2022 Elections

João Paulo Rodrigues: "Brazil has a great responsibility in Latin America"

The national leader of the MST spoke with Brasil de Fato about the main issues surrounding the Brazilian election

Translated by: Flávia Chacon

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
MST national leader, João Paulo Rodrigues - Guilherme Santos/Sul21

João Paulo Rodrigues is a member of the national coordination of the Landless Workers' Movement (MST) and represents the entity in the coordination of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's (PT) campaign for the presidency. 

In an interview with Brasil de Fato, he talks about the characteristics of these general elections. For him, they will have less weight from the internet than they did in 2018. However, he highlights the importance of money: this is the first election with the secret budget in effect. Other topics approached were the effects of international scenarios on Brazil, the role Lula could play in Latin America and also the challenges that Bolsonaro imposed on the popular camp. 


Brasil de Fato: What is your analysis of the election scenario for the Left? What are the chances for Lula?

João Paulo Rodrigues: I am very optimistic. And it is due to a fact, the economy. Not because of alliances, or crises, or anything else, but because Bolsonaro made a bet on the economy that left the people poorer, unemployed and bankrupt. This defuses any other strategy. Period. It doesn't matter if the guy trusts God, he goes to church. Nope. People want to know: "will I get a salary?", "will I have something to eat?", "will I have a job?".

Think about it, we'll have until Christmas, even when receiving Emergency Aid etc. I'm talking about an amount of 50 million people who live on extremely precarious food situations. Or even someone that doesn't know what they will eat. Between those who have nothing to eat and those who eat poorly, we have 100 million. Consider half, 50 million. It is a lot of people. For every 4 Brazilians, 1 has nothing to eat. This issue embarrasses the middle class and causes indignation in those who experience this situation.

The right comes to this election with a high number of businessmen candidates. There are also many militant policemen, mainly in the PL (Bolsonaro’s party), and people linked to agribusiness. How do you imagine the profile of those elected by the right will be?

I haven't done a deep analysis yet. It would take more time. There is a lot of guesswork there. I think that the previous campaign, from 2018, gave priority to the internet and the so called "digital influencer". It elected who was prominent on the right and so on.

I think that this election is now very much tied to money. It's a different election and it's going to be very much tied to sectors that benefit from the secret budget more than anything. And sectors that were supported by evangelical groups, also with a lot of resources. So this opposition parliamentary caucus will be made up of money. The one with the most will win.

I don't believe it will be composed by digital influencers. I believe that even the policemen will come out defeated. They no longer have the strength they had in 2018. And if you look at the elected policemen, they haven't shown what they came for so far. Even the right wing and their candidates... What was the greatest achievement that the police had with the support of the Army? The police that had conquests were the officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force and some sectors of the Military Police. The great majority of the police and the Armed Forces are all more impoverished now than they were before. So I don't see a problem there.

Now, businessmen have problems. This sector is going to elect a lot of people because they have money, which is essential right now. This is the machine.

Do you believe the external scenario could have an influence in Brazilian elections?

We must always be on the lookout for Americans, the moves they make around the world I think it's a risk factor, always. US experiences in Latin America have always been dubious although this Democrat administration has been very careful.

Colombia is an example. They were wrong with Bolivia and Venezuela, they lost badly. So I think that they have realized that there is no point in trying to strike a coup right now in Latin America.

Now, US disputes, sometimes with China, sometimes with Russia, they are always a problem. They can affect our economy, which can lead to interference in the price of fuel and food. And you can have in the middle of the elections a new international conflict that disrupts everything. This is the first wind blowing in our direction.

The second is the behavior of Latin America. It seems to me that the region has a great novelty, which is an organization of several countries aligned to the progressive movement. This is new, from Mexico to Argentina. And this can influence Brazil. I am excited that we can have the Latin American winds coming to us in the next period.

Brazil has a great responsibility in Latin America, because of its size, its economic and political relevance. But I think it will be even more relevant under the Lula government. We are missing international leaders with the ability to dialogue and convince, with moral authority. Lula has this power. He is a great figure. Lula's tour of Europe as a precandidate, the way they received him in France, Germany and Spain demonstrates his political size. So I think that today Lula is one of the few people in the world who has the ability to convene things, or to contain "crazy things" out there. Bolsonaro, nobody knows who he is. So let's see how Lula's position will be on the international issue and how the other countries will behave.

I think we should be attentive to these elections. There will be a large number of international observers here. I reckon even the UN will come.

What role should the MST play in an eventual Lula government?

The main task of the MST in this next period is, first of all, the organization from the base of the "landless". We cannot lose focus. The organization of the "landless" in this next period goes through helping to organize the Landless encamped families, who fight for land and agrarian reform.

Then it goes through organizing the families that already have their land, in order to advance a more organized agenda of agroecology and healthy food production.

This, for us, is an essential topic because it demands designing public policies, fighting with the "agro" and having a new agenda, that goes through credit, marketing policies, technical assistance, supplies... They are very important things.

Last but not least, are the other public policies related to the countryside but not necessarily to agrarian reform. For example, electricity is not an agrarian reform policy. However, without energy, agrarian reform does not work.

And I say, jokingly, that Wi-Fi is needed. Because no one lives in the countryside anymore without an internet policy for youth, for those who live there, to sell their production.

What a future Lula government would look like?

I think that the Lula government will be representative of society. It will be a government that will make some pacts to have governance involving the National Congress. And Lula will have to build a majority in society only then to take a step forward. The issue is that it will be a four-year government, according to Lula.

So we can't waste time. In the first hundred days, we have to start with everything. Show what we came for. And in this sense, there will be a combination of the symbology of the agenda, whether agrarian reform will be a priority or not, and the institutional design to implement it.

For example, we have INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform)... Will it be autonomous from the Ministry of Agriculture again? Today it is linked to the Ministry of Agriculture. Will he create a new Ministry of Agrarian Reform to organize the production? Will he appoint a Minister of Agriculture more aligned with us than with agribusiness? This institutional design, I think it is still too early to propose. It will depend on the composition of the 1st and 2nd rounds, and the support that Lula will have to promote changes.

And for the broader popular camp, what kind of space will they have in a possible Lula administration?

We are striving to have a programmatic elaboration, from the MST, the left, the PT, so that the government understands that, in the first place, the Brazilian agro-industry has a lot to do with agrarian reform and we can make a tactical alliance with that sector. With a simple goal: to produce food for the Brazilian people.

What we don't have an agreement with and are going to fight is agribusiness, which is not the same thing as agro-industry. Agribusiness is the one that takes the commodities, the grains, and exports them. You don't have the patience to industrialize anything here, Contrary to the agro-ndustry. Agroindustry has an asset of very large production and industrialization and a very strong chain. It's one of our fights. We do not want to dialogue with the export sector. 

They don't need the state. They have the companies and all the infrastructure to protect themselves. On the contrary, with the Kandir Law (from 1996, exempting companies from paying taxes over commodities exportation), they generate absurd damage to the country, because it applies to iron commodities, grains, to eucalyptus, also a little to meat and most of soy. Well, there we have a divergence.

Our second divergence is with the unproductive large estate. These are the most aggressive. They have, among other things, land grabs, and deforestation. And now they are armed by Bolsonaro's arms law.

They will be two problematic sectors in the coming period. That is why our alliance must be with family farming, landless wage earners and agroindustry. Who from the agroindustry? Those with less than 500 hectares, that produce fruits, integrated, horticulture they produce to supply agriculture... Brazilian food. This audience represents 70% of production in Brazil.

What is our difficulty? The fact that they identify themselves as agribusiness, from the ideological. The son of a gun has 5 hectares of land, has high funding because it is integrated, suppose, with pig production in Santa Catarina. Finance up to 1 million per year. And think like an "agro". "Son of a gun, you are not 'agro'. You do not export one pound of anything. You are one of us of industrialized Brazilian agriculture. With you we can unite."

The government needs to extend its plan according to this perspective. Will it work? It is very difficult, but it seems to us that the government cannot make pacts with the unproductive latifundium. They are a tragedy, a backward. Agribusiness is a tragedy for the environment and for the national generation of jobs and income.

What are the challenges that Bolsonaro, or what we call Bolsonarism, imposed for the popular camp?

Bolsonarism achieved a great feat we have not achieved before which is to transform actions of Bolsonarism into a political culture. The other day I used, as an example, weapons.

We lost the plebiscite on weapons. It was an important fight. Today is different, Bolsonaro made weapons a cultural component. As if to say that the Brazilian smokes, drinks cachaça, he likes forró and weapons. Period. It became an element of the culture of our people. How are you going to question his right to have a gun? No, it became something else. This happened on our bases. There are people in the countryside who claim their right to buy a gun. It is not that they cultivate the politics of arms, but the right to have a gun or something similar. This is something that Bolsonarism created.

Another issue is that Bolsonarism has taken sectors of ours to another discourse, that you think the guy is right-wing. For example, the evangelical churches. Even those in our settlements sympathize with some agendas of Bolsonarism. Now, how does the popular sphere approach the churches, where are ours, poor people who participated in the struggle, but who have a speech aligned with the other side? It's a problem. 

The third difficulty is to deal with the idea that it is better not to have social rights, like labor laws, and "keep my job". How do you address this with the "uberization" people? Who say that they no longer have a boss and now they are happy. They now have the power of choice. This became a political culture, it will not be easy to recover it.

If I could systematize the difficulties we face with Bolsonarismo is that he co-opted a discourse about work. He co-opted the discourse of culture, of the people's way of life. I mean, he raised an idea about that.

And finally... [he] confused the religious people that historically belonged to the poor and relegated of this country, and today they still are, but with ideas from the right and Bolsonarism.

What is your analysis of the current political situation in Brazil?

I think there is a generalized crisis in the organized sector. This includes the union movement, the parties, everyone. And I suspect that the MST is one of the organizations that best knew how to handle these crises.

We have a differential in relation to other organizations. We have territory, we have schools, training centers, settlements and we have materiality, called "organic foods". 

Other movements and union movement, with this organizational crisis, greatly weakened their relationship with society. So the MST, I say this with some care, is a successful organization in the context of this crisis and of the economy. We had no internal ruptures. We were not repressed as we thought by Bolsonaro. On the contrary, we came out of a pandemic delivering more than 6 thousand tons of food. We came out of a pandemic with the lowest number of deaths in the territory of the landless.

Bolsonaro did not annihilate us as we imagined. Moreover, the organization which will soon be 40 years old, came out of this with a level of maturity that gave us peace of mind to occupy estates anywhere in the country to confront a National Force, as happened in Bahia, without going back, and in parallel launch the film about Marighella, made in our bases, with a lot of artists from TV Globo. Or to launch a program called "Finapop" with the famous businessmen of Av. Faria Lima.

So it's a novelty from a certain perspective. We make football matches that bring together hundreds of personalities, like Lula and Chico Buarque.

So the MST was able to act on several fronts that are required of a popular movement today. And the symbol is the MST cap. We sold more caps this year than in the last ten years. This represents solidarity and a political position shared with the rest of the organized left.

That's why I think this is our best moment in the last 10 years. And the main thing is not to have a defeat in this next period. A defeat for Lula would mean the deflation of this political climate. A victory for Lula would mean doubling the spirit of our troops and the prospect of future struggles that improve the lives of our people.

Edited by: Flávia Chacon