International Cooperation and the parliamentary coup: a new challenge and a new perspective
Publicado em Oct 31, 2016 12:35 PM
It was the early 1970s and the military dictatorship in Brazil was at its peak. In the town and in the country, the peace of the graveyards prevailed. Rural and urban workers lived under slavelike conditions in farms and factories, politics had been eliminated from everyday conversation, the news covered sports events, churches preached about life after death. And death was everywhere. In prisons, with its thousands of political prisoners, in torture chambers, death was sovereign and its power invaded the everyday life of the Brazilian society.
Over time, a network of small popular groups started to gather all over the country, many of which were called Base Ecclesial Communities, Factory Commissions, Mothers’ Clubs, Community Land Cultivation, and others. Their purpose was to discuss the concrete situation of the people and perform little political and social actions to relieve some of their everyday suffering.
One of the generals who helped to articulate the coup d’état in 1964 was paying close attention to those movements. His name was Golbery do Couto e Silva and his field of expertise was the “intelligence”, or anticipating scenarios for military action. This analyst soon realized there was something wrong with the country - excessive silence in a once expansive country, a large amount of problems and no means to express them. In 1972, he formulated his hypothesis and his proposal: “Either we change something, or we might as well end up hanging in a lamppost”. He explained that “the more you concentrate power, the more it loses its actual strength. Besides, it also generates a strong counterforce”. The military strategist presented his idea: the dictatorship should take the immediate initiative of a "slow, gradual and safe opening”. That strategy was put into practice shortly after that.
International cooperation agencies: partnerships for a fair society
As the network of popular groups expanded and strengthened, institutional spaces were gradually opened, and the freedom of gathering and expression was exercised in a controlled, surveilled manner, but in a crescendo of popular participation. That participation turned the network into local popular movements, soon regional and then national in a matter of years. That path was not built spontaneously – it was followed, supported and reflected by activists, clergy members, students, intellectuals and professionals who searched for alternatives for their actions.
Additionally, this new scenario in progress had the fundamental contribution of a low profile, yet present and active political actor: the international cooperation agencies. The representatives of this cooperation were people who knew our country and our people very well; they had bonds of trust with popular collectives or institutions such as churches or small research centers. Many were foreigners who had long lived in Brazil with their families. Through these bonds of trust and political identity, small projects were elaborated and resources were distributed.
European countries were then living under the Welfare State, and therefore their sensitivity towards the oppressive situation of Latin-American dictatorships made the way for the raising and donation of expressive amounts for the groups involved with popular actions. International cooperation had its institutions, some of which were linked to the Catholic Church and others to the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican and other historical churches; others were close to the union movement; others were associated to independent secular sectors, such as environmentalists, socialists, etc. Those institutions also began to support the creation of centers for assistance, investigation and social action, whose role was to provide support and political qualification for groups and leaders of the emerging social movements – so that they would create their own national instances and their respective offices and structures. That was how supporting entities (later called NGOs) and popular movements with national expression began.
Soon the agendas of these supporting organizations and popular movements started using new concepts and references: political education for leaders and the people; strategic planning and outcome indicators; methodologies for popular and union work; history of society and Brazil; tools for transforming reality; popular education; popular communication, etc.
End of the dictatorship, start of democracy: renewed partnerships
It is the mid-1980s. The dictatorship is weakened in its ongoing process of “slow, gradual and safe” ending, popular movements occupy an increasing space in the country’s political scenario with their own leaders and methods of organization and action. International cooperation agencies follow the entire process, to provide a permanent contribution for the operational conditions of supporting organizations, as well as to enable the structures of the organized popular movement; they also contribute a lot to the processes of popular education and training conceived by organizations and movements, in local, regional and national levels. Representatives from several international cooperation agencies still have their strong bonds of trust with local leaders, and decisions on fighting strategies, leader training, entity organization and popular movements are shared, as well as the strategic planning and the possibilities of distributing the resources for the political and organizational work.
The second half of the 1980s in Brazil was marked by a historic process: the election of the Constituent Congress and the drafting of a new Federal Constitution. In 1987, popular, union, urban and rural movements, as well as civil organizations turned their attention to Brasilia, to the National Congress, and more specifically to the agenda and schedule of the commissions and sub-commissions in which the concepts and terms for the new Constitution were being defined and discussed. Aware of the historical relevance of this process, thousands of activists from numerous movements and organizations fled to Brasilia in order to participate actively in the debates with deputies and senators in the Congress. Their intention was to make a collective, radically democratic construction of that Constitution, contemplating the contributions and hopes of the collective experience over a decade of basic popular struggle.
Although many of the contributions from the popular caravans were not embraced by congressmen in the new document, it definitely expresses its zeitgeist, paving the way for a new political age in Brazil with emphasis on the democratization of the State, social participation and control, creation of councils and conferences, participative elaboration of public policies, direct participation of citizens in the municipal, state and federal levels, and partnerships between the government and civil society organizations and popular movements.
This new scenario certainly had a low profile yet constantly present political actor, a crucial partnership for the creation, development, rooting, visibility and qualification of popular movements and their leaders: the international cooperation agencies, which deserve acknowledgement for the indirect, but significant contribution to the democratic aspect of the Federal Constitution of 1988 and its further implementation.
After that, Brazil experienced intense democracy, with great participation of society in the development of public policies and state systems for the implementation of those policies, based on new institutional spaces with joint representation of the government and civil society, space for monitoring, assessing and planning a wide range of social programs.
Although this process took place in all governments within the democratic period, the last four terms, ruled by presidents Lula and Dilma, were marked by the furthering of these new forms of creating, monitoring and implementing public policies, with the co-responsibility of civil organizations and popular movements in the management of significant public resources. There was social participation in the Multiannual Plan, the Budget Guidelines Law and budget implementation, conferences, councils of rights, thematic commissions, places and mechanisms for dialog, social participation secretariats in the ministries, social mobilizations and dialog with public managers – all these new forms of social participation and interaction were experienced over the last 13 years of federal government, with great results as far as democratic political decisions and public funds management are concerned.
This panorama contemplated the historical expectations and hopes of international cooperation agencies partially, in the sense of improving life conditions for the Brazilian population and the democratization of the State with social participation. Because of the cuts in funds for international cooperation, the upcoming of other priority areas for cooperation worldwide, and also the fact that Brazil was overcoming the fact that a large share of its population experiments extreme poverty and social exclusion, international cooperation agencies in the country had been looking for specific fields to update their institutional mission.
Therefore, agencies began to focus on specific projects for vulnerable segments, in poor areas where there is little presence of the State, in projects that bring attention to little known social matters, formation and training mangers for NGOs, dioceses and social pastorals, communication projects that are alternative to the mainstream media, processes of articulation and discussion about subjects of interest for popular sectors and partners, such as climate change, agroecology, organic production, social technologies and pilot projects with good replication potential.
Parliamentary coup: democracy and civilizational legacy at stake
The democratic political scenario built over the last decades was based on the resistance to the dictatorship, the emergence of new political actors, the Federal Constitution of 1988, the experiences with the creation of spaces, processes and instances of social participation, the development of public policies and new national systems for their implementation, and with social control. However, this is now on the verge of being dismantled due to the parliamentary coup in Brazil.
The political and economic elites had been away from power in the last years and surged against the governmental pact established since 2003. They planned the parliamentary coup that has just ousted President Dilma Rousseff and put an end to the 13-year cycle of a populardemocratic project in the Brazilian Federal Government.
Why do we consider this event as a parliamentary coup? It is because it complied with the impeachment process formality, in the sense of meeting the constitutional procedures required, and culminated in a political voting with massive majority in the Senate, but its legal basis were weak and did not prove the existence of a “crime of responsibility” committed by President Dilma Rousseff. Therefore, the President of the Republic was condemned and ousted because a majority voted for it in the Lower House and in the Senate, and not because, legally speaking, she committed any proven crime. In a presidential system such as Brazil’s, an impeachment would require political and legal reasons for bringing the president down, and that was not the case.
According to public statements and practices so far presented by coup-plotter president Michel Temer and his new ministers, the next days and even years are bound to witness a widespread deconstruction of social rights, public policies and spaces of social participation consolidated over the last decades. Even the main achievements obtained after the Federal Constitution of 1988 are at stake.
The present challenge for international cooperation agencies that have operated in Brazil since the 1970s is: which attitude should be taken in face of the parliamentary coup and the destruction of a civilization legacy built over decades of countless partnerships among agencies as representatives of their respective societies, institutions and governments, and the Brazilian popular movements and civil society organizations?
Social rights have been acknowledged; public policies have been built; systems for their application have been implemented; joint government instances of social participation for planning and monitoring actions have been created; a less unequal society was on its course, almost 50 years after the “graveyard peace” from the early 1970s. Over the “slow, gradual and safe opening” – and much later – popular segments and international cooperation agencies had been producing real change in the Brazilian society and State. Today, this historic achievement is – and might be further – under cancelation.
New challenge for popular movements and international cooperation agencies
São Félix do Araguaia’s Bishop Emeritus, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, analyzed Brazil’s present political scenario and declared: “Come what may be, our dream is stronger”. This means that as much as there are attempts to cancel past accomplishments, popular movements and their allies will not stop building a fairer society, fighting for present and future rights. As much as there may be losses, this is a new threshold and society is rather more organized and aware of its country’s history, its State and their possibilities of change.
It is not about a new beginning, it is about getting back on track after a deep, unexpected institutional change conducted by a new sort of coup d’état. It is time to recover the memory of the process experienced so far, to systematize experiences and learn from them, to trace the path for a new accumulation, to join forces and political capacity in order to draft the new horizons to be pursued. Everything will have to be reviewed: country, State, political model, political representation, ways of making politics and public management.
This is what this historical process brought to light: the “new” in popular participation did not and does not fit the old structures and methods of making politics in Brazil. The “old” could not stand the “new” and decided to destroy it. Now is the moment for popular participation to move forward to transform these old structures and methods.
International cooperation agencies are currently facing a new challenge. In order to decide how to tackle it, it is important to remember how it all began, in the days of the “slow, gradual and safe opening”: Gathering with people where they live and work, listening to what they think and feel, and together with people, the main political actor, plan the present and the future – and the new paths in this collective construction.
Together with popular movements and civil society organizations, international cooperation agencies can define ways of defending the civilizing legacy of a fairer, more solidary society.
If we walk together in a respectful act of listening, reflecting, division of tasks and joint construction, our dream will be stronger.
Center for the Assistance and Support to Social Initiatives (CAIS)
Read also: Letter from Brasila - Discusses Brazil’s scenario after the parliamentary coup that ended with President Dilma’s impeachment, and the loss of institutional spaces for civil society organizations and movements’ actions.