Carlos Aznarez and Joao Pedro Stedile
To interview Joao Pedro Stedile, referent of the Landless Movement of Brazil, is to know in advance that everything he says will be backed by years of working with the peasant masses, and also as an indispensable promoter of political alliances of the anti-capitalist left. We wanted to discuss with him the current situation in his country, submerged in a very grave health crisis as well as another crisis resulting from the disaster produced by the appalling government of Jair Bolsonaro.
What is your analysis of the recent changes made by Bolsonaro in his cabinet?
As you know, Brazil is going through its worst crisis in its entire history, derived from the capitalist mode of production, and this crisis is deepening in the economy, in social and environmental matters, and now in public health, which has already caused 305,000 deaths. These last few days we reached the worst ranking with around 3900 dead in one day, in Sao Paulo there are 1000 dead per day. A tragedy. I have a son who works in the emergency department of the country’s public hospital, and the poor man reports more tragedies every day. There is a lack of medicines of all kinds, not only oxygen. There are 6,000 people in line, waiting to enter the hospital. That is the scenario, in the face of this, Bolsonaro’s government is more involved in its own lies. Furthermore, in the last few weeks there have been several developments in the bourgeoisie camp, signaling that they can’t stand it anymore. Four hundred businessmen published a letter, driving Bolsonaro up against the wall. Agribusiness, which swims in money, succeeded in replacing the Chancellor, something which is a positive development, because the new Chancellor is from the center, a career civil servant.
There were also important changes in the leadership of the Armed Forces.
Yes, also the military, but what happened? There was great tension in the Bolsonarist ideological base over an episode in Bahia: a congresswoman and coordinator of a commission tried to revolt the military police of Bahia, a governorate that belongs to the Workers’ Party. That generated tension with the military, Bolsonaro was beaten: “I go out, but I go out with my head wounded”; because the Armed Forces belong to the Brazilian state and not to the government. We, who understand the message, understand that the Armed Forces depend on the bourgeoisie and not on Bolsonaro’s government. The state is bourgeois. As a next step, the commanders of the army, navy and aeronautics self-disbanded. Those gentlemen were replaced, but it is clear that Bolsonaro’s isolation increased. The military crisis revealed that he is increasingly losing support, at least from the military officialdom. Hence, the impeachment initiative is once again a real possibility.
It is clear that there are sectors within the Army and other forces that support Bolsonaro and others that reject him. But when it comes to displacing him, is it possible that they could resort to a coup d’état?
It is very difficult for the Armed Forces to express their political opinions here, unlike the traditions of Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. From what is known, it could be said that there are two currents, although not organized, but there is a sector that is in the government. There are 8700 military of all arms, who are in the government, because of opportunism, “the lúmpenes”, because they entered the government to obtain advantages, although not because of their commanders, they entered the government through friendship. A general assumes the ministry and then brings his people with him, including soldiers who become officials of the executive. There are other people who are in the barracks and it is known that there are already conflicts caused by this, because the people in the barracks, who are fulfilling their duties, have the same salaries, only that their colleagues who went to the Executive have two salaries and other advantages. Among them there is beginning to be a certain distancing. The second is Bolsonaro’s nonsense and lies. A few days ago in Brazil, April 1 1 was celebrated, which is the “day of lies”, and the newspapers made calculations that, in the period of one year, Bolsonaro told an average of three lies per day, invariably bragging about his role as captain of the army. The irony is that his lies, his idiocy, his mediocrity is starting to make his peers uncomfortable. For the popular symbology, Bolsonaro is a military man, and therefore he is the expression of military mediocrity. This is what he exposes his colleagues to and this is what makes them angry with him.
There were even some people in uniform protesting against the lack of correct measures in the face of Covid.
The COVID problem: I knew a gaucho general who was minister and commander of the south in Vilma’s time, the man was 64 years old, and he died of COVID in the Military Hospital. The family of this military man said that this was not a lie. Now they are demanding vaccines, oxygen. The increasing number of dead people is taking the military families with it, and that is making them think. These are the contradictions we are facing. The reading shows that with this government, instability and the governmental crisis will deepen more each week.
I suppose that the humble people who suffered the consequences of the 1964 dictatorship are not happy about the Defense Minister’s comment praising the military coup of that time.
The poor people of Brazil, the 60 million workers who are deprived of their rights, have no work, have no income, also have a low level of political education. That is why 25% of those who voted for Bolsonaro declared that if Lula had been a candidate they would have voted for him. So, 25% of the electorate do not differentiate between Lula and Bolsonaro. Within this reality, we perceive, thanks to the work we did in the outskirts of the city, that they are concerned about survival. They don’t care about politics, they want to talk about the price of food, employment, the emergency income they need and being protected from COVID. Those are the issues of the poor people, the 60 million are concerned about on a daily basis. That is why it was good for them that Lula returned to the political scene. With his historic speech 10 days ago he reached the base, because Lula talked about the needs of the people, that Brazil cannot go through these difficulties. We have a strong economy and we will have to guarantee income, food and medicine for all. Then, people realized that we could have had a different government and different solutions for the very serious problems of today.
This means that there is a favorable climate for Lula to continue in the race and that he could win the elections.
The electoral scenario is still a long way off, since the vote will be in October 2022. But the recovery of Lula’s political rights, the Federal Supreme Court’s condemnation of (former judge) Moro, put Lula back on the electoral stage. There is no legal possibility of reversing his rights, so Lula is a candidate. What were the consequences of his candidacy? First, he managed to unify the left. Until a month ago, there were several people who wanted to be candidates, even within the PT. Since that moment nobody talks about it anymore. Now we will be with Lula, we all go with Lula. But the problem is who will be the vice-president. Will he repeats the formula of choosing someone from the business community, a female colleague, or someone markedly younger. The second thing is that Lula defeated the center. Until Lula announced his return, we had the following scenario: Bolsonaro would run for reelection, the right wing would manage to put together a Broad Right Front, and thus would have the possibility of defeating the current president, turning the left upside down, because they would present themselves with their economic strength, as the only ones who could beat Bolsonaro. Then, when Lula returned, the center right was defeated. The governor of Sao Paulo who was in confrontation with Bolsonaro, made it clear that: “With Lula I will not compete, I prefer to be reelected in Sao Paulo”, which by the way is the largest state in the country, where the bourgeoisie of Brazil is located. So, Lula also defeated the right wing that wanted to present itself as the center and placed Bolsonaro in a predicament. Bolsonaro knows that he won because the bourgeoisie supported him, he was the candidate of the bourgeoisie, with the support of the Globo Network, and now they are not with him. Considering that 25% of his voters would vote for Lula, Bolsonaro is in danger of not going for reelection.
What cards does the bourgeoisie have to play?
Currently, in the electoral arena one can see the desperate bourgeoisie trying to appoint some right-wing man who would be the third way, as they themselves say. But there are few popular names, because the ones they wanted, are no longer viable. For example, there is Ciro Gómez from an opposition party but who has his ideological vanities and is center-right. La Globo has one of its journalists, but with little electoral viability. I believe that this situation, even in 2022, may push the bourgeoisie to abandon Bolsonaro. Before, it was certainly convenient for them to demoralize Bolsonaro, now they know that if they do not contribute to overthrow Bolsonaro in the elections, they would be held responsible for the crisis by supporting him. So, they will move to help overthrow Bolsonaro, keep vice Mourão and thus they would have more morale or argument to get to the 2022 elections with the idea of overthrowing fascism.
In the last interview you gave us, you were very skeptical about the state of popular mobilization, so I wanted to ask you how you perceive the popular camp now, taking into account that lately there were some union protest mobilizations.
In our popular camp, the two developments since our last conversation, have been the return of Lula to the struggle, because he is the team’ s 10, our Maradona, that brings a new mood and hope. The other is contrary and negative: the increasing number of deaths, the social and health crisis, keeps the working class isolated from the class struggle. So, we face a situation in which we cannot move yet, we cannot be irresponsible to call for mass mobilizations, because people would not take the risk. They may go out to the streets because they have to work, but to go out to do politics, I have my doubts. Faced with this difficult situation, how are we operating? In Brazil we had four fronts, each one with its own logic: Frente Pueblo sin Miedo, Frente Brasil Popular, Frente por la Vida, which gathers health entities, health workers, doctors, and there was also Frente por la Democracia. In the last few weeks we managed to bring them all together.
And now what do you plan to do to face Bolsonaro together?
So now we have a coordination of programmatic unity. We unite to fight for vaccines for all, to fight for life, to fight for emergency aid for the 60 million workers in the city, and for the peasants, from there we demand emergency support to be destined for the provision of food, because that is what is lacking in the midst of high inflation. The third is “Bolsonaro out”. We have unity in that, which is very important. Until December, for example, the churches were not interested in the slogan “Out with Bolsonaro”, because they considered it a partisan issue, or sectors of the middle class, such as artists, were in the center and did not mobilize for that slogan either. Now we have unity, we all want three things that are related. We cannot have vaccines with this shitty government, nor emergency aid. This is understood, but we still have important challenges. The first one is that we have to continue with our symbolic actions, although they have not yet had a psychosocial impact on the population. We have to think and be creative, what things could make an impact, with few people, but if all the cities do it at the same time, it would impact the policy. The second challenge is that we have to talk to the 60 million people, but we continue with methods that are still very much focused on militancy. Just doing meetings by computer, does not reach the people from below, hence we have to recover radio programs, cultural activities and discover ways to reach the population. The third challenge is to amplify the relations of solidarity, not only distribute food or gas (carafes) for cooking, which have insane prices here, they cost 20 dollars for 20 kilos of gas. Thus, people cannot cook. We have to develop this and to accommodate forces in the face of this growing indignation. In addition to the agendas that we are building in a common way, such as April 7, World Day for the Defense of Health, or April 17, Day of the Peasant Struggle. Our goal must be to accumulate forces with the workers in order to reach a total stoppage.
We cannot speak of a general strike, but we must try to bring everything to a halt, because those who are fighting the battle against Covid, assure us that if we do not stop everything for 15 days, we could reach 500,000 deaths in a few weeks. As death is reaching our neighbors every day, people are more shocked. Just today I started to work with the loss of a historical comrade of the PT of Sao Paulo, who was mayor of a nearby industrial city. This comrade died of COVID within three days. That is why I believe that we can reach a situation in which, together with the popular forces and with the support of the churches, jurists, journalists, we can call for a total strike to stop COVID. But since we cannot go out to the streets let us hope that the bourgeoisie has a little judgment and helps us to overthrow Bolsonaro. They have media and economic strength: if they want to overthrow him.
We hope Bolsonaro falls soon, this is now a necessity. Thank you Joao Pedro for the interview and hopefully soon we will be able to travel to do it again in person.
A hug to the whole team of Resumen Latinoamericano. You are doing a great job. You have the Catholic, Christian, Islamic and Judaic heaven, so don’t worry, you don’t need to travel soon. We are optimists, we fight against pessimism every day. The left is too pessimistic, too rational, it does not trust in dialectics and dialectics teaches us that for every action of the right there will be a contradiction. It is they who are in crisis. It is capitalism that is in crisis, and we will come out of this with more strength. There will be very important changes in all Latin America, in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and we here, as soon as the vaccine comes, you will have plenty of time to interview the Brazilians, because we will not leave the streets, if we do not have changes. And we are going to accumulate forces to vote for Lula in 2022.
Translation by Internationalist 360°