Marina Silva – darling of the liberals, menace to the poor

The first round of the Brazilian presidential election is today, and there is a new, supposedly independent, candidate to take on the Workers’ Party’s domination of the post for the last 12 years. Ex-Workers Party (PT) minister Marina Silva is running in opposition to PT incumbent Dilma Rousseff, and has the unusual benefit of support from right-wing periodicals such as the Economist, and the panting enthusiasm of liberal organs such as the Guardian. The latter derives from her mixed-race, working-class origins, and her avowed commitment to the environmental preservation of the Amazon region in which she was born. My doubts about her seem increasingly  to be shared by Brazilian voters, who have cooled towards her since she was jettisoned into candidacy by the death of the leader of her Brazilian Socialist Party in a plane crash. She stands a chance of winning however in the second round. Before leftists and supporters of the Brazilian poor attach themselves to Marina’s coat-tails, it may be worth mentioning a few points that are unlikely to appear in liberal journals.

1. Her manifesto is widely described as “business-friendly” by right-wing papers, more so than her opponent Rousseff’s. This is notable in a context where the supposedly left-of-centre Workers’ Party has hardly been hostile to big business.

2. Her proposed spending plan is modelled on the last budget of the government of President Lula’s right-wing predecessor Fernando-Henrique Cardoso. It is effectively an “austerity budget”, and it is difficult to see how this cannot harm Brazil’s millions in poverty.

3. Her foreign policy aims to re-orientate Brazil back to the US and Europe, in other words the imperial nations of the past. One of the successes of Brazil in the last 12 years has been its role in building the BRICS economies as an alternative pole, and in a Latin American context its support for regional initiatives such as Mercosur, and its defence of the major target of US attack, Venezuela. Marina Silva’s position on this is emphatically rightist. Obama and Merkel must be salivating at the prospect of her winning.

4. She left Lula’s government and then his party over what she considered its failure to protect the environment, but Beto Albuquerque, her vice-presidential candidate on the ticket, is close to the same agri-business that the PT government capitulated to, and has his campaign largely financed by them.

5. She is a social conservative as a result of her evangelical Christianity, with a position against abortion and gay marriage.

6. Her independence from the political system is exaggerated. The Brazilian Socialist Party, under whose banner she runs, is a well-established party with 6 state governors, 3 senators, 34 federal deputies and the mayors of 3 state capitals.

7. Similarly, in her early days in the PT, her tendency within the party was the very mainstream Articulação, on the right of the PT.

8. I refute the argument that candidates in any election stand apart from the traditional distinction between left and right. When people say Marina Silva has cross-class and -political appeal, this is because she is trying to triangulate a position that satisfies all, a situation which cannot hold. For instance, if you support the environment, that it is a left-wing position, and if you support big agri-business (the “ruralistas” the PT has been much criticised for making alliances with), that is right-wing. You cannot do both.

9. Neither working-class nor female Presidents of Brazil are new. Lula was a Sao Paulo metal-worker and trade unionist from the poor north-east, and Dilma is a bourgeois-origin ex-guerilla fighter against the dictatorship.

10. Marina’s possible second round victory relies on right wingers who have voted for PSDB candidate Aécio Neves in the first round switching to her, What effect will this have on policies for the benefit of Brazil’s poor?

I have many criticisms of the Workers Party in national government since 2003, but hope that Brazilians are not seduced by the media hype, and vote with their eyes open. Recent polls suggest they will.

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