso do Sul Senhor Egon Krakheche and put the Indian demand to him.

During the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, there was a major conference of the new left party, PSoL, the Party of Socialism and Liberty. Socialismo Revolucionario, our sister organisation in Brazil, moved a motion at that conference of opposition to the threatened eviction and to demand that the President of Brazil would sign the necessary forms to give the ownership of the land back to the Indians. This was passed with acclaim.

While in Matto Grosso do Sul, I also paid a visit to a camp of the landless, the Sem Terra. This was composed of 200 families with about 1,000 people on the side of a busy roadway 100 kilometres south of Campo Grande, the state capital. The shacks in which the people lived were almost exactly like those of the Indians except the roofs and walls in all cases were of black polythene or scraps of wood. In the stifling heat, it was impossible to be in these houses during the day. In a dialogue with some of this community, I found a deep sense of disappointment with the government of Lula.

Brazilian workers

The poverty in the countryside is mirrored of course in the lives of tens of millions of Brazilians in the working class favelas and shantytowns. The Brazilian working class holds the key to a resolution of the poverty and homelessness. With their labour fuelling the sixth biggest economy in the world, Brazilian workers have enormous potential power. Harnessed to a political programme for the socialist transformation of Brazilian society and in solidarity with the rural poor and landless, they would be able to deliver comprehensive land reform, providing land, decent living standards and security to those who are currently among the most marginalized people on earth.

PSOL - new socialist party is born

DURING THE WSF in Porto Alegre, Brasil, P-Sol (Partido Socialismo e Liberade) held their second national meeting. HANNAH SELL (Socialist Party in England & Wales and member of the CWI's international executive committee) reports

MORE THAN 1,800 people sat for ten hours in the baking heat in a meeting, as the chair put it, "for struggle, happiness and solidarity". The meeting was marked by its enthusiasm and its democractic spirit. At the beginning hundreds of young people marched into the room carrying banners and flags - singing and playing drums.

P-SOL activists had every reason to be pleased with their progess to date. To register as an official party in Brazil it is necessary to collect 400,000 signatures. P-SOL have already got 430,000 and have a target of 500,000. Throughout the meeting speeches and greetings were given by trade union activists and leaders who have broken with Lula's Workers' Party and are considering joining P-SOL.

The meeting was also notable for its internationalism. Left Parties from around the world were invited to give greetings. Myself and Joe Higgins TD spoke on behalf of the Socialist Parties of England/Wales and Ireland.

The Conference debated whether to stand Helo'sa Helena, the leader of the party, and a very popular mass figure, for President in 2006. She is already receiving 3 - 5% of the vote in opinion polls.

The resolution was an addition to the political programme that was agreed at the first national meeting last June - and included an explicit call for socialism and revolution.

It was extremely positive that the meeting also agreed to a founding national congress, with democratically elected delegates, to take place in November or December of this year. In the period running up to the conference, there will be a period of debate in which a number of issues will be raised.

One issue being discussed is the degree of emphasis the party puts on electoral success. While there will clearly be opportunities for P-SOL to use elections to raise its profile, a purely electoral strategy would not allow P-Sol to reach its potential amongst the radicalised and poor masses of Brazil.

In the coming debate, Socialismo Revolutionario, which has a member on the P-SOL executive - Andre Ferrari - will be arguing for P-SOL to continue to develop as a socialist organisation that bases itself on the struggles of the working and impoverished masses of Brazil.

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