The Role of Imperialism and the Military in the Brazilian Political Crisis
The popular-front governments led by the PT act as a sheriff for the U.S. in the Caribbean, providing mercenary repressive troops to maintain the imperialist occupation of Haiti. Top photo: troops of the MINUSTAH (the United Nations Mission in Haiti) under Brazilian command patrol Port au Prince, July 2013. Bottom photos: Lula and Dilma review the Brazilian contingent in Haiti.
Translated from Vanguarda Operária No. 13 (May 2016) published by the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, Brazilian section of the League for the Fourth International.
In analyzing the political crisis in Brazil, we have to take into account the position of imperialism, particularly that of the United States. There is an old joke in Latin America: why is the United States the only country in the continent where there has never been a coup d’état? Answer: because it’s the only country that doesn’t have a U.S. embassy. But Brazil is no banana republic, it has a relatively strong bourgeoisie with its own interests.
The PT and pro-PT left is acting as if the Brazilian government is a hindrance for the U.S., which is absurd. Even if U.S. spy agencies bug the telephones of the president (as they also did, and are surely continuing to do, with imperialist allies, such as Chancellor Merkel in Germany), the governments led by the PT have acted as firemen for the International Monetary Fund in Latin America, and as a sheriff for Yankee imperialism in the Caribbean, supplying mercenary troops for the occupation of Haiti. The Brazilian popular front has played a key role in pressuring Venezuela, and beyond that the construction giant Odebrecht is now helping open Cuba for massive capitalist investments, building a port there.
In general, Washington doesn’t want any big upheavals in the largest country in Latin America. Even so, there is no reason to presume that the would-be masters of the planet always act with consistency, and there are already indications of changing opinions among imperialist spokesmen. Three months ago, both The Economist of London and the New York Times came out against impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Now The Economist (26 March) published an article on the Brazilian political crisis with the title, “Time to Go,” declaring that “The tarnished president should now resign” rather than be impeached.
At the same time, sectors of the North American ruling class are working in collusion with Judge Sérgio Moro. It was already known that the judge had taken a course for foreign lawyers at Harvard University (one of the main centers of U.S. imperialist “diplomacy” and espionage) and took part in a specialized program on money laundering at the State Department (Istoé, 19 December 2014). However, the connection is much closer than that. According to a telegram of the U.S. embassy in Brazília (dated 9 October 2009) which was made public by Wikileaks, Judge Moro was the main Brazilian presenter at a conference of “Project Bridges” sponsored by the U.S. government on illicit financing and “terrorism,” which lasted an entire week in Rio and included the participation of judges and prosecutors from every state in Brazil and more than 50 officials of the Federal Police. The telegram encourages practical training for investigators, which:
“should be longer-term and coincide with the formation of training task forces. Two large urban centers with proven judicial support for illicit financing cases, in particular Sao Paulo, Campo Grande, or Curitiba, should be selected as the location for this type of training. Then task forces can be formed, and an actual investigation used as the basis for training…”
Concretely, in Operation Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), Moro authorized the Federal Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to work together with the FBI. In June the judge sent teams of investigators to the United States where they “had access to bank records totaling US$230 million (Folha Política, 19 July 2015). In exchange, last October an FBI task-force spent a week in Curitiba working with Moro’s team collecting information to be used in court cases in the U.S. against Petrobras.
What are these cases? The main one is a class action suit demanding reparations to the tune of billions of dollars for supposed losses suffered by Wall Street investors (among them several Brazilian funds) between 2010 and 2014. They allege that due to corruption, the balance sheets published by Petrobras were distorted in order to hide the bribes and laundering of funds paid to suppliers like Odebrecht. A second corruption investigation of the Brazilian oil company is being carried out by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In fact, the entire so-called Car Wash investigation is being carried out together with Brazilian and imperialist sectors which are seeking to break Petrobras’ monopoly of oil production from the famous “pre-salt” layer in the Atlantic. In order to feed the voracious appetites of the imperialists, the popular-front government already organized several auctions of exploration of oil fields. However, above all due to the present extremely low prices of the black gold, the oil majors are particularly interested in engineering services and construction of oil installations. It is precisely in this industry where imperialist companies like giant Halliburton want to win contracts which until now were the private hunting preserve of Odebrecht and the OAS, two of the main targets of Operation Car Wash.
In another State Department telegram unearthed by Wikileaks, from 2 December 2009, the PSDB candidate in the 2010 presidential elections, José Serra, is quoted promising that, if elected, he would “change the rules” which gave Petrobras exclusivity in oil exploration in the pre-salt layer and and change the model of “partnership” giving the former state company 30% of oil production. The current legislation (in 2010), approved by Lula’s government, alredy meant an enormous privatization of this strategic resource, guaranteeing private (and above all imperialist) companies 70% of the exploration of the pre-salt layer. According to another law, passed in 2013 in response to the previous year’s mobilizations, a percentage (rather small in reality) of the profits from pre-salt production is earmarked for health and education.
The imperialists’ major interest in this question was indicated in an article published by the liberal journal Foreign Affairs (4 March 2015), under the title “Crude Calculus,” which stressed the importance of the stipulation requiring 85% local content of technology and equipment, and the “potential for corruption.” That journal is part of the base of support of Hillary Clinton who, it should be recalled, gave the green light for the coup d’état which overthrew President José Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, in July 2009. The fact that Barack Obama said of Lula that “he’s my man” at a meeting of the G20 doesn’t mean that there aren’t other imperialist sectors involved, in one way or another, in attempts at “regime change” so popular in Washington. Today, it seems that the right-wing president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, is the favorite of the White House, and of Wall Street for having agreed to finally pay off the vulture speculators who snapped up at bargain basement prices the loans defaulted on by Buenos Aires 15 years ago.
Loyal to his imperialist patrons, the ex-candidate Serra presented, four days after the giant anti-Dilma mobilization in March 2015, a bill, PL131, that would eliminate the partnership requirement and Petrobras’ 30% cut of oil production. The FUP oil workers union, the CUT labor federation and the Workers Party (PT) itself declared their opposition to the bill. However, when it was approved by the Senate this past February 25, President Rousseff approved it in hopes of winning the sympathy of the capitalists. As usual, the FUP, CUT and PT didn’t mobilize anything, nor did they shut down any facilities to oppose this fateful law.
Note as well that Judge Moro participated in various forums sponsored by the PSDB and that his wife is the lawyer for that party in the state of Paraná, as well as for Royal Dutch Shell oil company that won a slice of the Libra Basin rights in the 2013 auction. It was notable that when Odebrecht published a list of more than 200 recipients of its largesse, the large majority of them with the PMDB and the right-wing opposition parties, Moro (who lifted the right of privacy for the phone conversations of ex-president Lula and President Dilma) clamped a ban on publication of the details of the payoff list, clearly in order to protect the PSDB, the “Progressive Party” (a rightist-militarist outfit), the Democrats (DEM, the continuation of the political vehicle of the military dictatorship) and the rest.
We do not know the specific connections between Moro and the imperialist companies and governments. But it is quite clear that he is working together with forces who are those most interested in privatizing to the max the formerly state-owned Petrobras, which has been largely sold off to imperialist and Brazilian investors. A 43-year-old judge in a provincial city does not act so aggressively – not only interrogating and jailing officials of Petrobras and the president of the largest contractor and construction company in the country, but also ordering the search, capture and forcible transfer of the ex-president, and the publication of private telephone conversations of the current president, the head of state – without having powerful allies protecting him.
The Position of the Military
Banner in the March 13 pro-impeachment rally in Rio de Janeiro says “Only a New Military Intervention Can Reestablish Order, Morality and Dignity to the Brazilian People – Federal Police, the Pride of the Nation.” The top commander says if “problems of public security arise,” then “the army could be called upon to intervene.”
The question of the position of the military is of great importance in evaluating the extent and gravity of the confrontation. The attention of the media was caught by the firing of General Antônio Hamilton Martins Mourão, head of the Military Southern Command, last October. At that time, the Army commander, General Eduardo Villas Boas, made statements to the press excluding military intervention in the current crisis, saying in an interview with the newspaper Zero Hora: “As to the legal aspect, there is no possibility of military intervention, a coup, nothing of the sort. When I’m asked what the military is going to do, I answer: it’s written down in Article 142 of the Constitution. We laid out the role of the Army to contribute to stability.” He added: “We cannot permit any kind of rift in the structure and among active duty and reserve personnel.”
Nevertheless, it’s necessary to note the opinions of the general who was replaced, who publicly criticized the president (and all the parliamentary politicians) for corruption and was baying about “awakening the patriotic struggle,” speculating about the possibility of a “controlled fall” of the president, “discontinuity” in government or a situation of “crisis” in the current political context. At the same time, this same General Mourão authorized an official homage to Colonel Brilhante Ustra, “ex-commander of the DOI-Codi [intelligence division] of the Second Army in São Paulo, a unit that was one of the main centers of repression by the military regime and where 45 prisoners died.” It was precisely in this unit where Dilma Rousseff, today president, was tortured during the dictatorship (Zero Hora, 30 October 2015).
The removal of General Mourão unleashed a torrent of criticism on social networks by military officials against the “Communist” defense minister Aldo Rebelo, of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), and calls for impeachment of the president. A notable comment came from the former commander of Brazil’s expeditionary force in Haiti, General (ret.) Augusto Heleno Pereira, who commented about the reaction to the replacement of Mourão (who had commanded by far the largest military force in the country, with 48,000 troops):
“Lefty psychopaths should cool it… The military are not thinking about taking power. But we aren’t brainless robots, and we still have the right to kick about so many abuses and such thievery!”
The armed forces are surely full of elements like Mourão and Heleno, at every level.
General Eduardo Villas Boas recently reiterated his litany about how there will be no military intervention. But when we read another interview that he gave to the press last October, it’s clear that the Army commander, who was in charge of security during the 2014 World Cup, is keeping his options open:
“The street demonstrations calling for the return of military rule are a complex issue. Our interpretation is that people are not asking for a return of a military government, with a few exceptions. That are calling for a return of values. We are in the midst of an economic, political and ethical crisis. If it should be transformed into a social crisis, it could create problems of public security and the Army could be called upon to intervene.”
–Diário do Pernambuco, 17 October 2015
For the moment, the crisis does not seem to have reached into the military institution. The active elements are the Military Police, which has acted as a protagonist of the first order, and the Federal Police, which is acting as if it is the armed wing of the Public Prosecutors Office of Judge Sergio Moro, when in reality it is the police who are calling the shots. It should also be noted that the big right-wing mobilizations are being financed and promoted by the employers’ federations, and that the activity of the Federation of Industry of the State of São Paulo (FIESP) against the current popular-front government recalls its siege of the government of João Goulart in the run-up to the 1964 coup. And that Super-Moro is being promoted as the savior of the nation by the Famiglia Marinho, owners of the media giant Rede Globo (which also vociferously supported the ’64 military takeover).
Indications point to a employer-media-judiciary-police movement with at least some support from imperialism. Even if it does not result in a classic military coup, it points to an authoritarian outcome, a strong state whose job is to impose, with an iron fist, the budget cuts, reforms and privatizations demanded by capital, which the popular-front governments led by the PT have only partially implemented. Now they want to go all the way. ■