Days after the first round of elections in Brazil, Gilmar Mauro, of the national board of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement spoke to Peoples Dispatch about the challenges ahead for people’s movements in Brazil to secure the victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party of Brazil.
Peoples Dispatch: It has been a couple of days after the first round of the Brazilian elections. Can you give an overview of what happened in the presidential elections, and also at the federal legislative level?
Gilmar Mauro: With the elections, from the first moment, we said it would be a war, a war metaphorically speaking. A war to win the elections, a war to be sworn in, a war to make a people’s government. Lula received a lot of votes, although there was an expectation that he could win in the first round, with voter opinion polls indicating this.
It didn’t happen, but it came very close to a victory in the first round, which, of course, creates good conditions for a victory in the second round. Although no such victory is a given.
I believe that we do not lack only 2%, but we need 50% and one vote and that is what we have to put on the table for our militancy and in the debate about the campaign that will involve several aspects and a lot of confrontation.
In the National Congress, there were no major changes. We have a conservative National Congress. I would say that it has become a little more conservative, a little more to the right in the Senate as well. But there is no substantial change there.
Evidently, sectors of the left grew, as did the Workers’s Party (PT) itself, electing many more parliamentarians, reaching 80 parliamentarians. The Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) itself has increased its number of seats on the federal level. But of course it is a very conservative National Congress, this legislature already was and it will definitely be next time around as well.
PD: I wanted to ask, in order to get to the elections it required a lot of struggle, not only in the month before the elections, but Lula himself, who is a candidate today, was in jail. So can you talk a little about this struggle to get to these elections and also this effort to combat this (anti-Workers’ Party) sentiment that was so strong in society.
GM: It is a good question, because I think we were able to change the correlation of forces and the political dispute in a short period of time. I’ll confess something to you, I thought it would take us ten years or more.
And this happened extremely quickly, because in 2016, we suffered the coup against Dilma. Soon after, the condemnation with no evidence of Lula, his incarceration and the election of Bolsonaro in those circumstances.
And through popular resistance, popular struggles, and also a little bit of luck, because a hacker appeared, with all the information that laid bare the farce that was Lula’s arrest.
This caused Lula to again become a free person without any legal processes, who could contest the elections and be in a position to win, and almost won in the first round. And I say this, why?
Because I think the right also made many mistakes. One of the mistakes it made in my way of looking at it was in 2016 to speed up the process and carry out the legal parliamentary coup against President Dilma and that acceleration together with the process of mobilization and struggle.
It accelerated something that, in my head, was only going to happen in the next elections.
Fortunately, we are in a position of winning the elections and it will be very important to win the elections in Brazil, for Brazil, but also in Latin America, the political relationships that can be established with other parts of the world,but fundamentally, defeating neo-fascism in Brazil, is fundamental.
PD: And now until October 30th and beyond, what are the main goals for people’s movements here in Brazil?
GM: I think it is not only in Brazil. We are in the throes of a right-wing coordinated on a planetary-scale and it is very common that this occurs in times of crisis.
We live in a serious economic, social, political, environmental crisis and in those times, in the past, fascism, Nazism arose and now they have once again gained some degree of strength.
In Brazil, of course it is a society generally speaking, conservative, and there has always been a right. Generally speaking, I, more or less, attribute Brazilian society as follows: one third of Brazilian society is progressive, one third is extreme right and one third transits in a kind of center.
Today, in Brazil, we have an organized right, with a lot of electoral force and this will not end with Lula’s election. We are fully aware of this. This is why the political dispute will be intense in the coming periods.
The social movement has a very important task to be fulfilled in Lula’s election. First, to elect him. Second, to ensure that the agendas of the people’s movements will be raised permanently.
So we are not going to get comfortable. We are not going to stay still in front of a government of President Lula. Quite the contrary. In order for him to really lead a people’s government, it is necessary that the people’s movements, trade union movement, carry out mass struggles, because I have no doubt that the right-wing will do this.
There won’t be a lack of political, ideological struggle, nor social-economic dispute.
PD: And to reach the 3% of the population to pass the 50% ceiling, what are your main strategies?
GM: The first thing is not to lose votes from the popular sectors because I think there will be a very big attack with fake news and that is already happening now and it is very intense.
This is the attempt by Bolsonaro to reverse some votes that in the first round were with Lula. We must carry out this very intense grassroots work, especially with the working classes throughout Brazil, most notably in the State of São Paulo. Although I don’t like the term “periphery”, but it is in the “periphery” of the State of São Paulo that we are going to have to work very intensely. And of course the series of political alliances, political support, with those who didn’t support Lula in the first round, but that see the risk to democracy, to the country and that can join in the second round and are very welcome. There is no problem with that.
Now, it is necessary to face very calmly and very coolly that in order to win elections you need 50% plus one of the votes. So nothing has been won yet. It’s not just 2% that needs to be turned around. It is necessary to do intense work, with the belief that of course we will win the elections in the second round.
I think every country in the world will face waves, or at least a majority of the countries in the world, will face very strong neo-fascist waves at this time in history.
So, it is also necessary to that all progressive sectors, I’m not going to say only the left, that the progressive sectors are very tuned in, and ready to build internationally to contribute in such processes that will take place inside each country and with that to not let humanity walk backwards so that we can not only confront the neo-fascist ideas and proposals, but can advance to solve the main problems that humanity faces, from an economic point of view, but with a social perspective.
And the environmental issue, which is an issue that puts at risk the existence of the planet and therefore, of all of nature, including us, human beings.
PD: In these elections, the MST also made history. Precisely because candidates were launched from the national board. Can you comment a little about this process? How was this decision reached, and what were the results of this?
GM: The MST, being a people’s movement, always participated actively in the electoral processes, and has had candidates from the MST base as candidates who have even been elected. But it is the first time that the national board of the MST made the decision to launch candidacies.
We did not put forward so many candidates because historically it is not our profile. It was never our priority. But the launch this year was very interesting. If we add the two governors or the governor-elect of Ceará, that was once part of the MST, the candidate for governor of Rio Grande do Sul who almost went to the second round, plus the three federal deputies that were elected and four state deputies, we have several thousand votes there that in my view are very important, because we will have a voice from the MST both in the National Congress as in some legislative assemblies. And it has an importance not only symbolic, but in the concrete struggle for agrarian reform, because they will be voices for agrarian reform.
In addition, it is important to highlight this, because sometimes we talk only about the internal candidacies. In the State of São Paulo, where I am speaking from, we didn’t put forward anyone from the MST. However, the MST has supported several candidacies for state and federal deputy, and all the candidacies we supported were elected. This happened in various regions of Brazil.
So, from the MST’s point of view and agrarian reform, I would say that we had a lot of success in these elections.
PD: You spoke about the importance of this international coordination. And you also spoke about the coordination the right-wing is doing. Can you comment a little about Bolsonaro’s alliances at the continental level, and throughout the Americas.
GM: All over the world in various elections around the world. We often look at the United States, and also even Hungary, which is a country governed by the right. But when we look at all the elections that are taking place, including in France now, what just happened in Italy, and what might happen in English, in many countries around the world there is a rearticulation of the right, the extreme right with degrees of political coordination.
In Latin America, fortunately, we had positive results, such as the election, for example, of [Gustavo] Petro in Colombia, which is very important symbolically and maybe even bigger than the symbolism of Brazil. Although the election in Brazil has this very important symbology because of the economic, political, geopolitical importance of Brazil and the impact of this for the whole world, but particularly for our continent.
I’m talking about this because it is necessary that the progressive sectors be very attentive in every country, but also creating bonds of understanding and solidarity and of mutual help for us to face the right that we all know represents a return to the past that mankind has already lived and with consequences that are very serious for the whole of humanity.
And this is at risk today.
So, winning in Brazil? Of course, the work has to be ours. We cannot expect you to do the work to win the elections, it’s ours. But all the support and solidarity is fundamental for us to confront the radical right, especially the ideological fascists all over the world.
PD: And now this is the last question. In this bloc that is growing in Latin America, this new progressive wave, what are the possibilities of proposals in common? Brazil shares its border with many countries, even inside the Amazon. What are some of the proposals that could arise already with this new presence, from Mexico to Argentina?
GM: Fundamentally, Brazil and Latin America have no socioeconomic alternatives without joint work and integration. And that is a path that I would say is inexorable, which will have to be developed by the future Lula government. It is a key coordination. And here I mean not only economic.
The economic partnership with Argentina is fundamental, with Colombia, with Mexico and with the other Latin American countries. But politically working together to allow this continent, which has always been historically affected by a set of policies and I’m not going to go down in history, but for it to not only economically develop, but to face the serious problems, socioeconomic issues facing this continent.
And more than that, an integration with other countries, whether in the BRICS and other parts of the world, in agendas that are fundamental to humanity.
And here I am saying it is not only the economic issue either, the social issue, but fundamentally the environmental agenda. That is, it is necessary to create joint political work on a planetary scale for us to definitively deal with the environmental issue. And I have no doubt that Brazil can play an important role.
It’s not just because there is an Amazon here that I see and we see as the patrimony of humanity, even though it is under the control of the Brazilian state.
And when I talk about Amazon, I don’t speak only of Brazil, evidently, the Amazon is much more than Brazil, but there must be a group of political actions that are necessary for the preservation of the human species and of all other species all over the planet. And Brazil can play a key role in this fight, and with this issue.
And hopefully after the elections, after the victory, we can discuss what are the challenges of the people’s movement which will be very many in the next period, it does not end with elections, although this is a key chapter at this moment and at this juncture.