The Central de Movimentos Populares (CMP) was founded in 1993, with support from liberation theology sectors of the Catholic Church, as a federation of poor people’s social movements representing the poor and working class, homeless people’s unions, Afro-Brazilian movements, working class women’s groups, housing movements, indigenous people’s organizations and the LGBT movement.  Today, it has hundreds of thousands of members, acts in nearly every state in Brazil, and is an important actor on the Latin American left.

The CMP's Luís “Gegê” Gonzaga da Silva is a former MR-8 Guerilla who was arrested and tortured during the military dictatorship and helped found the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) party in São Paulo in 1982. He has remained affiliated with the party ever since, and is one of the leaders of its internal Socialism or Barbarism Caucus. He never held public office, never benefited financially from his status as one of the party founders and has spent the last 30 years organizing mass occupations of homeless families in abandoned buildings in downtown São Paulo.

In 2005, a corrupt local judge and São Paulo military police framed him for a murder that took place in an occupied building on a day when he was not in town. He eventually spent 54 days behind bars before Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST) lawyers got him out on habeas corpus. Declining an invitation by Hugo Chávez to move to Venezuela, at the age of 64 he decided to go underground and spent two years in hiding, as a group of Brazil’s best human rights lawyers worked pro-bono to clear his name.  When the charges were thrown out, he returned to his public housing apartment in a former abandoned building in downtown São Paulo and picked up where he left off, leading a squatters movement called the Movimento de Moradia do Centro de São Paulo (MMC). I spoke with him by Skype recently to find out what he thinks about this Sunday’s presidential elections.

(Photo by Brian Mier)

Why do you support Dilma Rousseff?

Gegê: During the last 12 years the Brazilian working class was able to experiment with better living conditions. It may not be everything that we deserve, but there were 500 years since the European invasion during which we lived off of practically nothing.  During this period capitalism made no concessions. In these past 12 years, even if the concessions were small, we can see that the people out in the Northeastern back country are living another moment, a moment less wretched that what they experienced before 2002 when Lula was elected. For us, members of the social movements who have a name to preserve in saying that we are part of the left, it would be very contradictory in this current social context to not support Dilma’s candidacy.

I support her because there is a huge Northeastern population scattered across the entire country, in places like São Paulo, Brasilia and Rio, who support Dilma Rousseff unconditionally, and it would be a big contradiction if it were otherwise. 

Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s presidency was one of the worst experiences in Brazilian history and he is from the same political party that is running against Dilma this Sunday.  It will be the worst setback in history if Aécio Neves is elected. Even the most radical left parties, like PSOL [the Socialism and Freedom Party] and PSTU [United Socialist Workers Party] are together with the PT now. They are saying “PSDB never again.” They recognize the fact that 8 years of PSDB [Social Democratic Party] government nearly sunk our country.

There are some middle class intellectuals and journalists, especially in the U.S. and Northern Europe, who have argued in recent years that the PT is no longer a left party, that it is neoliberal.

Gegê: Any government in a capitalist country has the task of managing the crisis in capitalism. The only country in the Americas that had a successful revolution is Cuba. But for us, who live in countries that manage the capitalist crisis, elections do not represent a revolution. I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that we could have done much more during this 12 years if we didn’t have one of the most conservative congresses in history, with the evangelical caucus, the “bullet caucus” [a block of extreme-right elected officials who are former military officers and police] and the ruralist [agribusiness] caucus who are all against the workers. So it was very difficult for Lula or Dilma to enact the kind of reforms they wanted to.

When Dilma went on TV last year after the protests began and tried to implement political reform, her own vice president spoke against it. The Vice President (Michel Temer, from the PMDB party) publically positioned himself and his party against the reforms.  Senator Aécio Neves met with the Brazilian ultra-right to set up a strategy to defeat Dilma if she brought her proposal for a referendum on political reform to Congress.  And now, when this next group of congressmen takes office, it will be even more conservative. The changes in Congress and the Senate are for the worse. I agree that the sustainability of a government cannot happen from the top down; it has to happen through dialogue with the working class. This dialogue could have been deeper, but Lula and Dilma never cut off dialogue with the social movements during the last 12 years. How could a rag picker have addressed Congress? During the last 12 years the rag pickers union sat directly with both presidents many different times in Brasilia. They created a National Negritude Ministry [Secretariat for Promotion of Policies for Racial Equality]. For the first time ever, they created a national Ministry of Women’s Rights. So, you can’t say that it has been a revolutionary government, but anyone who says that it has been a totally neoliberal government is being inconsequential because during these 12 years you had prostitutes unions, LGBT movements, rag pickers and indigenous groups in the presidential palace and this level of dialogue shows that it was different from Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s reign.

Lula and Dilma left us lacking in terms of a full social transformation but this is the result of 500 years of history. You can’t change everything in 12 years unless you have a revolution and give back everything the bourgeois has stolen from the poor. Are Lula and Dilma neoliberal? Where is this neoliberalism? If Lula and Dilma are neoliberal what name will you give to Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government? If you are going to call Lula and Dilma neoliberal then the FHC government must have been ultra-right.

What are some of the groups on the organized, working class left that are supporting Dilma?

Gegê: One-hundred percent of the MST, CMP, CUT (Unified Workers Central labor union federation) and most labor unions are supporting Dilma. There are people in every union in the country supporting Dilma. There are one or two breaks at the top of some organizations, like the case of the Força Sindical (labor union federation) but most rank and file members of the Força Sindical are supporting Dilma.

How has PT changed since 1982 when you helped found the party?

Gegê: I have been involved with the PT since the days during the dictatorship when we talked about the need for a revolutionary workers’ party.  I can’t say that today’s PT is the same party that was created in 1982. All left political parties around the world have changed since their founding.  The Brazilian left parties that radicalized, like the PSTU, have a hard time electing one single alderman or state congressman. PSOL has managed to elect a few people, but most of them are also supporting Dilma in the presidential election because they have a full understanding of the setback that will happen with the election of the ultra-right. Any government of Aécio Neves and Marina Silva [who entered his coalition after losing on October 5] will benefit from the hidden policies of the U.S. government and the CIA.

How would you compare the last 12 years of PT government with so called left governments in the North?

Gegê: I believe that the PT has not sunk to the level of the left parties in France, England and Germany because the working class in those countries has nearly disappeared; you only have small segments that are unable to hold large, coherent protests.

During the protests in 2013, the advance of neo-fascism brought the working class to the streets but we realized that there was another project in mind. Today, I imagine what the working class looks like in England- a minority of people working in the service sector. What is left? During my last visit to Europe I noticed that workers who had a high standard of living are being forced to lower their expectations.

What is going to happen on Sunday?

Gegê: I hope Dilma wins, because her loss won’t just represent a loss for the Brazilian working class; it will be a major loss for the working class in the whole world. Aécio will pull out of the BRICS development bank, which could be a big advance for the working class depending on how it is used.  We are proud that we have eradicated hunger and that we no longer have a shortage of doctors in our public health system, and we are sure that Aécio will do everything he can to send the 15,000 Cuban doctors back home if he is elected.  People in the U.S. have to know who their government’s candidate is. Aécio Neves is the CIA’s candidate. I hope he loses, but even if Dilma is re-elected we will have to fight a lot for political reform during the next four years. The people are not free just because Dilma or Lula wins the presidency. The people have slightly better opportunities but we are still a long way off from having any kind of revolution. You may say that a revolution would be bloody but maybe with this, with deaths on both sides, we could manage to really change all of this shit.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of CEPR.