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National Observer Home > No. 68 -Autumn 2006 > Articles


The Left-Wing Threat to Brazil’s Democracy

by Augusto Zimmermann

National Observer
(Council for the National Interest, Melbourne),
No. 68, Autumn 2006,
pages 48–54.


Many people in developed countries still believe that politics in Brazil might be resumed as a conflict between a right-wing landholding oligarchy, which is then always backed by the military, and the democratic forces of the left, which then would be always fighting for more freedom and justice for the popular masses.

This outlook is too simplistic and does not reflect the far more complex reality of Brazil. It is far better to say of the country that on both sides of the political spectrum there are plenty of “bad” politicians who are often re-elected merely because their clientelistic voters really do not care about (or don’t understand) all their illegal machinations.

Since the end of the military regime (1964-85), however, public opinion in Brazil has come to associate “the right” with the authoritarianism and human-rights violations committed by the right-wing army rulers. The country’s major right-wing party, the Liberal Front Party (PFL), is notably recognised for its voracious predisposition for all sorts of clientelistic bargaining. This party has abstained from running its own presidential candidates and joined with the Social Democratic Party (PSDB). Its most prominent leader, Antonio Carlos Magalhães, is a notorious caudillo from the state of Bahia whose followers often side with the governing party.

But it is ironic to see that now the major threat to the rule of law comes not from the right but from a highly anachronistic left. For, ever since President Lula da Silva took office in January 2003, his Government has been pushing for the creation of illegal bodies of external (political) control over the press, television, and film. But the numerous corruption scandals that have shaken the current administration, including a vote-buying scheme in the Congress, may at least offer the beneficial effect of demoralising a government which seemed quite bent on establishing a long-lasting regime based on a disguised form of elected and populist dictatorship.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the charismatic leader of the Workers’ Party (PT), was popularly elected in November 2002 and took office in January 2003. He has since been employing thousands of members of his own political party in the state machinery, including Marco Aurélio Garcia, one of the founders, along with Lula and others, of the PT. Garcia, who is Lula’s foreign affairs advisor, is a hardline communist who describes the ruling PT as “radical of the left”.

Whether or not the ruling PT is as radical as Garcia, the fact is that this advisor to the president has openly expressed his personal desire to re-establish Soviet-style communism. In an academic paper written to celebrate the anniversary of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Garcia, an influential member of the PT’s directorate, concluded: “The agenda is clear. If the horizon that we search for is still called communism, it is time to re-constitute it.”

As a way of re-constituting old-fashioned communism, Garcia and other PT members, including Lula himself, created in 1990 an umbrella organisation called Forum de São Paulo (FSP). The FSP was established to fight the “negative effects” visited on communism by the dismantling of the Soviet empire. In 2004 its organisers declared that the major goal of the organisation was “to compensate for our losses in Eastern Europe with our victories in Latin America”.

In the July 2005 conference of the FSP, Garcia delivered a speech supporting the “great destabilisations” promoted by “social movements” throughout Latin America. He suggested that extra-legal actions would serve to bring about more “popular democracy” in the region, and as a result eulogised “armed struggles” that would contribute to reaching such an objective. He also stated that the rule of law ought not to become a “straitjacket” inhibiting the radical goals of these social movements.

In 1990, the ruling PT organised its seventh national congress. The event was held in order to discuss long-term strategies for the political party. One of the discussions was on whether or not “revolutionary rupture” is a necessary step to bring about social transformation. The PT’s official magazine reported the results of such a debate in July 1990. It said:

“Over these last 10 years, the PT has … confirmed on many occasions its option for a coherent tactic of combativeness … which characterises every revolutionary party.

A rapid look at the eight points made at our seventh national meeting confirms [our option for] Gramsci’s notions of hegemonic dispute … the necessity of a powerful state and of engaging ourselves in the ongoing ‘war of position’ … towards a revolutionary rupture.

The question is to observe whether violence is still a valid weapon and, if so, whether or not it is our best strategy to advance the evolution of humankind towards its superior levels of coexistence and material production.

Above all, we need to observe if the passage from armed struggle to non-armed struggle represents the clear desire of the popular masses in their struggle against the bourgeoisie. …”

It is clear that the article considers the use of violence a feasible strategy for this party. It argues that laws must be obeyed only as long as they contribute to radical social changes. The idea is obviously inspired by the writings of Engels, who argued in a March 1884 letter to Eduard Bernstein: “The proletariat needs democratic forms for the seizure of political power but they are for it, like all political forms, mere means.”

This sort of mentality is opposed to the rule of law but helps a lot to explain why, on 16 March 2005, Veja, Brazil’s leading current-affairs magazine, published a cover story about the illegal offering of five million dollars by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to the campaign of PT candidates in 2003. The article quoted official documents from the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, ABIN (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência), attesting to the existence of “close liaisons” between PT members and the FARC drug guerrillas.

ABIN’s document number 0095/3100, from 25 April 2003, reveals that Father Olivério Medina, a Catholic priest who acts in Brazil as FARC’s “ambassador”, announced at a 13 April 2002 meeting, at a farm near Brasília, that the Colombian guerrillas were donating illegal money to the electoral campaign of PT candidates. An undercover ABIN agent who attended this meeting reported that the money would arrive via Trinidad and Tobago. It would be sent firstly to businessmen who supported the party and afterwards be distributed as if it were their personal contribution to the PT’s regional committees.

The accusation is very serious because the Brazilian Constitution, in its Article 17, Section II, explicitly states that no political party is allowed to receive any financial assistance from any foreign organisation or foreign state. Enacted in 1995, Federal Law no. 9096 regulates this constitutional provision by stating that the penalty for the party found accepting this kind of financial contribution is having its registration cancelled.

The Colombian Government has already confirmed that Father Medina is indeed the intermediary between members of Brazilian political parties and the FARC guerrillas. In an interview with the daily Folha de S. Paulo, on 24 August 2003, the FARC leader, Commander Raul Reyes, said that his terrorist organisation has close ties with the PT leadership, including highly-placed members of the current government. What is more, the Workers’ Party (PT), in an official note entitled “The Truth about Colombia, the FARC and PT”, has openly admitted that the FARC and the PT are both members of the subversive FSP, although it falsely maintains that there is no evidence of the FARC’s involvement with kidnapping and drug-trafficking.

On 20 March 2002 a committee expressing solidarity with the FARC was launched in the city of Ribeirão Preto, during the term of its then city mayor Antonio Palocci. Currently Brazil’s Finance Minister, Palocci is accused of being the “unofficial representative in Brazil of the Colombian narco-terrorist group called FARC”. In a 10 March 2002 interview with newspaper Folha de Ribeirão, one of his secretaries in the city council declared: “I don’t think that elections will solve the problems of Brazil. It’s the revolution. Today in Brazil there’s no condition to make an armed revolution, but that’s not the case in Colombia. They (FARC) have an organised military.”

But the ruling party in Brazil is also accused of receiving money from the communist government of Cuba. As reported by Veja on 2 November 2005, a Cuban citizen by the name of Sérgio Cervantes, a diplomat in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília, may have sent three million dollars by plane to Brazil in two boxes containing Johnnie Walker whiskey and one box containing Cuban rum. Accordingly, the person who would have taken this money for the party would have been an economist and former auxiliary of Palocci when he was mayor of Ribeirão Preto. Also, another former secretary of Palocci would have taken the money at an airport, and then travelled by car to deliver this to the PT’s treasurer, Delubio Soares.

The story makes a lot of sense for numerous reasons. First, it is rich in detail and has been confirmed by former aides of Palocci at Ribeirão Preto’s city council. For instance, Rogério Buratti, a lawyer who worked as his legal advisor, has confirmed that PT members asked him about the best way to transport illegal money from Cuba.What is more, everybody in Brazil knows that the relations between Fidel Castro and PT leaders “have always been cordial”.

José Dirceu, “the mastermind of the political generation that came to power with the election of Lula”, worked and studied in Cuba until 1975. He is regarded as the “architect of Lula’s election as president” and often travels to Cuba at Castro’s personal invitation. Moreover, President Lula himself is a self-declared admirer of the Cuban dictator. On his 2001 visit to Cuba, an admiring Lula gave this moving tribute to him:

“In spite of the fact that your face already is marked with wrinkles, Fidel, your soul remains clear, because you never betrayed the interests of your people. Thank you, Fidel, thank you for existing.”

The ruling party, however, claims the accusation of illegal money from Cuba is totally false and politically motivated. The government of Cuba, which openly financed Latin American parties and guerrilla movements in the 1980s, has also denounced the claims, as part of a supposedly “orchestrated campaign of lies motivated by the aggressive plans of imperialism against Cuba and against Lula”. The argument is lent weight particularly when one considers that money in Cuba is scarce, to the extent of Havana not being able to afford water filters for schools.

But then the allegations begin to make sense again when we observe that the Lula Administration has eased the payment of Cuban debts to its federal bank (Banco do Brasil) by 20 per cent and forced the National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) to spend millions of dollars on a plant in Cuba used for the production of fuel from alcohol.

In addition, the Brazilian Government has abstained from condemning, at the UN Human Rights Committee, Cuba’s assassination of political dissidents, even though Article 4 of the Brazilian Constitution explicitly states that the participation of the country in the international community must be guided by the “fundamental principle” of “respect for the prevalence of human rights”. Speaking on behalf of the Brazilian Government, the ambassador to Cuba, Tilden Santiago, has openly approved of the execution of Cuban political dissidents, calling them traitors in the service of US imperialism who are attempting to “destabilise” the Cuban communist regime.

Whereas the Brazilian Constitution explicitly forbids the death penalty for opposition to the government, ambassador Santiago, who also says Brazil’s political system should be based on the Cuban regime, has made this sinister statement: “Likewise, if they try to destabilise Lula, we will also have to take the same measures here.”

The allegations of campaign donations from Fidel Castro “coincide with an alarming weakness in [Brazilian] foreign policy that benefits the Cuban dictator”. Although Castro has aggressively sought to influence Latin American countries “on a scale not seen since the 1960s”, the PT Government has been oddly passive about the promise of his supporter in Bolivia, Evo Morales, to nationalise the energy sector of his country. The main victim of such expropriation will be Petrobrás, a Brazilian state oil firm with investments in Bolivia so large that they amount to about 20 per cent of its business.

Although Morales promised during his successful presidential campaign to confiscate the assets of Petrobrás irrespective of existing contracts, President Lula openly supported his campaign, declaring that his election would represent an “extraordinary change” not just for Bolivia but for Latin America as a whole. This candidate whom Lula and Castro have openly supported in Bolivia is a coca-growers’ leader who reveres Che Guevara and had previously commanded the violent overthrow of two democratically-elected presidents. On his ticket as his vice-president was a former guerrilla arrested in the 1990s for taking up arms against the country’s fragile democratic system.

The major ally to the ruling Brazilian party, the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B), dedicates an entire section in its website to the Cuban Government. It is an orthodox communist party that joined the coalition which supported Lula’s candidature in 1989, 1994, 1998, and 2002. The political coordinator of the current government, until September 2005, was the PC do B leader Aldo Rebelo. He only left the Government’s coordination after his successful election as chairman of the Chamber of Deputies.

The PC do B was created in 1958 as a result of a split inside the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) following Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciations of Stalinist atrocities. In an open letter to Khrushchev, founders of this party protested against his “revisionist” agenda, and aligned themselves with Maoism. When the Chinese Government initiated pro-market economic reforms in the 1980s, the PC do B aligned itself with Albania. But when Albania held its first democratic elections in 1992, the PC do B became non-aligned.

Dissidents from the PT and PC do B have now created a new political party, the PSOL (Party of Socialism and Freedom). Members of this party blame corruption in the current administration on the President’s “betrayal” of his Marxist origins. The PSOL’s policies are directly inspired by the writings of Mr Achille Lobo, an Italian terrorist who some years ago set fire to the house of one of his political enemies in Rome, burning to death his two children. One of its members, a student leader from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), declared this to the daily Jornal do Brasil on 28 August 2005:

“The idea of representative democracy is a bourgeois farce which serves only to keep this oppressing class in power. Those who are elected under the liberal-democratic political system are representatives of the bourgeoisie. … Lula is a traitor. He was the only one who had a real social base, but he has now been corrupted by neo-liberalism.”

As well as members of the PSOL, numerous supporters of the ruling PT argue that “mistakes” (corruption) in the current government are solely brought about by the embracing of corrupt methods that characterise the right rather than the left. PT founders, such as the “red priest” Frei Betto, now suggest that corruption is only caused by the fact that the party, once in power, ignored its “revolutionary horizons” and “forced itself to compete in equality of conditions with the right”. Another PT founder, a radical extremist called Emir Sader, puts it in the following terms: “All the mistakes committed by the PT Government are produced by its right-wing practices. All its merits, however, stem directly from its left-wing legacy of higher values and practices.”

Brazil simply cannot develop a normal democracy in a political environment such as this. Unfortunately, as can be seen, the country’s transition from military rule to a formal democracy has not changed certain patterns of undemocratic behaviour. An empirical behavioural-analysis would be very useful to demonstrate how much the politicians in Brazil are still in need of developing a more positive approach toward liberal democracy, and, more specifically, a truly democratic government under the rule of law.




1. “Clientelism, a patron-client relationship that rests on personal loyalties and quid pro quo between individuals of normally different social status, is a reality that has existed in Brazil since its first day as a colony. Indeed, when seafarer Pero Vaz de Caminha wrote to Portugal’s King D. Manuel on 22 April 1500, officially informing him of the country’s discovery, he considered the occasion opportune to request of the monarch a good job for his nephew.” — Augusto Zimmermann, “Brazil — Lula’s good heart: 40,000 public jobs, dole to 9 million families”, Brazzil Magazine, 30 March 2006, at http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/9561/78/

2. Marco Aurélio Garcia; A Social-Demmocracia e o PT. São Paulo, Revista Teoria e Debate, No.12, October, 1990. at: http://www.fpa.org.br/td/colecao_td.htm

3. Marco Aurélio Garcia; Manifesto e a Refundação do Comunismo. São Paulo, Revista Teoria e Debate, No.36, October 1997, at: http://www.fpa.org.br/td/colecao_td.htm.

4. Gerald Brant; How Brazil is Fooling the World. Brazzil, May, 2003, at: http://www.brazzil.com/p130may03.htm

5. Javier Gonzales; The Sao Paulo Forum, Latin America and the Crisis in the Brazilian Left. Destaque Internacional, Year VII, No.172, Buenos Aires/Madrid, July 11, 2005, p.2.

6. Paulo Vannuchi; Adeus às Armas? São Paulo, Revista ‘Teoria e Debate’, No.11, July 1990, at: http://www.fpa.org.br/td/colecao_td.htm

7. Maureen Cain and Alan Hunt; Marx and Engels on Law. London: Academic Press, 1979, p.160.

8. Policarpo Junior; Laços Explosivos, Veja, No. 1896, São Paulo, 16 March 2005.

9. Así Manejan sus Finanzas las Farc . Radio Caracol, Colombia, 31 January 2005, at: http://caracol.com.co/nota.asp?Id=142347

10. A Verdade sobre a Colômbia, as FARC – e o PT. Lula 2002 – Partido dos Trabalhadores, 16 February 2002. Available at: http://www.lula.org.br/noticias/not_int.asp%Fnot_cod%3D30%26sis_cod%3D7&1p=pt_en.

11. Heitor de Paula; Quem é Realmente Antônio Palocci? Mídia Sem Máscara, 23 November 2005. Available at: http://www.midiasemmascara.com.br/artigo.php?sid=4330

12. Larry Rother; Cuba Accused of Illegal Campaign Gifts in Brazil. New York Times, 1 November 2005.

13. Denis Lerrer Rosenfield; Princípios e Produtos. O Estado de S. Paulo, 15 December 2003.

14. Arthur Ituassu; Brazil: Here Lies José Dirceu, Consumed by Ambition and Arrogance. Brazzil Magazine, Los Angeles, 06 December 2005, at: http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/9480/76/

15. Armando F. Valladares; Lula, the UN and a Trip to Cuba. Diário Las Américas, Miami, 18 September 2003.

16. Rother; op cit.

17. César Maia; De Um Certo Modo, O Governo Lula Já Está Pagando Pelo que Recebeu. Folha de S. Paulo, São Paulo, 27 September 2003.

18. Augusto Nunes; Samba ou Salsa? Jornal do Brasil, 23 April 2005, at http://jbonline.terra.com.br/jb/papel.colunas/augusto/2005/04/23/jorcolaug20050423002.html. See also: Roberto Romano da Silva; PT Über Alles e Homem Cueca, Correio Popular. Campinas, 12 July 2005, p.4.

19. What Was Castro Buying in Brazil? Hispanic American Center for Economic Research (HACER), Arlington/VA, October 2005 (Published originally in Investors.com), at: http://www.hacer.org/current/Cuba058.php

20. Bill Cormier; South America Shifting Left, Away from U.S. Hispanic American Center for Economic Research (HACER), Arlington/VA, December 2005, at: http://www.hacer/current/Boli042.php. See also: Gonzáles, Javier; Elecciones en Bolivia: Interventionismo de Lula. Destaque Internacional – Informes de Coyuntura, Año VII, No.183, Buenos Aires/Madrid, December, 2005.

21. Frei Betto; Vendem-se Candidatos. Jornal do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 24 August 2005, p.A11.

22. Emir Sader; For Lula and Brazil There’s No Salvation Outside the Left. Brazzil Magazine, Los Angeles, 17 November 2005, at: http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/9467/79/




Augusto Zimmermann is a Brazilian law professor and the author of the well-known books, Teoria Geral do Federalismo Democrático (General Theory of Democratic Federalism — 2nd edition, 2005) and Curso de Direito Constitucional (Course on Constitutional Law, 4th edition — 2005).

























National Observer No. 68 -Autumn 2006