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French and fortes on jga

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  • 1. Comparative Perspectives on Politics: An Interview with Dr. Alexandre Fortes and Dr. John FrenchGallatin was thrilled to host two leading Brazilianists, Dr. Alexandre Fortes and Dr. John French,at its December conference ‘Brazil in a Global Context.’ Fortes is Professor of History and Economics,as well as Chair of the Graduate Program in the History Department, at the Universidade FederalRural do Rio de Janeiro. He has authored and co-authored several books, including MuitosCaminhos, Uma Estrela: Memories of PT Militants and Historias e Perspectivas da Esquerda.French is Professor of History and the former Director of the Center for Latin American andCaribbean Studies (CLACS) at Duke University. French has authored several books and also servesas Associate Editor for the journal Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas.Fortes and French are currently working on an article which will serve as a follow-up to previousresearch addressing the 2002 election of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Now, theyhave generously shared their thoughts on Brazil’s most recent elections in which Lula’s successor,Dilma Rousse , became the rst woman president of Brazil and on the legacy of Lula’s presidency. Conducted, compiled and edited by Amanda Holpuch and Laura EspositoIf you were talking to someone who knew very little interesting about Brazil is that some of the mostabout Brazil, what are some of the central issues exciting political things that have happened in theyou would encourage them to become aware of ? world have happened in Brazil in the last thirty years, but most Americans are completely ignorantJ F : Since this is an American audience, of this. And there is a reason why we would gain a[Brazil] has the distinction, and it’s not the lot if we paid more attention to the story of whatdistinction people usually mention – which is that is happening in Brazil, and it would also encourageit’s one of the world’s most unequal countries, that us to understand better the challenges we face.it’s won more World Cup victories that any other Young people being very disappointed has to do– but rather it is the largest, least-known country with the need to develop some larger and morein the world. at is very very true in the United mature understanding of politics and about theStates: Portuguese is a language that has very little ways in which you move forward, step-by-step,prominence in the U.S. context, and Brazil has very not like night and day. So I think there are a lot oflittle visibility in the United States compared to things that would be encouraging to young people,other parts of Latin America. So the point that is especially to rethink how they think about politics. 1
  • 2. A F : Brazil is becoming more online universities exploiting poorer students. important in its role in the nancial economy. In e question about politics is how do we present eight years it became the tenth largest economy and things to people. We need an optimistic attitude; it’s positioned to become the fth largest economy we need an attitude that emphasizes what’s been in the world in some years. For the rst time it’s gained, not solely how it’s so much less than what experiencing its economy growing with income we want. at’s a larger lesson about how to do distribution and political stability and democracy, politics, and that’s a lesson the Left in Brazil has to so it’s a very important case study for the prospects teach people. [Democrats] would have done much of the world. better in this election (2010) if everybody [who] had gone out in 2008 – especially young people – You mentioned that there are certain things had not been sitting on their butts, saying ‘well why Brazil does regarding its policies, government and hasn’t the world changed?’ As Lula said when he economics that would bene t the world. Can you was elected in 2002, a president cannot change a provide some speci c examples of models that country if you hold onto the idea that someone’s would be useful for the U.S. and other economies supposed to solve all the problems for us. No, it’s to adapt and implement? the whole society. It’s the people who support the president who are supposed to work for it, and that’s AF: e main lesson to be extracted from the last the important point, political point, that needs to be years is that creating a type of consensus around done. We wouldn’t have lost as many elections and the importance of social issues, such as income we wouldn’t be facing what’s going to be a desperate distribution, is very important. First [it can] defensive battle for the next two years. Everybody strengthen democratic values, and it also can be very will get themselves back to, ‘yes we must act, we healthy for the economy. So that’s why if you take a must ght,’ instead of blaming the White House look at the great economies of the world, Brazil was and the Democratic Party establishment. Why one of the ones least a ected by the international should we expect the White House to do that? crisis, basically because of the way it was exploring the potentials of the domestic market. Also in AF: And another thing, relating to this issue: we di erent ways: increasing minimum wage and can learn a lot from the debate on the trajectory providing better wages. I think that’s something of Brazil and Lula’s two terms. We have had ups that can be aspirant. and downs, expectations and frustrations and now it is quite clear that it has been quite a strong story. JF: e fact is that the political scene in the United Because the [Lula] government has 60% of approval States has been so depressing for so long that rates and has elected his successor, who was a little everybody has developed very defensive attitudes. I known minister, people who have never run for any don’t think we have handled the Obama presidency elected o ce before are getting elected and it’s been very well. People in the United States still want an amazing political success. to see Obama as Clinton and being neo-liberal, [b]ut the fact is we are in a post-neo-liberal world JF: ere’s immense similarity [between Obama and we don’t know where we’re going, but we do and Lula] in terms of the historical rhetoric of know the past doesn’t work. In fact, by almost any the two and also the unlikelihood of their two measurement, most of what Obama has done has presidencies. Lula’s thing from the very beginning not been neo-liberal: the expansion of government has always been ‘hope is the only thing that programs, the expansion of the healthcare program, motivates people,’ and it’s not denunciations, and it’s the enhanced use of government regulation of the not lamentations, and it’s not hating enemies, and economy, the expansion of student loans, the cutting it’s not whatever. It’s about hope, and the question out of some of the pro teering that has been done is how do you create hope? And hope can be an by the banking systems and the private sector, like escapable thing that is so gigantic like, ‘I am going2
  • 3. Dr. Alexandre Fortes(left) and Dr. John French(right) speak at ‘Brazilin a Global Context’ BRANDON KNOPP to go to heaven,’ or something like that, or it can be authoritarian and immensely elitist, it’s a pretty so much more limiting with the capacity to inspire remarkable story. In the same way, Obama’s from hope in people, to see beyond themselves, to imagine a modest background. Not an impoverished some direction. We don’t know where we’re going, background, but he’s from an extremely unusual but somewhere di erent, and that’s where Obama, background, and the question of race is so prevalent the election of Obama – even if he is a one-term in the U.S. political world. He also has very high, president – is an amazing accomplishment. And it very fancy education credentials and things like that would be an amazing accomplishment even if he that make him di erent as well. He’s an intellectual hadn’t succeeded in passing certain things that may in that sense, but he’s an outsider in terms of the race get undermined in the next few years. But even if he thing in the way that Lula is an outsider in terms didn’t, the fact is it changes things, and it changes of the class thing in Brazil. e issue is, how do we things in a positive direction in terms of race and teach people politics and political commitment? the United States. And that sense that you can make a di erence is really what’s important to have and that’s what Brazil teaches you. How is it that the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) was able to accomplish what those who When Lula founded a radical party that wasn’t even support Obama have not been able to do? where other parties on the left – that were much larger than it – [were], and he had his rst election JF: I mean on the one hand, it’s not about the in 1982, it got three percent of the national vote idea. You can’t make politics by having everybody and it now, in his two presidential campaigns, got think the same way. Politics is best when people 61 percent of the vote and in the election that just don’t think the same way and the question is do ended, 56 percent of the vote. So they went from you recognize that plurality of voices. Do you say, three percent of the vote to well over the majority approach an anti-choice Democrat as completely in a very short period of time. For a fourth-grade unacceptable to me under any conditions, or do you educated manual worker in a society immensely say, ‘I don’t want somebody [else].’ e Democratic 3
  • 4. “Politics is best when people don’t think the same way” -John French Party, especially in the U.S., has a sector of the the most important thing has been to expand that super rich, a minority section, it has most of the belief in political participation to larger sectors of popular classes and most of the organized social society. movements, things like that. So the fact is, the People cannot organize, cannot take any active role only way it works is if people understand that you in de ning the politics, economy, society and so-so; have got to be able to work across di erences and that’s changing. Of course, the country’s huge; it’s nd common spaces of conversion. I am writing a complex. Change doesn’t happen at the same speed, book on Lula’s leadership and continuities and it’s same depth, it has to. It’s quite a complex. all about creating spaces of convergence. It’s not that everybody is giving up their di erences; it’s JF: Yes. Obama could do a lot more. Something that they are coming in a space around a gure like that the Lula government has done is to sponsor Obama and Lula, and to the extent which you can large-scale social movement summits under the keep people there, and [they] are not driven away auspices of the president: national conferences of by their di erences and are kept together around the black, women’s and LGBT movements,1 for a particular thing, then power emerges, and power example, which the president and cabinet members begins to change, because people are around. And attend and that are covered by the press. I had a power begins to change events and people’s Brazilian-American student, Andrea Dinamarco, ideas change and new con gurations and who was interested in women and politics in Brazil, understandings of our past di erences and ideas so I suggested she research women and the PT – emerge. which recently elected a woman as Lula’s successor – because two of the most successful women AF: For the very trajectory, the very origins of the politicians were from the PT: a black woman, Workers’ Party and Lula as a leader, the party and Benedita da Silva, from a favela (shantytown) in the social movements were very connected within Rio and Marta Suplicy, a psychoanalyst and sex them, and Lula himself was aware of the importance therapist from the most elite social class in São in nourishing people’s belief in politics, in political Paulo. Both of them have been very successful in participation. It’s important to think that you can Rio and São Paulo as mayors, deputies, senators and accomplish things through active participation, governors. When Andrea went on her research trip, and that was very important in creating many she attended the national women’s meeting with long-term changes in Brazilian political culture. 2,800 delegates, women of all racial backgrounds Of course this is not something that can always and social classes from around the country. She sustain. We are a nation and many moments we have opened her thesis quoting from Lula’s keynote to deal with frustrations from these kinds of things; speech in which he called on women to organize that hope is framed in a quite naïve perspective or something, under the assumption that we are 1 For an example of one such speech, see Luiz Inácio Lula da di erent, that we are not involved with any of the Silva, “Speech of the President of the Brazilian Republic at the shows [of ] old politics and that we are good, the Opening of the First National Conference of Gays, Lesbians, others are evil and so-so, and that experience of Bisexuals, Transvestites, and Transsexuals” in e Politics of conquering governments, local governments, big Sexuality in Latin America: A Reader on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights, edited by Javier Corrales and Mario governments has produced new experiences and Pecheny (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008), plans, frustrating at rst for a while. But in the end 265-69.4
  • 5. and declared that it was time for Brazil to have a about Brazilian racism, about Brazilian violence,woman president, and to put an end to the idea that about the 50 people killed when the army had towomen’s place is in the kitchen or behind the scenes. occupy favelas that are controlled by drug dealers in e response among the all-female participants Rio. We are going to get all these sensationalisiticwas ecstatic; however, Andrea was skeptical as stories about this. ey t into the idea that theseto whether Lula was just charming the crowd or other parts of the world are uncivilized, and out ofgenuinely supporting feminist ideas. In any case, control and they’re not like us, and actually Brazil isshe rightly concluded that it represented a victory a lot [more] like us than we really think it is. It’d befor the women’s movement. really good if people were able to develop more of a perspective, instead of seeing it looking down on it,Now that Dilma Rousse is the 36th and current as a group of people that are poor, the black peoplepresident of Brazil, one might prefer it if the [who] need to be saved. ey are ghting to advancewomen’s movement had been directly responsible their society. Why aren’t we doing this more? We’dfor her electoral success (the third biggest rather think of it as looking down on it in a morevote-getter candidate was another female minister maternalistic way. I admire all the college studentsof Lula’s who ran on the Green Party). But for a who want to go to Latin America and help people,society that is characterized by male supremacy, but if they want to help people it’d be much betterelecting the rst woman President is going to to change the systems that lock people into prisonschange a lot for every young girl born in the future. of their own lives and prevent them from havingCynical parents might tell her: ‘no, it’s not a big the opportunities they could have. is doesn’t evendeal, a man, Lula, put her in o ce.’ And it is true require you to open up the whole society to have thethat his personal support was absolutely crucial, but opportunities for people. ere’s lots of things youthey don’t have to tell their daughter that and, even could do short of overturning the entire structureif they do, their daughter can think of her country as of power, but you have got to develop a politicala place where, ‘somebody like me can be president.’ understanding of the problems you face. at’s the di erence that having Lula, the rstworker in o ce, has already made, and with Dilma’selection the way is cleared for a black President Anything else you would like to add?in a country that, as Lula says, has the largestpopulation of African descent outside of Africa. JF: You want to say something about why Brazil should have a UN seat [in the Security Council]?Can you contextualize some of the issues we are [All laugh]likely to hear about with the increased mediaattention that Brazil will be receiving because of AF: Brazil of course is a natural candidate forthe Olympics and the World Cup? a seat, as to the size of the country, its economic importance. Brazil is a global player on manyJF: e U.S. media has its favorite tropes when di erent fronts. Only Argentines wouldn’t agreedealing with countries, but there are actual real with that. So basically it depends on how muchproblems. You are going to hear in vast amounts at the UN is going to reform itself to become morethese upcoming events about Brazilian inequality, representative of the global situation today. 5