Lessons from Brazil’s eventful history

Of corruption and democracy


By Jan Arden

Lula was the first Brazilian president to come from a worker background, a mass movement organiser with no formal high education, a sort of predecessor across the oceans to his equally successful counterpart in BRICS, Narendra Modi. Pic – CNN

Brazil’s recent political history has been eventful, with a military rule last century until mass demonstrations led by trade union leader Lula da Silva, forced the installation of a form of presidential democracy and ultimately paved the way for leftist President Lula’s two terms from 2003 to 2010 after several attempts to win the presidency in the nineties. Lula was the first Brazilian president to come from a worker background, a mass movement organiser with no formal high education, a sort of predecessor across the oceans to his equally successful counterpart in BRICS, Narendra Modi, the former tea-seller with great organisational skills and political acumen. While there was this visible social and economic progress under President Lula, with massive declines in absolute and relative poverty as per the World Bank, there were also allegations of corruption that brought down Lula and plagued him in later years.

Lula was succeeded as President of Brazil by his Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff. During Rousseff’s second tenure, a corruption scandal enveloped her government, herself and Lula’s Workers Party. Later in 2016, Lula himself was dragged into it and within a year, he, his wife, and six others were facing six corruption cases. In 2017, Lula was convicted and was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Lula walked out of prison in 2019 and his sentence was annulled by the Supreme Court of Brazil in 2021, paving the way for his political comeback. In the October 2022 presidential elections, President Lula narrowly won by a margin of only 2% and was intronised on 1 Jan 2023, while the far-right conservative party of his opponent Jair Bolsonaro won and controls both Houses of Parliament.

Bolsonaro was widely attacked for Amazon rainforest deforestation to benefit American cattle and beef agro-business, a massively corrupt and incompetent handling of the Covid pandemic and a slide into authoritarianism (repression of the press and clamp down on civic freedoms). He refused to concede election results, fled to Florida from where he floated a Trump copycat load of conspiracy theories, even fomenting an equally failed Jan 8th riot in the Brazilian capital. 

No wonder that on his first major overseas trip to the US earlier this year, President Lula was welcomed by his US counterpart Joe Biden, as the ageing left-wing populist embodied the endurance of democracy in an era of growing repression of people’s voices and rights by corrupt and wealthy elites. There, 77-year-old Lula warned that a global web of right-wing forces continued to threaten political freedom and that voters crushed by economic inequality and confused by a torrent of social-media disinformation remained vulnerable to figures like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, the two brutish strongmen who symbolised the threat to democratic values and functionings.

Indian PM Modi’s recent high-profile official state visit to the US, although more tinged with regional national security considerations, was the opportunity for another BRICS leader to highlight the virtues and deliverables of democracy even in a context of hostility and aggression by occult forces that cross national lines. Most of us would recall the allegations that billionaire George Soros was willing to spend a fortune to upend India’s democracy. But there is some feeling around the world that the global humanistic or progressive left has yet to formulate a more concerted, universal or coherent counter-narrative and strategy to the poison that the corrupt elites and the financially powerful or the far-right represent.

Although the political contexts in far-away large economies may not be directly relevant here, we should not ignore the widespread concern that Mauritius has been sliding downhill into authoritarianism, manifest in multiple fronts, a virtual total impunity of a powerful political nomenklatura, corruption of pandemic and other procurement processes and a failure to bring any drug warlords or their financial backers to trial and conviction despite several billion-rupee catches.

The latest Audit Report on drug effectiveness counter measures, the figures make for alarming reading: 6,600 injection users and 55,000 other drug adult users, near 170 children below 19 and even 17 below 14 years admitted to hospitals for drug-related complications, while from 2017-2020, the proportion of criminality related to drug usage has grown from 12% to 32%. It is a wake-up call from an official source that only confirms what competent rehabilitation social workers and activists have been saying for several years. The drug scourge is unprecedented.

How the population reacts to these far broader, yet vital issues for our living space, when confronted with their more immediate concerns and our social context may not be entirely decipherable at this stage, particularly with the slow progress in the crystallisation of a united opposition front. But they can certainly be expected to have a bearing on our next general elections.

* * *

UK’s National Census: England and Wales are no longer majority Christian

The final figures of UK’s National Census 2021, released in November 2022, with a voluntary question on faiths, has been widely commented in the UK and abroad. For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011.

“No religion”, which includes atheists, agnostics or any number of new age beliefs, was the second most common response, increasing by 12.0 percentage points to 37.2% (22.2 million) from 25.2% (14.1 million) in 2011.

There were increases in the number of people who described themselves as “Muslim” (3.9 million, 6.5% in 2021, up from 2.7 million, 4.9% in 2011) and “Hindu” (1.0 million, 1.7% in 2021, up from 818,000, 1.5% in 2011).

London is still the most religiously diverse region of England with 40.7% describing themselves as “Christian”, no religion specified at 25%, Moslems at 15% and Hindus at 5%.

Traditional Christian churches will view this as a disturbing trend, confirming the decline in church membership and attendance. A Church poll in 2016 had already shown that 38% of respondents declared believing in neither God nor a spiritual power while a further 14% replied being unsure of their belief in either of these.

Some will feel alarm that England and Wales are no longer majority Christian, while Asian associations, in particular Moslem ones, have been quick to point out the vitality and economic dynamics that a younger, more enterprising immigrant-origin generation brings to the country.

There is also a possibility that they wished to allay fears that a minority extremist mindset may drag the UK away from its tolerant culture, as the shocking scuffles and anti-Hindu mobbing in Leicester demonstrated around September last year.

* * *

Chagos sovereignty negotiations

There have been the usual snippets from Parliament these days with the Opposition doing its best to extract some information in the interest of the public good and governance, despite having to counter the Speaker’s undoubted agility in acting as general bodyguard for the PM and his cabinet team, throwing MPs out for trying to do their normal duties. Thus, we had to listen to another long-winded explanation about the fantastic successes of Mauritius and the Jugnauth father and son prime ministerships in the long-drawn-out battle to get the UK to recognise Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago.

Given the national contours of such a dispute and the continuous cross-party battle against obdurate UK resistance over 50 years or more, one might have expected some greater statesmanlike poise from the PM in answering the PNQ of the Leader of the Opposition this Tuesday.

Still, we learned something about the progress on the multitude of issues that have to be thrashed out between the delegations of the two sides in the protracted negotiations that are taking place. Those started since the UK government announced last year that it would engage discussions with Mauritius with a view to restoring our national sovereignty over that archipelago, which includes the Diego Garcia aero-naval base leased out by the UK to the US.

We understand the necessity for such negotiations to be conducted away from the press and public eyes, but at some stage, both governments will have to take the Opposition parties and the population in their confidence and share the outlines of any agreement before putting ink to paper. Without any confidentiality clause.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 7 July 2023

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