When I was in Brazil, I’d occasionally encounter people who repeated the Freyrean idea that Brazil isn’t racist in the ways the US was due to the greater variation in skin-color in Brazil and the absence of Jim Crow-style laws. Of course, this is a red herring that presumes racism only takes one form, and throughout the twentieth century, something against which people like Abdias do Nascimento actively fought. And of course, then, this week provided three ugly and disgusting reminders of how far the myth of a racial democracy is from the reality of modern forms of racism in Brazil.
First, at a São Paulo fashion show, Brazilian models “celebrated” black women by wearing brillo pads on their heads in an attempt (misguided at best, intentionally racist at worst) to “emulate” Afro-Brazilian hair. And the “homage” is even worse than it sounds, given that the Portuguese word for brillo, bombril, is also a negative term for kinky hair. Of course, this “fashion” show isn’t an isolated case; the Brazilian fashion industry is notoriously racist, regularly seeking white woman models with blonde hair, blue eyes, and European features to serve as the paradigm of true “beauty.”
Sadly, racism can and take on even more violent tones than the discursive violence of bigotry on the catwalk, and we got another reminder of that fact this week in Brasília, where four girls murdered a 12-year-old girl simply because she was black.
And to be clear, racism isn’t limited to those of African descent. Indigenous peoples who had tried to protect their home in a buiding near Maracanã stadium, where the 2014 World Cup final will be held, were forcibly and violently removed yesterday, with over 200 police officers using tear gas and pepper spray against urban indigenous peoples and protestors [some images NSFW] who had made the building their homes. Of course, the removal was part of broader efforts to forcibly relocate Brazil’s marginalized populations, including the poor, as it attempts to “renovate” the city for the upcoming World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Nonetheless, yesterday’s eviction of native peoples was particularly ugly; as one comment on Twitter put it, “It’s been 500 years that white men have been exploiting the indigenous people of this continent (Brazil).”
To be clear, it’s not like Brazil is the only country with its own problems of race – such bigotry, hatred, and racism exist throughout the world. Nonetheless, the past week has provided a very brutal reminder of just how wide the gap between the rhetoric of a “racial democracy” and actual social relations in Brazil still are.
The battle between state and federal power in Brazil has heated up recently. Last year, Congress passed a law that transformed the distribution of oil revenues in Brazil. Under the old system, the royalties from oil revenues mostly went to the states that were closest to the offshore deposits – in this case, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. This created a natural disadvantage for Brazil’s interior states or for states like Bahia that do not have oil deposits off the shoreline. Additionally, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo historically have been Brazil’s richest states for hundreds of years; with the oil royalties remaining there, they continued to benefit from better infrastructure and social programs than areas like the poorer Northeast, perpetuating and further exaggerating regional inequalities. In order to address this issue, last year Brazil’s Congress passed a law designed to more equally redistribute oil wealth throughout the country. Naturally, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo howled – people in Rio took to the streets to protest the law in late 2012 – as they faced reductions in their state budgets from the law. Compounding matters is that the law would immediately go into effect on all current contracts as well as future contracts. In order to try to find a solution, President Dilma Rousseff used her line-item veto to make the law applicable only to future contracts, allowing Rio, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo to maintain the monopoly on royalties from current contracts. However, Congress has overridden her veto, making the law applicable to both present and future contracts. Unsurprisingly, opponents to the law in oil-rich states are fighting back, with some occupying airports while Rio’s governor has suspended all the state’s payments and legislators prepare to appeal to the Supreme Court. In sum, it has turned into quite the debate over the question of resources, capital, and national wealth versus state wealth.
Certainly, the outrage in Rio, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo is understandable. As the article points out, Rio alone is set to lose nearly $1.6 billion in revenue this year alone under the new law. At the same time, though, it’s an entirely defensible law. On sheer numbers alone, helping 27 states instead of three states is entirely reasonable.
And that’s not taking into consideration the regional inequalities that have defined Brazil for centuries. After the Dutch occupation of Pernambuco and surrounding areas between 1630 and 1654, the sugar economy that had been the central pillar of the Brazilian economy since the latter half of the 1500s began to decline. Portuguese Brazil, centered in the Northeast (in today’s states of Bahia and Pernambuco in particular) had maintained a near-monopoly on sugar production up to that point, but after the Dutch occupation, Brazil faced competition from the Dutch and English Caribbean; though the Northeast continued to be the colonial center throughout the 1600s, the sugar economy was not as strong as it had been. By the early-1700s, settlers found gold and diamonds in the Southeast in Minas Gerais. The new colonial economy increasingly relied on mining throughout the 1700s, leading to a shift in settlement and wealth in the Southeast, with Rio de Janeiro increasingly serving as the port for importing slaves to the mines and exporting minerals to Portugal. By 1763, the regional shift was complete, as the colonial capital relocated from Salvador da Bahia in the Northeast to Rio de Janeiro in the Southeast, marking the broader economic shift from one region to another.
And so it has remained throughout most of Brazil’s history. Rio was the capital until the inauguration of Brasília in 1960. São Paulo became an economic powerhouse, first with its coffee production in the 1800s and then becoming the industrial center of Brazil in the 1900s. These two states were not alone in wealth; southern states like Rio Grande do Sul also became increasingly powerful, both economically and politically. Nonetheless, the Southeast came to be the richest part of the country, even while the Northeast and North continued to confront socioeconomic inequalities at the most basic levels of society, from income to education, from land ownership to literacy. The Southeast got richer while the Northeast continued to languish. Indeed, in part the rapid growth of Brazil’s cities (from a 70%-30% rural/urban society in 1930 to a 30%-70% split in 1980) was due in no small part to the poor from the Northeast moving to cities like Rio and São Paulo hoping to find work in the bustling cities, often ending up in favelas [suffice to say, the issue of internal inequalities in cities like Rio are a powerful reminder that, even within the wealthiest states, said wealth does not benefit all citizens equally]. These migrants were not always welcome – for example, in São Paulo, people not-irregularly apply the derisive term “baianos” to everybody from poor drivers to less-”cosmopolitan” individuals, implying backwardness that carries more than a hint of racism while revealing the regional inequalities that citizens of states themselves perpetuate. Even today, after programs like Bolsa Familia and Fome Zero [Zero Hunger], designed to improve the lives of Brazil’s poor, notably in the Northeast and North, regional inequalities are still evident – for example, through oil revenues.
All of this is to say that, while the outrage in Rio, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo is perhaps understandable from a state level, it is ultimately hard to feel terrible for these states in the face of the new law. Certainly, they are going to have real challenges in governing with reduced incomes, and there aren’t necessarily any easy solutions to that problem. But to continue the regional inequalities that have defined Brazil for centuries in the name of local governance in the wealthiest states is not a solution to those inequalities either, and Congress’s actions are entirely understandable, even if they hit the largest states in Brazil the hardest.
A road collision in Brazil has caused outrage after police said a motorist drove off with a cyclist’s severed arm attached to his vehicle.
The driver, who later turned himself in, reportedly told Sao Paulo police that he had dumped the limb in a stream.
The arm has not been recovered but doctors believe it could have been reattached, police told local media.
The cyclist is said to be in a stable condition in hospital.
This isn’t the first time there has been a high-profile crash that wounded or killed a bicyclist; last year, a high-profile crash involving Thor Batista, son of Eike Batista, Brazil’s richest person, highlighted both the class divisions in society that lead to unequal justice, and the ongoing disregard for cyclists’ rights and safety in Brazil. This seems to only add another gruesome reminder of the fact that Brazilian laws do little to protect cyclists’ safety. When you decide it’s safer to flee the scene of a bad accident than to stay and face anger from witnesses (as the lawyer for yesterday’s driver claimed), then it seems the laws designed to protect citizens are failing to deter people from committing crimes said laws are designed to prevent.
There has been a recent wave of stories regarding human rights in Latin America in both the past and present worth covering.
-With the ongoing issue of the disappeared in Mexico in the 21st century, and, after a tortuous path that saw initial rejection before Enrique Peña Nieto signed it into law, there is now a Victims’ Law that seeks to provide compensation and closure for families whose loved ones have gone missing. While the law has some issues to work out, and while it’s not clear how it will be institutionalized, it’s an important step in dealing with the issue of violence and memory in Mexico.
-In Uruguay, hundreds gathered to protest a Supreme Court ruling that effectively restores an amnesty that exempts military members who committed human rights violations during the Uruguayan dictatorship of 1973-1985. Congress had initially overturned the amnesty in 2011.
-The recent death of former New York mayor and congressman Ed Koch brought a reminder of his human rights efforts. In the 1970s, Koch sponsored legislation to cut off funding to Uruguay after reports of human rights violations under its dictatorship. The legislation was ultimately successful, and, as detailed in John Dinges’ excellent The Condor Years, two Uruguayan officials threatened to assassinate Koch. Although the CIA discovered the death threat in July 1976, it was only in October that CIA Director George H.W. Bush told Koch of the threat.
-Families of victims of the Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989) used the 24th anniversary of his downfall to demand justice for the more than 400 people murdered and disappeared and the 20,000 detained and often tortured during his regime.
-In a disturbing trend, the number of attacks on and murders of human rights defenders and activists has increased, with a murder every five days on average, and an attack once every 20 hours on average. Suffice to say, the attacks undermine efforts to ensure human rights in Colombia are respected.
-Mike Allison recently put the degree of human rights violations during Guatemala’s Civil War in succinct but devastating terms that shows the common flaw of the “both sides committed atrocities” arguments in Guatemala: “Of the 1,112 massacres (more than four people but usually much more than four), government forces were responsible for 1,046 (94.06%). Government forces include the army, military commissions, PACs, death squads, and police. [...] The guerrillas were responsible for 46 (4.14%).” It’s hard to imagine a more disproportionate use of state force and terror than that.
-While former human rights violators in Argentina have been sentenced to house arrest, it turns out that the “punishment” is in many ways nominal, as rights violators continue to move freely about in public, pointing to real loopholes and problems in enforcing more lenient “punishments” for older rights violators.
-Authorities in Brazil arrested 61-year-old Gonzalo Sánchez, a fugitive Argentine officer charged with participating in the torture, murder, and disappearance of dozens during the military dictatorship.
-With Dutch monarch Queen Beatrix recently stepping down, her son Prince Willem-Alexander is set to assume the (symbolic) throne, creating the first ever “Argentine Princess.” For Prince Willem-Alexander’s wife is Argentine Máxima Zorreguieta. However, while Argentina has celebrated at the rise of one of its own citizens, it turns out her past is not without its own dark roots, as her father was Minister of Justice under General Jorge Videla, when the government tortured, murdered, and disappeared tens of thousands, during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983.
-A couple of years ago, I posted a series of photos (here, here, here, here, here, and here) on ways in which the Argentine dictatorship continued to be criticized and memorialized in public spaces. Lillie Langtry points us to this article (in Spanish) with more examples of how Argentines continue to remember the regime and its victims, thirty years after it finally collapsed.
-Speaking of public space and memory, many of the prisons and sites where torture took place during Brazil’s dictatorship are disappearing from public space in São Paulo. The destruction of these buildings is significant, as they served as physical memory-sites that served to remind people of the deeds and impact of the military dictatorship; as scholarship on memory, human rights, and space has repeatedly demonstrated, the removal of such buildings can and does accelerate the receding of memorialization of human rights violations in public memory itself.
-It’s not just the physical landscapes of cities where the dictatorship is disappearing. Brazil’s military schools sadly, if unsurprisingly, are using textbooks that gloss over or ignore the military dictatorship and its deeds (original in Portuguese here), prompting scholars and members of the Truth Commission to suggest the need to overhaul military educational materials so as to better address Brazil’s past for future soldiers and officers.
-Even while markers of the dictatorship disappear both from public spaces and textbooks, however, the deeds of the dictatorship are being recorded in other ways. Brazil’s Truth Commission, which has been drawing on interviews, documentary evidence, testimony, and other materials to investigate the regime’s deeds, recently reopened an investigation into the death of former president Juscelino Kubitschek. Kubitschek, who was one of the regime’s highest-profile critics after 1965, died in a car crash in 1976, and rumors swirled around his death, including the possibility that the regime forced the crash (rumors aided by the fact that another high profile critic, fashion designer Zuzu Angel, whose son the regime “disappeared,” died in similar circumstances that the state ultimately acknowledged responsibility for).
-Not all are happy with the Truth Commission, however. Marcelo Rubens Paiva, the son of a politician who the regime arrested and disappeared, criticized the commission for being “timid” and needed to be firmer and stronger in its investigations.
-While the Truth Commission investigates the deaths of people the regime killed, the Organization of American States has announced it will launch its own investigation into the death of Vladimir Herzog, a journalist who died under torture during the administration of Ernesto Geisel.
-Meanwhile, a former torturer was recently discovered as having worked as a teacher for 24 years before his death in 2009. Under a false name, Cleber de Souza Rocha taught geography classes in São Paulo, often showing up to class drunk.
-The recent execution-style killing of Cícero Guedes, a leader for land reform and peasants’ rights in Brazil, provided another tragic reminder of the dictatorship, as his murder took place in a region where the dictatorship killed and disappeared land activists during its most repressive years.
-While Chile has had several official investigations into the Pinochet regime’s rights violations, some mysteries remain unsolved. One of those mysteries is how Pablo Neruda died. Officials are exhuming the Nobel laureate’s body to see if he may have been poisoned when he died just twelve days after the Pinochet regime overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende.
-Neruda isn’t the only high-profile cultural figure who died in the Pinochet era. The regime infamously arrested and cut off the hands of folk singer Victor Jara before ultimately murdering him. In the wake of the arrest of several officers connected to his death, J. Patrice McSherry has this great report on the case, its history, where it stands, and the impact of his widow Joan’s efforts to keep the case and his memory alive.
Brazil currently has 12 million people living in favelas. They are responsible for generating R$38.6 billion per year in commercial activity, which is equivalent, for example, to the GDP of Bolivia. If they were a state, they would form the fifth most populous Brazilian state; Rio de Janeiro’s favelas alone would comprise, together, the ninth largest city in the country.
Other data from the report is equally fascinating, including the fact that, although favelas are most commonly associated with Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the highest percentage of the population in favelas is actually in the Northeast, where 10% of the region’s total population lives in favelas. The report also points to the cultural vitality of favelas, with literacy rates on the rise and with an overwhelming majority (80%) “proud” of where they live, with 70% saying they would continue to live in favelas even if their incomes rose. Collectively, the data provide a powerful reminder that, while politicians, the middle-class, and the formal economy have historically marginalized the favelas, they remain important and powerful parts of Brazil’s society, economy, and culture in many ways.
Historians often are uncomfortable predicting future events; just because a familiarity with the past helps understand possible outcomes going forward does not mean we’re comfortable picking just one of those (usually many) possibilities. That said, I feel confident in suggesting that São Paulo city’s new efforts to force crack addicts into mandatory treatment is going to immediately run into problems. Why can I be so certain?
Because a city of 11+ million people facing a crack “epidemic” has only 700 spaces available for treatment in a country with an estimated 1.2 million crack users nationwide, with many of them in cities like São Paulo, where the use is so widespread that part of the city has become known as “Cracolandia” (“Crackland”). If the problem is widespread enough to prompt the government to conduct sweeps to gather up crack users (sweeps that left a 10-year-old dead two weeks ago), I suspect the 700 spaces for treatment will fill up long before addicts are off the streets (to say nothing of the limits of state power in these types of actions).
One hundred and eighty-eight years ago today, Joaquim da Silva Rabelo, a leader of multiple revolts in the early Brazilian Empire better known as “Frei Caneca” (“Father Mug”), was executed by firing squad.
Born in 1779 to Portuguese parents, Rabelo entered the clergy early on, joining the Carmelites at the age of 17 and becoming an ordained priest in 1801. While working at the seminary in Olinda in the early-1800s, he spent much time at libraries and in salons, where he read and discussed Enlightenment ideas and the events of the French Revolution. Embracing republicanism and liberal thought, Frei Caneca became increasingly critical of the Portuguese Crown and its control over Brazil. The Napoleonic invasion of Portugal led to the royal family’s exile to Brazil in 1808 [the only time in history that a European monarch took up permanent residence in a colony], leading to Brazil gaining new stature, and in 1815, Emperor João VI, hesitant to return to Portugal in the face of British pressure after the Napoleonic wars, declared he was now the king of the Kingdom of Brazil and Portugal, providing a justification for remaining in Brazil and making the colony the equal of its former metropole.
While many in Brazil were thrilled at the declaration, some who looked to the liberal ideas of the French Revolution (and the independence struggles taking place throughout Spanish America) felt that the declaration was not enough. They did not want a monarch; they wanted a republic. As a result, in 1817, a revolt broke out in Recife, which had previously been one of the key economic centers of the early colonial era and a major sugar producer. Intellectuals, including clergy, began discussing plots to establish popular sovereignty in the northeast. Before the plans could coagulate into anything concrete, however, the royal governor of Pernambuco (of which Recife was the capital) heard of these discussions, and decided to preemptively arrest the participants. His plan backfired, however, as a liberal army officer involved in the discussions killed the royal official who tried to kill him and raised the cry for revolution, with his troops following him. The elites, intellectuals, merchants, plantation owners, and clergy who had embraced liberalism, including Frei Caneca, quickly rallied to the clause, proclaiming an independent republic of Pernambuco. The new republic announced citizens would refer to one another as “patriot” and that class distinctions (but not slavery) would be abolished. They also lowered taxes, increased military pay, emphasized anti-Portuguese rhetoric to build a sense of unity, and destroyed images of João VI, not unlike their Spanish-American counterparts. Unfortunately for them, since Brazil was now a kingdom, João VI was far closer to the revolt than Spanish monarck Fernando VII, and the Portuguese king rapidly suppressed the movement, sending troops throughout the new kingdom to discourage similar movements. In the aftermath, several leaders were arrested, including Frei Caneca, who was sentenced to four years in prison in the former colonial capital of Salvador, Bahia.
After his release in 1821, he returned to Pernambuco, where he continued to work towards republicanism. He supported the creation of a junta that pushed for greater autonomy and freedom from the monarch in 1821-1822, akin to movements that had established a constitutional monarchy in Portugal in 1820. However, in September 1822, Pedro I, the son of João VI (who had been forced to return to Portugal the previous year) proclaimed Brazilian independence, establishing the Brazilian empire. The movement in Pernambuco began to establish a greater degree of self-rule, but Pedro I unilaterally issued the Constitution of 1824, which dissolved the elected assembly and seemed to assert a degree of monarchical absolutism (though in practice, Brazil’s empire would come to resemble a constitutional monarchy for much of the nineteenth century).
However, the absolutist tenor of the proclamation of the constitution led to anger and concern in the Northeast, which had been seeking autonomy and advocating liberalism and republicanism for nearly a decade. Indeed, even before the new constitution, Frei Caneca had published a newspaper critical of Pedro I in 1823 and 1824. In the wake of the new constitution, Frei Caneca and others of a like mind rose up again, and in July 1824, Pernambuco once again declared its independence from Brazil. Other provinces in the Northeast were quick to follow suit, leading to the temporary establishment of the Confederation of the Equator. Unsurprisingly, like his father before him, Pedro I was not interested in the republican ideals coming from the Northeast, and quickly mobilized the military to suppress the revolt, even hiring English and French mercenaries and ships to help suppress the revolt. At the same time, internal divisions tore apart the Confederation itself; while some leaders called for the abolition of slavery, many others were hesitant to embrace total equality; as had been the case in Spanish American Independence movements a decade earlier, many of the intellectual and economic elites of the Confederation were fearful of the lower classes mobilizing for greater equality and social justice than the elites were willing to concede. With external military pressure and internal divisions, the movement fell apart by October 1824, with several leaders dying in battle or being assassinated by their own supporters. Frei Caneca himself was arrested and a military court tried him for sedition, proclaiming him one of the leaders of the movement. He was quickly found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, one of eleven leaders sentenced to death. Although he was set to be hanged, three hangmen refused to hang a priest (even though the church had stripped him of his orders); as a result, he was hastily executed by firing squad on January 13, 1825, with his body quickly being taken away and buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Recife.
Though the public executions of Frei Caneca and his co-conspirators were intended to prevent further such revolts and to make an example of the rebels, the Confederation of the Equator was far from the last movement to resist imperial rule. Nearly twenty more regional and local rebellions would erupt throughout the remainder of the Brazilian Empire, which finally ended in 1889; even during the First Republic (1889-1930), regionalism and federalism were the dominant trends, and Brazil’s nation-state would only see successful concerted efforts towards centralization and consolidation during the government of Getúlio Vargas. As for Frei Caneca himself, his leadership in one of the earlier and larger regional rebellions ultimately led to him becoming a symbol for independence and republicanism in Brazil, and his name is found on streets and in public settings, including Frei Caneca street and Frei Caneca Shopping Mall in São Paulo, an LGBT-friendly area of the city (itself an ironic fact when one remembers Frei Caneca was a Catholic priest and considers the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality).
-In a potential step towards addressing human rights, Mexico has announced it will move to prosecute military officials accused of human rights violations in civil courts, rather than in secretive military tribunals. Traditionally, military officials who are involved in the drug violence and repression have faced a state of virtual impunity through military courts; while it’s too soon to say this is indeed transformative, it could mark a turning point in prosecuting state agents’ human rights violations in Mexico.
-A Venezuelan judge who spent three years in prison in a case that garnered international criticism has published a new book in which she claims she was raped and had to have an abortion while in prison. Her case echoes other allegations of sexual abuse and increasing violence in Venezuela’s prison system.
-While the US and much of Europe continue to struggle with employment, Brazil announced its unemployment levels have dropped to 5.3%, its lowest level in ten years.
-For one day, all of Bolivia completely shut down as the country conducted its census this week. In addition to being the first census for Bolivia in eleven years, with the expected redrawing of municipal boundaries, it also marks the first time “mestizo” (of Spanish and indigenous descent) is not included as a racial category in the census. Instead, Bolivians will be able to pick from 40 categories, including a variety of indigenous groups, as well as “Afro-Bolivian” or simply “Bolivian.”
-In the wake of this year’s presidential election, in which Venezuela’s opposition had its strongest showing in years (albeit in a losing effort), opposition politicians have begun efforts to seek an amnesty for over 100 exiles and political prisoners in a request that could be seen as a test of Chávez’s and opponents’ willingness to engage in more direct dialogue.
-In another example of the ongoing persecution and assault on land rights that Brazil’s indigenous peoples regularly face, a community of Guarani-Kaiowa people say a massive ranch has poisoned their water supply in an attempt to drive them out, and Brazilian police have begun investigating the case. The ranch occupies land of cultural importance to the peoples, and the government has begun mapping out their territory, with growing opposition from ranch-owner Firmino Escobar.
-In another reminder of the Jewish population in Latin America and the challenges it continues to face, Venezuela has posted police at a synagogue in the wake of an anti-Israeli protest that led to demonstrators hurling anti-Semitic remarks and fireworks at the building
-Murder rates in São Paulo have skyrocketed this year, as the Primeiro Comando Capital (First Capital Command; PCC) gang has ordered attacks on police, including many who have been murdered while off duty. The violence marks a return to antagonisms between one of São Paulo’s largest gangs and police in a conflict that had been relatively quiet in recent months after a truce was declared.
-In the wake of Venezuela’s admission to (and Paraguay’s suspension from) Mercosur, Bolivia appears to be the next country set to join the South American trading bloc as a full member. Currently, Bolivia is associate member of the organization, but full membership will give it a more direct voice in negotiations in the bloc.
-As peace talks continue, Columbia’s FARC released three Chinese hostages and their translator after 17 months of captivity in what the organization called a “goodwill gesture.”
Yesterday, Brazil held its second run-off round of municipal elections in 50 cities, including 17 state capitals, after the first round earlier this month. In total, another 31.7 million people voted yesterday, after 138 million took to the polls in the first round. The biggest race yesterday was for mayor of São Paulo, Brazil’s (and South America’s) largest city, with the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad running against Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate José Serra after the frontrunner for much of the campaign, evangelical politician Celso Russomanno, was upset in the first round. Serra had served as mayor of São Paulo once before, leaving office in his second year to run for governor of the State. Meanwhile, Haddad had been far behind for much of the campaign, with only 8% support as late as August and 15% in late September. However, Haddad easily won the election yesterday, defeating Serra 55%-44%. His strong showing is due in part to his charisma, his ability to mobilize and appeal to broad swaths of São Paulo’s workers class (which overwhelmingly supported him), and in part with paulistas‘ uncertainty over the 70-year-old Serra. The victory is an important one for the PT, giving it the country’s largest city and providing a sign of potential leadership for the next generation of PT politicians. Meanwhile, the fate of the PSDB is even more uncertain than it was after the 2010 presidential elections. As I wrote elsewhere back then, the 2010 election was in no small part also a question of whether Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s center-right PSDB or Lula’s center-left PT would outlast their founders at the national level. With the victory of Dilma Rousseff over Serra that year, PT showed it had the institutional authority to continue in the executive beyond Lula, something the PSDB has yet been able to show. That’s not to say the PSDB is about to die – it has strong congressional and gubernatorial presence – but with the constant rejection of Serra and the exit of Cardoso from politics, it’s not clear the party has a “face” to represent it nationally. Some are suggesting it could be Aécio Neves, but it remains to see whether he’ll be willing to run against the remarkably-popular Rousseff in 2014.
Again, that is not to say the PSDB is finished. While the PT took the biggest “prize” in São Paulo yesterday, the PSDB won another 4 capitals. However, perhaps the biggest victor yesterday was the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), which took five capitals, including three yesterday Fortaleza, Cuiabá, Porto Velho, in addition to taking Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais and Recife in Pernambuco yesterday. It is worth noting that, aside from Belo Horizonte (the country’s third-largest capital, the other four cities are all in the North and Northeast, which are the poorer regions in recent history. And in a troubling trend for a country that is allegedly moving towards greater equality in politics, out of 26 state capitals in Brazil, only one has a woman mayor - Boa Vista, capital of Roraima, elected Teresa Surita of the centrist PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party).
Brazil was not the only country with municipal elections yesterday. Chileans also went to the polls to vote for mayors throughout the country, and if Brazil’s turnout was high, well….Chile’s was not, with only 40% of the electorate showing up for voluntary voting. However, there were some significant results. The leftist opposition parties took several major elections, inlcuding in Santiago, where leftist candidate Carolina Tohá defeated right-wing incumbent Pablo Zalaquett. The victory is significant beyond serving as a rejection of Zalaquett and his ally, President Sebastián Piñera. Zalaquett has repeatedly called on the police and used force to repress student strikes, while Tohá has repeatedly spoken out in favor of students. Additionally, the election of Tohá, who had served as former President Michelle Bachelet’s spokeswoman and whose father died under torture during the military regime of Augusto Pinochet, provides a possible model (or even leader) for the leftist Concertación as it tries to take the presidential elections next year. And speaking of the ongoing legacy of memory and the dictatorship in modern Chilean politics, in Nunoa, Maya Fernandez Allende, granddaughter of former president Salvador Allende (who was overthrown in a coup in 1973) won election.
[UPDATE]: Boz has more numbers for Brazil. The PSB had “only” 442 mayoral candidates win, but it saw the greatest total increase in seats held. The Centrist PMDB won the greatest total number (1,025 seats), with the PSDB taking 693 and the PT, 628. Though the PT is third in total numbers (and suffered many losses to the PSB), in terms of national politics, the fact that it and not the PSDB is the natural ally for the PSB and has maintained continuing alliances with the PMDB helps explain in part why the PT has been ascendant while the PSDB, while still strong in the Congress, is not the force it was in the 1990s.
While much of the focus yesterday fell on Venezuela’s presidential elections, it was not the only country going to the polls. With municipal elections being held throughout the country yesterday, 138 million Brazilians (many more than Venezuela’s 19 million voters) went to the polls to vote for mayors throughout the country in 5,568 municipalities, choosing from a total of about 450,000 candidates. The elections marked the first under a “clean record” law that prohibits people convicted of a number of serious crimes from running for office for 8 years. The electoral outcomes included the expected, the surprising, and the outright bizarre. Among the outcomes:
- Eduardo Paes, the incumbent mayor of Rio de Janeiro, avoided a second-round election by winning with more than 64% of the votes, far ahead of runner-up Marcelo Freixo of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Liberty Party, PSOL). Paes’s first term started off amid much controversy, as he shut down the little bars and sidewalk businesses that were common and popular in Rio; however, with Rio preparing for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Paes saw a recent resurgence in his popularity.
- If the outcome of Rio’s election is unsurprising, the same cannot be said for São Paulo. Going into yesterday, evangelical politician Celso Russomanno seemed to be set for a second-round contest, with a recent poll putting Russomanno at 30% support, well ahead of center-right candidate José Serra’s 22% and the PT’s Fernando Haddad with 18%. However, after the elections, Russomanno finished a distant third, garnering only 22% of the votes for South America’s largest city, well behind Haddad’s 29% and Serra’s 31%. Serra and Haddad will face off in a run-off at the end of the month.
- Although Freixo lost the Rio de Janeiro election by a significant margin, on the national level, the PSOL (formed in 2004) had some success, as the small city of Itaocara in Rio de Janeiro state became the first municipality to elect a member of PSOL mayor. And in the much larger cities of Belém and Macapá (in the northern states of Pará and Amapá, respectively), PSOL candidates will compete in the runoffs at the end of the month.
- In other major cities in the country, Porto Alegre in the southern-most state of Rio Grande do Sul re-elected José Fortunati of the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (Democratic Labor Party, PDT), with more than 65% of the vote. And in Recife, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Gerardo Julio of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party, PSB) won with 51% of the vote, avoiding a run-off and ending 12 years of mayoral governance from the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, PT), the national governing party of presidents Lula da Silva (2002-2010) and Dilma Rouseff (2010-present). Other results across the nation are available here (in Portuguese).
- While most elections went off without a hitch, there were some particularly notable unique events in other parts of the country. In the town of Monte Alegre in Rio Grande do Norte, 98.24% of the ballots cast were null, and the remaining 1.76% were blank, leaving a situation where, out of more than 15,000 ballots cast, neither of the two candidates for mayor received a single vote.
- Finally, in the small municipality of Itacoatiara in the state of Amazonas, PDT candidate Carme Cristina da Silva Lima was arrested after being caught offering cocaine for votes. Suffice to say, she was not elected.