Defense Committees to Defend the Favelas, Protests and
Brazil: No to the
Heavily armed police contingents invaded the Maré Complex favelas on March 27. In preparation for the World Cup of soccer, the popular-front government has imposed a state of siege on the poor neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro.
Popular Front Launches War on the Favelas
The following article was published in a May Day supplement to Vanguarda Operária, the newspaper of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, Brazilian section of the League for the Fourth International.
ANNIVERSARY OF THE MILITARY COUP – March 31 marked the 50th anniversary of the civilian-military coup d’état that overthrew the government of Jango Goulart and installed 21 years of bloody military dictatorship, of torture, of disappearances, of repression against working people and the poor. Marches in the streets carry photos of the victims, proclaiming “Never Again.” There are conferences, debates and films in the universities on the “democratic transition.” But at the same time a deputy in the federal House of Representatives and a professor at the University of São Paulo praised the coup. Folha de S. Paulo (30 April), which feverently supported the seizure of power by the generals and which in 2009 caused a scandal when it referred to the “soft dictatorship” in Brazil, published a self-justifying editorial saying that “the options at the time” were “much worse” and hailing the economic growth under the military regime, as a result of which, it incredibly claimed, “all social layers progressed”!
“NEVER AGAIN?” After ten years of the popular front government of presidents Lula (Luis Inácio da Silva) and Dilma (Rousseff), of the Workers Party and other reformist parties and their bourgeois allies, torture and murder continue to be the common practice of the various police forces. So, too, are massacres of residents of the favelas, the impoverished slum areas of Brazil’s cities, and on the very anniversary of the 1964 coup there was a police/military invasion of the favelas of the Maré Complex in Rio de Janeiro. More than 1,500 troops and officers participated, including the military police, the BOPE and BOE (elite police special operations battalions) and Marines with 21 armored cars. Immediately a youth was shot down by the invaders. Seven days later came the second blow: a new occupation of the Maré, this time with 2,700 army troops. A week after that, on April 11, there was the brutal eviction of the “TELERJ favela,” on lands belonging to the Oi company in the district of Engenho Novo. Gas and rubber bullets were used, provoking ferocious resistance by the residents. More recently, two residents of the Maré favela were shot to death in three days.
WORLD CUP – This outright war against the most impoverished neighborhoods is intimately linked to the preparations for the World Cup of soccer, beginning on June 12, when the local, state and federal governments, and the bourgeoisie of Brazil as a whole, want to put the “Marvelous City” (nickname for Rio de Janeiro) on display. The Maré Complex is strategically situated between three express routes (the Red and Yellow Lines and Avenida Brasil) and the access point for Rio’s Galeão Airport. Unrest there could have a huge impact on the Cup: a traffic jam like occurred during the Pope’s visit last year would be a disaster. That being the case, in the expectation of having well-known personalities from the world of football and “illustrious” political leaders from various countries, the Brazilian capitalist class decided to install a military dictatorship over the 130,000 inhabitants of the Maré and the half million who live in the other favelas and morros (hilltop communities) of Rio.
The workers movement must mobilize its forces now to defend our class sisters and brothers. For that reason, the Comitê de Luta Classista (CLC – Class Struggle Committee), a union opposition tendency linked to the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB – Fourth Internationalist League of Brazil), put forward a motion at assemblies of the Rio teachers union (SEPE-RJ) and health workers union (SINDSPREV-RJ) proposing: “Drive out the pro-imperialist occupation troops from Haiti,1 the favelas and social movements.” The motions, which were approved by the SEPE-RJ state network and the SINDSPREV, call to mobilize the unions against police attacks, and for the formation of workers defense committees, based on the unions, to protect the favelas and street protests.2 (See below for the text of the motion.) As a banner proclaimed after the Maré massacre during the June Days last year, “The Police Who Repress in the Streets Are the Same Ones Who Kill in the Favelas.” Let’s make this May Day the starting line for class struggle against the bourgeoisie’s World Cup of Repression.
While the ruling class is imagining possible terrorist actions against prominent visitors, the Rio favelas are already living under state terror. For some time the Maré Complex as been surrounded by a wall of steel plates, with squads of heavily armed soldiers in the entrances and now thousands of troops patrolling inside the walls who are slated to remain until after the World Cup is over. For the racist capitalists, the favelas are a gigantic black blotch, the Rio de Janeiro fraction of the mass of the oppressed and exploited who produce their wealth, but who also constitute a threat to their class rule. The white bourgeois elite in their opulent houses and mansions under the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer3 insists on keeping the descendents of the slaves under its whip. For it, the phrase in the Communist Manifesto that the proletariat will be the gravediggers of the bourgeoisie is a constant nightmare, since the potential gravediggers live right above them and all they would have to do is come down from the hills, from the favela of Rocinha to Leblon, from Cidade de Deus (City of God) to Tijuca, etc.
The nightmare of the ruling class is nothing new, nor is its “cure.” Only a few months after the Brazilian monarchy in 1888 decreed the “Golden Law” finally abolishing slavery, some former slave-owners carried out a coup d’état, proclaiming a republic in revenge and militarizing the police corps. The proprietors of the Old Republic maintained their class rule using the same methods of yesteryear.4 As the verses of the song “The Black Admiral” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco put it so well, “Ruby-red cascades tumbled down the backs of the blacks, amid songs and lashes of the whip.” But in 1910, the masters in their noble residences designed in the Belle Epoque style of French architecture trembled as they looked out on Guanabara Bay and saw the masts of the ships occupied by their sailors led by the Black Admiral, João Cândido, in the “Revolt of the Whip,” which put an end to the use of that remnant of slavery.
This time around the military occupation of the Rio favelas, particularly of the Maré Complex, by some 3,000 troops with modern armament, similar to that used in conventional warfare, is led by popular front governments. The (now ex-) governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Sérgio Cabral Filho (of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB) thanked his ally, Brazilian president Dilma Vana Rousseff (of the Workers Party, or PT) for her “essential” support to his “historic” military action (O Dia, 31 March). He thereby demonstrated that racism is a matter of state, it is institutional, an organic part of bourgeois rule in this land of the Brazil tree, which all governments must enforce, whether of the right or the “left.” Liberal, reformist and centrist critics of all stripes cry out: “This is fascism! Where is democracy?”
The answer can be found in reading the history of the massacre of Canudos (1897), of the Revolt of the Whip (1910), of the massacres of agricultural workers in Eldorado dos Carajás (1996), of Rio street children in Candelária (1993), of the Carandiru prison massacre (1992) and of the brutal eviction of the Aldeia Maracanã (an Indian village set up at the site of Rio’s famous soccer stadium) last year. Or one can simply observe the horrendous fate of the house cleaner Cláudia Silva Ferreira: on March 16, seven months after the disappearance of the stone mason Amarildo in the hands of the Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in the favela of Rocinha, she was hit by a bullet during a police operation in the morro of Congonha, on Rio’s north side. She was transported in the trunk of an armored car of the military police but fell out. Her clothes caught on the military vehicle, she was dragged for about three city blocks. This is only one of the many sinister and macabre events which confirm once again that our Republic and our Democracy were born bathed in the blood of blacks, Indians and the poor.
No, this is not fascism, however fascistic some of the repressive methods used in the police actions may be. This is democracy itself, as it was idealized in its cradle, in ancient Greece, where those at the bottom (slaves, women, foreigners, those who didn’t own land) were excluded from the decision-making of the elite. In Rio’s case, its version of democracy has a special touch, with a government led by an alliance of bourgeois liberals (PMDB), social democrats (PCdoB, the one-Maoist Communist Party of Brazil) and the “government of the working people” (PT), which seeks inspiration in the format and worst repressive methods of the civil and military coup-plotters of 1964. Today some of those who were victims of the military dictatorship, like the ex-guerrilla and current president Dilma Rousseff, send the military to install a police dictatorship in the Maré Complex and other favelas. Such is the marvelous democracy of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
In the case of the Maré they brandished the pretext of carrying out a “War on Drugs.” This borders on the ridiculous, trying to kill a little bird with a cannon. The marginal capitalists who are active in drug dealing, controlled by the “militias” led by military police and firemen, are small fry compared to the Eike Batistas (formerly Brazil’s richest man, the high-flying magnate whose energy and transportation empire went belly-up last year), Benjamin Steinbruch (boss of the CSN steel company) and other big monopoly capitalists who prop up the popular-front governments. And since when is it considered “terrorism” to sell and consume drugs? After all, the drug capitalists only want to sell their “merchandise” just like the capitalists of other drugs (tobacco, alcoholic beverages) and capitalists in general. Like the capitalists of the World Cup, they just want to make money!
Therefore, the most sensible and rational thing would be to lift the ban on marijuana and annul all laws against drugs and thereby eliminate the criminal trafficking, and where called for provide appropriate treatment for those who want to stop using them. Then one would confront the reality that the use of drugs has grown in many cases due to the pressure and oppression of the youth who increasingly are without perspectives, without work, in a capitalism in an advanced state of decay which daily gives every indication that it will not and cannot resolve the immense social problems. The bourgeois state has another “solution”: it will impose a dictatorship on those sectors where the majority of residents are black, a labor force that makes the city run but which is daily subjected to massacres perpetrated by the police forces, whether in or out of uniform. Until we “wage slaves” revolt!
In the case of the “TELERJ favela,” which was barely a week old, they couldn’t use the pretext of drug trafficking. So the justification was the supposed “inviolability of private property” (in this case of the Oi mobile phone company, which received the land as a present in the privatization for the former state telephone company TELEBRÁS, of which TELERJ was the Rio affiliate). Of course, the capitalist state massively violated the property rights of poor people in order to build installations for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. This points to another of the great problems people face in this decomposing capitalist society: the lack of housing for the working people. In part due to the real estate speculation and building boom for the world Cup, rents in Rio have shot up precipitously and there is an enormous housing shortage. The 5,000 needy people, working people, who organized the favela were seeking a solution by occupying an area that had been abandoned years ago: for them to have a residence, in the bourgeoisie’s eyes, is a monstrous crime! Dilma’s “My House, My Life” mortgage subsidy program is pure demagogy.
Friedrich Engels himself wrote a series of articles on The Housing Question (1872) when capitalism was still in its ascending phase. Even then, Engels explained that building adequate housing for working people was impossible in an economy based on the search for profit. He described how the bourgeoisie “solves” the problem, tearing down the workers’ housing as Haussmann did in Paris in order to construct luxurious grand avenues, and as big construction companies like Odebrecht do today building enormous stadiums at breakneck speed, at a cost of numerous deaths of construction workers. Engels concluded his work: “As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labor by the working class itself.”
Thus to fight against the unbridled militarization on behalf of Brazil Inc., what’s needed is a strategy for socialist revolution. We must mobilize the power of the working class along with the impoverished masses, building workers defense committees to unite the favela with the factory and the street protests. In the face of the machine guns of the BOPE, the BOE and the army, we fight with our far more powerful methods: against abuses by the police and military, paralyze the city with workers action. Cut off the airport, shut down public transportation, strike the steel works and refineries, bring teachers and students into the streets. At the same time, workers must fight to eliminate mass unemployment, creating millions of jobs by reducing the workweek with no cut in pay. They should impose workers control and call for the expropriation of the construction monopolies in order to build millions of housing units for the working people.
This struggle requires going beyond trade-union economism to undertake a class struggle. Marxists must act, as Lenin insisted, as a tribune of the people, denouncing every attack on the oppressed. We fight against the centuries-old oppression of women, for the right for free abortion on demand, for 24-hour day care, for equal pay for equal work and to end gender violence. We fight for revolutionary integrationism, for interethnic integration of whites, blacks and indigenous peoples, constituent parts of the working class and the great mass of the oppressed. The fight against racism is not a “matter for black people,” it’s the struggle of all of us. When people of other ethnic groups look at the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or in Haiti, or Harlem, they remember the immortal phrase of the first teacher of socialism: “Labor in the white skin can never free itself as long as labor in the black skin is branded” (Karl Marx).
On this 50th anniversary of the civilian-military coup of 1964, we must undertake a revolutionary, communist and internationalist struggle against imperialism. From the outset of Lula’s government we warned that the PT in power would serve as a sheriff for Washington in Latin America, particularly in sending military police and troops as mercenaries to impose an imperialist occupation of Haiti. We noted how counterinsurgency tactics used in Haiti were also used against poor blacks in the favelas and the periphery of São Paulo. That’s why we call to mobilize workers action to drive the troops and police out of Haiti and the favelas. A strike at Embraer and in the other military factories in São José dos Campos against the occupation of Haiti would have a vastly greater impact than hundreds of street protests.
We join our struggle with that of our comrades of the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of our League for the Fourth International. And above all, we seek to build a revolutionary workers party that fights for a workers and peasants government that begins the socialist revolution in Brazil, in the continent and in the heart of the empire. For a federation of workers states of Latin America! Epigones of the coup-plotting military butchers of 1964 get out!
We translate below the motion presented by the Comitê de Luta Classista (Class Struggle Committee) and approved by the assembly of the state network of the SEPE-RJ on April 10:
Mobilize the power of the working class to drive out the pro-imperialist occupation troops from Haiti, the favelas and social movements
RIO de JANEIRO, April 2014 – Troops of the Brazilian Armed Forces, the Army, Navy and Air Force, reinforced by the Federal Police, the Pacification Police Units (UPPs), the Military Police (PMs), Civil Police, X9 (informants) and P2 (undercover intelligence operatives) as well as the Municipal Guard, a squad of more than 3,000 men and women with modern armaments for conventional war, invaded the favela of the Maré Complex on the pretext of “fighting drugs” and protecting the World Cup.
However, as far as this is concerned, during the two terms of former governor Sérgio Cabral some 374 schools were closed, 157 of them between 2010 and 2014 (see the SEPE website). As well, schools are being occupied by UPPs, according to a motion of opposition posted on the SEPE web site on March 31, which states:
“The Union of Professional Educators SEPE-RJ denounces the presence of a support unit of the UPP on the grounds of the state school CAIC Theophilo de Souza Pinto, located in the community of Nova Brasília, in the Alemão Complex. The flagrant presence of heavily armed police in the entrance and inside the school places the entire school community at risk, violating pedagogical principles and considerably limits the development of education.”
“Commemorating” the 50th anniversary of the civilian-military coup, the Popular Front and its triumvirate of Eduardo Paes [mayor], Cabral-Pezão [outgoing and incoming governors] and Dilma in the Planalto [seat of Brazil’s presidency], together with the right wing, have put Rio de Janeiro under a State of Siege! Favelas have been transformed into occupied territories as the military attacks blacks and poor people.
It is necessary to:
–Mobilize the working class and its power, and in particular the trade unions, to defend against police attacks!
–Form workers defense committees based in the unions to protect protests and the favelas!
–Tear down the walls of steel around Maré!
–Drive out the pro-imperialist occupation troops from Haiti, the favelas and social movements! ■
- 1. For the last ten years, Haiti has been occupied by United Nations “peacekeeping” troops, the MINUSTAH, under Brazilian command, in order to free up U.S. forces for the imperialist occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
- 2. See “Hot Winter in Brazil: Mobilize Workers Power! Organize a General Strike!” The Internationalist No. 35, Summer 2013, for an account of the massive anti-government protests that swept the country’s major cities, of the brutal police repression and the unprecedented resistance by demonstrators.
- 3. One of the most famous landmarks of Rio de Janeiro is the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer, while some of the most luxurious housing is located on the hillsides below.
- 4. See “Lula’s Brazil: Land of Massacres,” The Internationalist No. 22, September-October 2005.