Lula Back in Brazil

Elections Labor Organizing Organizers Forum

            New Orleans       We have to celebrate election victories when we can.  Given the rampaging uncertainty of the US midterms, it was comforting to find one election that came out the way the polls suggested.  Admittedly, the election was in Brazil, which may not mean a whole lot to some, but given the size of Brazil and the major role in plays in Latin America, the victory of Lula de Silva and the Workers Party is huge.  The final tally against the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro was close, about 51 to 49, but close counts in elections, just as it does in horseshoes.

None of this is to say that everyone is ecstatic in Brazil.  Bolsonaro, a far rightwing conservative and semi-populist, self-styled as the Trump of Brazil, had been claiming for months that the election was rigged and if he lost, he would, like Trump, believe there was mischief.  Bolsonaro’s time in office had been fraught.  His agricultural base burned up miles of the rain forest for soybeans and cattle.  His evangelical base was strong and strict.  Bolsonaro hasn’t actually conceded yet, but he has broken his silence, and his chief of staff has indicated that they will follow the Brazilian constitution and begin the transfer of power to the victor.  Some of his supporters continue to protest and block streets and major highway arteries, but he has called for peaceful protest, rather than a repeat of the US January 6th debacle.  Many, me among them, shudder to think what he might have done in a second term, but it seems that he too will now pass.

Lula, as he’s popularly known, has had a rollercoaster ride back to Brasilia and the presidential sash after two earlier terms, corruptions scandals, impeachment of his successor, and a stint in prison until released by the courts and allowed to run again.  I’m unapologetically a supporter of Lula and the PT.  The first international dialogue of the Organizers’ Forum was in Brazil almost twenty years ago.  Thanks to blind luck, we were in Sao Paulo on the eve of the initial vote, where Lula was representing the PT.  Every union, think-tank, and community group we met was over-the-top excited – and fearful.  The dominant theme was whether the military and other supporters of the former dictatorship would even allow Lula to take office if won.  Jogging at dawn on the main boulevard there were already Lula supporters and their opponents’ waving banners in the small spaces between traffic lanes.  Through the ups and downs of Lula’s career, the one thing that has been constant, warts and all, has been his excellent record with lower income Brazilians and workers, as a former union leader himself.

The Organizers’ Forum has talked about going back to Brazil, twenty years later, and now with Lula re-elected, it seems like a safe choice and a good idea.  The World Social Forum, which began in Porto Alegre, with Lula’s return is also talking about going back.  Maybe we can combine both events?  It’s rare to get a rerun where progress and pitfalls can be measured over decades, but it just might be possible in Brazil in the next few years, and that’s a great thing.