Brazil. In-Depth Interview with Joao Pedro Stedile: “It is Impossible to Save the Planet, Without Basing All Our Actions on Solidarity”

Carlos Aznárez

He is, without a doubt, one of the best and most intelligent leaders of the Brazilian popular left. The left that did not institutionalize itself or renounce the flags of struggle inherited from the past, that is in the streets or camping in occupied lands. That’s why Joao Pedro Stedile, an undisputed leader of the powerful Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, is an indispensable source of opinion on the difficult situation that Brazil is currently going through. Concerned about the weakness of the left forces to overthrow Bolsonaro, he is optimistic about the future of this bacteriological war. He speaks in terms of generating new civilizing paradigms and at the same time organization and unity to fight against fascism. We talked with him at length during our Resumen Latinoamericano radio program, in which we discussed his ideas, all of which constitute a necessary debate.

-How serious is the moment Brazil is going through today between the pandemic and the Bolsonaro government?

We are in the worst crisis in Brazil’s history. We were coming from 2014 with an economic crisis, which later became a social crisis because the bourgeoisie unloaded on the backs of the working class all the costs of the economic crisis. Then came an environmental crisis because all the mining companies and transnationals made a profit on the goods of nature, which has led to several environmental crimes such as those of the Mariana, Brumadinho and Macarena dams. Added to that, there was a political crisis, arising from the coup against Dilma, then the corrupt government of Temer, which ended with a government legally elected, but the product of the alliance of the Israeli Mossad with Trump, who provided all the logistics and support of powerful computers and fakenews, which managed to win the elections, with the support of financial capital and the Brazilian bourgeoisie.

While we were in the midst of that storm, the virus came to us. You all know that the countries that have managed to defeat the virus do so because they treated it as a war, as a common, invisible enemy that attacks everyone. For that, we must mobilize all human resources in public health, doctors, nurses, and all economic resources, money, equipment, salaries, and treat the issue as a war, coordinating all those resources.

-Brazil obviously didn’t have those resources…

When the virus came here it found us on our knees without the political capacity to have a government that could coordinate those forces. On the contrary, Bolsonaro’s government set out to make the same mistake that Trump initially made, which was to say that it was a cold, that it did no harm to anyone, then he began to promote a medicine that is inappropriate for that, chloroquine, because he apparently has shares in the laboratory that manufactures it.

So, we are here in a real human tragedy. The leaders, of all ideological shades, have managed to assume a role of greater protagonism because they realized that the dead were knocking on their door, so they adopted the agenda of the World Health Organization, tried to organize the people and go for isolation, but they had neither the human nor material resources to cope with it. The results, which were foreseen as early as the end of March, are now a reality, we have more or less a thousand deaths per day, we have now reached second place in the world in terms of the number of people infected, and in a matter of days we will move on to Europe and follow the United States in terms of the number of deaths. The statistics are completely underestimated and it is certain that the numbers of both dead and infected are even more terrible. Although you cannot imagine it in Latin America and Argentina, here in Brazil there is no system of preventive testing. This means that a person only knows that he or she has caught the virus after death or when he or she is already in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), which is being disputed as if it were a war because even 80% of ICU conditions are in the hands of private capital and they, of course, give preference to the rich, to their associates who come to the hospitals. There is even a popular and judicial demand, based on the Brazilian Constitution, to make a single line for hospitals because we are all equal when it comes to illness. As we are equal we also have the right to be treated in the Intensive Care Units of private hospitals that they have been denying. Consequently, some poor people or some more leftist governors have obtained this right under a court decision so that private hospitals can attend them. That is the scenario of the tragedy we are living at this moment in Sao Paulo, which is the epicenter of the virus. But it is spread practically throughout the country, with some relevance also in two northeastern states, Pernambuco and Ceará, and here in the southeast Sao Paulo and Rio, which are the two states with the greatest problems.

-In this scenario everything indicates that Bolsonaro is increasingly devalued. -Is that so?

According to the methodology of class behaviour, what we have assessed is that in the face of that tragedy, the bourgeoisie, the economic power, tried to move away from Bolsonaro. They elected him, they financed his campaign, but now they are trying to move away, as though they realize that this fascist project of the extreme right is a danger for the future of their own accumulation, so it does not suit them. Also, because the guy is a fool, to put it more plainly.

The middle class, 60% of whom voted for Bolsonaro, also, in a stronger way, moved away from Bolsonaro’s base and today only 20% of that sector supports him. In Brazil, unlike in Argentina, the middle class is very small. Here they are between 8 and 10% of the population, because we are a much more unequal society than Argentina. Remember that Brazil and South Africa are constantly disputing being the two most unequal societies in the world, as a result of our colonial roots of slavery. But, the Brazilian middle class has a high influence on public opinion, because many are journalists, lawyers, jurists, judges, teachers. Besides, I say it as a denunciation, Brazil is the country with the most domestic employees in the world, there are 8 million black women, semi-literate, who work in middle class homes, and in a certain way they also suffer the ideological influence of their owners. The middle class therefore turned against Bolsonaro.

-And the working class?

The working class is on its knees because, first, it has been suffering since 2014, when we still had the Dilma government and we say it as a self-criticism, from the consequences of the economic crisis. Everyone says that in Brazil in economic terms we lost ten years. The GDP did not grow in those ten years in terms of per capita measurement, we are at the same level as in 2012. Then, the crisis hit us hard, we have a lot of unemployed, the statistics are highly variable, there is much precarious work, and now, the past week, the Institute of Statistics revealed the most recent survey conducted for households, which found 7 million homes where families have no income. This means that there are 60 million Brazilians who have no income. These people live on a free basic food basket, the “family purse” or a family member who is retired and has some kind of benefit. The second largest country in South America is the 60 million poor people in Brazil who have no income, and these are the poorest, the ones who could rise up under any circumstances. The other factor is that the working class cannot now, even in the organized sectors, manifest its political strength, which generally manifests itself in strikes, land takeovers, around plots of land, in street demonstrations. Not being able to do that, we are without force.

-But the government is facing one crisis after another.

A government with this fascist nature is not a project, but a method of doing politics, because here there is no mass fascist movement as there is in Europe, here there is a government with fascist methods, of hatred, of killing the enemies, etc. In other words, fascism does not coexist with democracy, with the contradictory, with the different, with the adversary, any adversary is an enemy that must be eliminated. Then, the contradictions within that Government with the crises came out more clearly, not least because that class behaviour also has influence within the Government. For example, the big media, the O Globo group, the major newspapers and the major magazines, have all distanced themselves from the Government and are criticizing it, because their bourgeoisie has directed them to do so.

They changed three ministers, and not just any one, but two Ministers of Health at a time of the virus, and now there is an interim one, a General who does not even know about administering a vaccine, and the Justice Minister, who is not just any one, Moro, who is the puppet of the U.S. Department of Justice. Therefore, the United States is guiding him. When I say America is the Department of Justice, it is what the leftist intellectual gringos call the “Deep State” which is different from Trump’s interests. Trump only wants to make money for himself, but the gringo “Deep State” refers to the interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie. They have Moro as the card up their sleeve, that’s why they directed him to get out of the government to preserve him for the future, and the guy got out. Now, he is being protected by those same spokesmen who denounce Bolsonaro.

-In the midst of these contradictions, what is the real base that sustains Bolsonaro?

Faced with this situation, the force that sustains Bolsonaro is the one that has an ideologically fascist organized social base, but it is very small, the photos of the demonstrations of support that have appeared in the last weeks show that he gathers only 200 or 300 people, but with his baton, his jacket, his yellow shirt. In general, they are people who come from the Armed Forces and the Military Police, we have verified this. Also from the Pentecostals, who are a social base, even Marxists among them, who have been raised within the Church. Therefore, they are part of those poor 60 million people who only find hope in God and in the pastor. Those too, in a certain way, have moved away from Bolsonaro, that is why 20% of electoral support appears in the polls, but it is not an organized movement willing to give its life. So Bolsonaro has an organized fascist social sector that comes from the Armed Forces, people with a fascist ideology, and the Pentecostals who give him electoral support. But, that is not enough to sustain a government, even from the electoral point of view. Twenty percent support it, but 80 percent are against it, so the electoral balance has been completely altered.

-And the military?

The real political force behind it is military tutelage. Today I was reading a report that there are nine military ministers, out of 24, and 2,800 officers who are in the second and third line of the ministries. Not even in the Argentine or Uruguayan dictatorship, much less here, were there so many military personnel in key positions in the public administration. Besides, they are not prepared, they do not have scientific knowledge, as I said, the Minister of Health is a General and then below there are another 15 lieutenants or colonels. The press even described their resumes, and of the 15 only one lieutenant was in the Health Department of the Armed Forces. So, Bolsonaro’s government today is totally dependent on that military tutelage.

The question that follows is why it doesn’t fall. Because the bourgeoisie hasn’t decided yet. These days, Governor Doria, who is from the right, from Sao Paulo, which is the largest state, published a very didactic article in the press, where he said: “We are in opposition to Bolsonaro, but we cannot overthrow him now because if we overthrow him it opens the door for the popular forces. So, they need a little more time to consolidate a right-wing alternative that, symbolically, today is coordinated by the governor of Sao Paulo, Doria, by the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, who is not just anyone, but the third in the constitutional order to succeed, if Bolsonaro falls and the vice president, who is General Mourao, and the third is Moro who is something like a letter prepared for 2022, neither would be now, plus the governor of Rio who is another Pentecostal, whose resume is very similar to Moro. Particularly in these days, Bolsonaro has deployed the Federal Police and invaded the governor’s house, seizing his computers and his cell phone. But, look at the contradiction, the Judicial Branch wants Bolsonaro’s cell phones while he says nothing, but he can seize the governor’s cell phone. So, the people start laughing because the methods don’t work for everyone.

To close this issue, all of us on the left are saying that it is difficult because we don’t have enough strength from the point of view of the popular movement to overthrow the government. But, someday the government is going to be overthrown, and possibly that will happen when the right wing is sufficiently united among its characters that I described and, then they will decide: “let’s replace this fascist, so that we have a right-wing alternative and not a popular alternative”, such as we are interested in and propose.

We as a peasant movement and a popular movement are adopting tactics that are based on cultivation. Of course we would all like to overthrow the government today, but in politics, you are teachers and you know, we must not only trust in our will, in our ideals, but politics is as it is. The struggle for power is always the result of the correlation of social forces, neither party forces nor acronyms, that is why we always adopt a method of analysis to understand the behaviour of the classes, which are not always represented by spokespersons or mediators. So, in the face of this situation as the MST, as the Via Campesina movements, of which there are several, and also in the Brazilian Popular Front, the People’s Front without Fear, we have achieved a certain unity of understanding about what to do.

First and most important point: since we are in a war we have to defend life, to come out of it alive, and for that, since there is no State, there is no government, to defend life we have to generate concrete actions of solidarity, which have multiplied in an extraordinary way. We are proud of this because the people have multiplied in thousands of spontaneous activities, we were only the example, and we do not want to coordinate all that, let the people be responsible for themselves, as Bertolt Brecht said: “take command”. It’s a poem he used once against the fascists. So, to defend life now is to give food to the people, to give health advice, to guide social isolation, in short, let’s help each other because we have to save everyone and no one is going to save himself alone.

Second point, to somehow defend economic measures that are also linked to life, because you need a salary, you need help from the government, you need some support, like food distribution. On this issue of defending emergency measures we are acting on various fronts, the opposition MPs, even though there are only 130 out of 500, have played a very important role because they are active and the right-wing MPs are at home. There we have achieved an imbalance in our favour and the deputies have achieved some small important victories in parliament and, also, the bourgeois press is helping us in this. We try, with the weapons that we have, to reach people through various channels, on social networks, bringing together artists with their music and poems, and carrying out anti-government agitation and campaigning and demanding aid.

-Apart from solidarity with those most affected by the situation, what proposals does the MST have under these circumstances?

We as the MST have taken advantage of the fact that all the leaders are in-house, although there are many who live in settlements and have also managed to work in the countryside without health problems, and in these last few weeks we have developed what we call an Emergency Plan for the Countryside. We are going to present it on June 5 for the whole society, in homage to the International Day of the Environment, demonstrating to the people, the society, that it is possible to address the virus, hunger, unemployment, with simple measures in agriculture. An example for Brazil: here there are 432 large companies with debts to the State that have already been prosecuted, there is nothing more to discuss, but to collect, but the Government, as it is a party, does not collect. We have managed to identify these companies that have debts of billions and we found out that they own, apart from being industrial mining companies, six million hectares of land. So, what we propose is that they pay their debts with land, those sons of bitches, with all due respect to their mothers, there is a debt that has been cancelled by the courts and they have to pay, but they do not pay, so the government, anyone, does not need to be revolutionary or leftist, to collect those debts on land, which they cannot pretend they do not have. We would put 400,000 unemployed families on that land, it would be a revolution, it would be the largest Agrarian Reform in Latin America, because Zapata gave land to 300,000 families through a revolution in that period.

Those are the initiatives. We believe that people understand this method of solidarity. You mentioned the experience we are having in Recife because the people live in favelas, in neighborhoods where neither God nor the pastor arrives, and they don’t have internet, so we arrive with our white jackets, with a voice, with advice, with water, and with guidance to these compas, all of them workers who lived before precarious work and now are there waiting for death. There is a climate of great enthusiasm among the people who have realized that now it is between all of us, and also, in the last few weeks because of this agreement that we have, we have noticed a feeling of indignation that, among us, is the fuel for revolt.

We believe that we are sowing seeds to create the subjective conditions that, once the virus crisis is over, the economic, social, environmental and political crisis will continue. Because when the bourgeoisie decides to change the government, the military may take out the Captain, who is not worth anything, and continue with General Mourao who is the vice president, of course this change will only change the methods of doing politics, because Mourao is not a fascist, his party is the Freemasons, who have years of coexistence with capitalism, and the Masons know how to move in a bourgeois society. So there will be changes in the methods of governing with Mourao, but not in the economic crisis because he will continue to be a puppet of the bourgeoisie, of the corporations.

Also, we have made a lot of progress taking advantage of these hard times for political education through virtual media, we are impressed with the willingness of the youth to debate, study, read, watch interesting films. So, I am not pessimistic, I think we are living in difficult times, but we are going to emerge in better conditions to wage ideological battles and confront capitalism as a mode of production that no longer has anything to do with civilization, nor with the solution of people’s problems.

-I have to ask you, in view of the complicated scenario we are experiencing in Latin America, how do you evaluate two events that occurred in Venezuela? The first, the defeat of the mercenaries who wanted to invade the country, and the second, this act of internationalism in solidarity with Iran by sending ships loaded with oil.

Once again your questions are very thought-provoking. First, we are convinced that this crisis, with all these outlines, will be the beginning of the end of the gringo empire. I am not saying that it will die in the hospital, there is no news of any banker who died in bed, but, the American empire will start its decline and they will also have to look for other ways. It is true that much of the political power it has now will no longer be there and I am certain that neither will the economic power, symbolized by the dollar.

A new economic pole is going to emerge from this crisis, Eurasia, which is already in the statistics. China has 18% of the world’s GDP, then comes Eurasia, Russia, India, Indonesia, although here in Latin America we are not familiar with it and it is a very large country, 240 million people, with a GDP greater than Brazil, measured by the goods produced, and then comes the United States in third place with 10 or 15%. From that new economic pole the need for a new currency will arise and the dollar’s days are numbered as an international currency, although it will still remain in Latin America. Also, there are signs that a new ideological directions will emerge from this crisis that point to the end of capitalism, to post-capitalism. I say signs, because they are not yet organized forces.

-What would those signs be that you are talking about?

From the political point of view, 130 countries went to Beijing to request help and the Chinese assisted 82 countries, no one went to Washington to ask Trump for help. On the contrary, he stole medical equipment from us (Brazil) coming from China and stopped in Miami to resupply the planes. It wasn’t Trump as a government, but it was gringo companies that wanted to make a profit by reselling in the United States and not in Brazil. It is a symbol, and so is the attitude that Cuba had in sending doctors to I don’t know how many countries, but more than the number of countries, the doctors who arrived in Italy, the doctors who were sent to Honduras which is a right-wing country or to El Salvador which is also a right-wing government. So, when Cubans say that they are interested in life, in people and not in their party, that is a civilizing sign of humanity, that is no small thing.

In that scenario, we must analyze what happened in Venezuela. Some of us here were scared, somewhat paranoid, that there was going to be a military invasion of Venezuela, and I was telling them to go to sleep quietly that nothing was going to happen. Because I was lucky, I do not remember if you were also there in February in Caracas, in the Assembly, that was the key moment that they could have invaded militarily and with a correlation of forces favourable to them, but what they lacked was the Colombian and Brazilian Army. Mourao, who is not a fool, not a fascist, prevented the Brazilian Armed Forces from becoming involved through military means. At the Brazilian Embassy in Caracas, there was a Colonel who was Mourao’s brother-in-law and who had military information, he must have told him not to dare, because you will end up in coffins. Then, Mourao understood that it was not a dictatorship, that it is not Maduro, that there are organized people and that there is a Bolivarian force armed with Chinese, Iranian and Russian weapons. No, there’s not going to be a military invasion.

The same analysis was made by Mike Pompeo, because they cannot coordinate the governments of other countries, they have to rely on the old method, mercenaries, and they hired those idiots from the Guaidó cadre to carry out a scenario that resembles something out of a movie. Here in Brazil there is a very similar film, although it was fictional, called “Bacurau”, in which a group of gringos take over a small town in the northeast interior. What happened in Venezuela was the real “Bacurau”, because the fishermen were the first ones to catch these mercenaries, they called in the Armed Forces and the rest is well known.

But, in sequence, the international solidarity, the solidarity now of the Iranian people, must have a great deal of political will, it is not just the Government’s decision to send five boats with gasoline, it is the people behind it, regardless of the party’s ideology. I believe that there are signs that show that we are going to get out of this situation by building new international organizations, because the current United Nations and WTO machinery is useless, and is the result of the correlation of forces that emerged from the Second World War, which has now ended with the present crisis, as they themselves have said.

-Several Latin American and other continental leaders and movements are now warning of the same thing. Hugo Chávez insisted on reformulating these international bodies that act as pawns of the Empire.

Yes, new forces will emerge from this new scenario and, therefore, we will have a new currency and new international organizations. There, Pope Francisco, a gaucho like me, will have an important role because he is a bit of a visionary in this, too, and he is already discussing interesting things. In this sense of the correlation of international forces, we will have to think of organizations that are not only of governments or States, that are mixed with society, with science.

-What about the WHO that governments trust so much?

The World Health Organization in fact did nothing, they behaved like the family doctor and said that you have to wash your hands, that you should not mix with the neighbours, the father giving advice, but if the son asks for a pill there is none, a respirator is not available. Then, the World Health Organization was an international doctor, but it did not solve anything, so much so that the gringos stopped giving them money and nothing happened there either, the money only went to the bureaucrats who take out their salary in dollars or euros.

-Is the post-pandemic scenario pessimistic or optimistic?

I am optimistic, I believe that we will emerge with new international organizations and I want to take advantage of the space to repeat that we have to produce a new program from the popular left forces that will engage in dialogue with the new dilemmas facing humanity. I am beginning to speak with our comrades from all over the world. This week I spoke with our friends in Asia about how we should promote a new conference on the dilemmas of humanity, to have popular movements, parties, unions, revolutionary people, Christians, it doesn’t matter what religion or acronym is, but to evaluate what we have learned with the crisis, what to do in post-capitalism, which are issues of civilization, it is not a program of parties, it is a program for humanity.

Among these dilemmas that humanity has on the table, the first is the issue of solidarity. It is not possible to save the planet, the people, the living beings, if we do not base all our actions on solidarity, namely, that we are all equal, we all have to count. That would be a paradigm shift for international organizations, for our behavior, it would even change the way we see the dispute for political power, at times among ourselves, those of the left, we only want power for our little group and we imagine power comes from having more positions. The real power is when we build a society where everyone has the same rights, that is power, to give power to the people, so that we all free themselves and not just say that such a party of the left is in government. We here in Brazil are able to speak self-critically because we were there for 14 years, and some of us were saved, but there was a tremendous crisis. The governments can no longer confront the crisis of the capitalist mode of production, that will only be resolved by the masses in thousands of forms of organization.

Transcript: Guillermina R. Iturralde

Translation by Internationalist 360°