The Brazilian left resists calling out dictators
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The Brazilian left resists calling out dictators

Every now and then – but especially during the campaign season – one subject resurfaces: the way left-leaning parties in Brazil position themselves on authoritarian regimes they identify as “progressive,” “socialist,” or “communist.” Leaders of these parties are often obliged to take a stance on such regimes. Why, many voters ask, do these parties have such a favorable view of Cuba’s dictatorship, the Venezuelan spiral into hell, and the authoritarian rise in Nicaragua? These are, after all, the left-wing voices that so vociferously denounce the atrocities of Brazil’s military dictatorship, Israel’s abuses against Palestine, and American militarism worldwide.

This is not a new problem – nor is it exclusive to the left. However, it does affect the left in a more profound way.

A recent example of such incongruency happened with Manuela D’Ávila, a state lawmaker from Rio Grande do Sul and presidential nominee for the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB). During a TV program with multiple interviewers, she was pressured into explaining she sees the horrific human rights violations committed in Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The candidate stumbled, evasively stating that the events of that period could only be understood in a context of a world at war. It is by all means a curious answer, as this kind of reasoning could be used to justify what the Nazis did in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.

Relativism of the Brazilian left

This kind of diversion is a trademark of a big chunk of the Brazilian left – as well as the left across Latin America – when the subject matter is Cuba. Left-wing politicians and militants who so bravely fought for Brazil’s democratization – and who have never given a single demonstration of undemocratic behavior – not only refuse to criticize the authoritarian government, but bend over backward to defend the Castro regime, by highlighting social gains in terms of healthcare, education, and childhood protection. The island’s “difficulties” would be explained by the embargo from the usual suspects, the United States of America.

We’re witnessing a similar approach to Venezuela. Besides the transition of Nicolás Maduro into a dictator, the country is undergoing an economic and social collapse that has already forced hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in other countries. But that’s not enough to draw criticism from many sectors of the Brazilian left, who insist in scapegoating the U.S. and the country’s opposition.

That’s exactly what center-left candidate Ciro Gomes did on TV. When asked about Brazil’s neighbor, Mr. Gomes said that Venezuela’s opposition acts like “Nazis.” He avoided confronting the real issue and painted an extremely diverse and multifaceted front (which includes left-wing forces and even former Chavistas) with the same broad brush.

Mr. Gomes’s answer was calculated, aimed at courting the Workers’ Party militant base, orphaned of a true candidate after former President Lula’s arrest. Many members of the Workers’ Party are sympathetic to Venezuela’s regime, refuse to attack it, and don’t respond well when others do so. The party’s chairperson Gleisi Hoffmann recently defended Mr. Maduro’s government with fervor, as if all of the country’s problems had been caused by his enemies – both domestic and foreign.

Words don’t correspond to actions

Despite all the bravado, it would be utterly incorrect to attribute to the main sectors of the Brazilian left – such as Mr. Gomes or the Workers’ Party – any undemocratic action in the lines of Castrism or Chavism. The left was in power for 14 years, during which democracy suffered no threat whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the contrary was observed, as institutions such as the Federal Prosecution Office and the Justice system were empowered – and even came back to haunt the Workers’ Party for its misdeeds.

The left’s relationship with these regimes is borderline fetishist. It doesn’t matter what actually happens in those countries – the only important thing is the symbology of their anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric, and the desire to work in favor of the poor. By defending these regimes (or at least by refusing to call them out) what the Brazilian left does is to cling on to these fetishes that mobilize its faith, not incorporate their modus operandi.

The problems of the Brazilian left are of another kind, less related to authoritarianism or populism, and owing more to its sheer incapacity of rethink itself after the numerous corruption scandals and economic policy mistakes.

OpinionJul 27, 2018

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BY Claudio Couto

Political scientist, head of Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Master’s program in Public Policy and Administration.