Born into a middle-class family, Guilherme Boulos became involved with politics around the age of 15. He joined the Communist Youth Union (UJC), a student movement originated in the Brazilian Communist Party. Then, he got closer to the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), left home, and started his militancy for the democratization of the access to housing in São Paulo.
Before joining the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) and announcing his presidential bid, Mr. Boulos had never held public office. He is a strong figure on the Brazilian left, having gained sympathy from sectors of the Workers’ Party (despite having voiced criticism of Lula’s and Dilma Rousseff’s administrations). But his candidacy is facing a crucial obstacle: a lack of money and structure, which helps to explain his 1 percent in recent opinion polls.
Mr. Boulos sat down with Gustavo Ribeiro and Diogo Rodriguez at his campaign headquarters, in the neighborhood of Pinheiros, São Paulo, for a 25-minute interview. As we were not in our regular studios on Rua Augusta, in São Paulo, audio quality was not optimal at certain points and we apologize for any sound issues.
Here are the main takes of our interview:
The strength of left-leaning candidates
If we look at all the center-right candidates, they are all [President Michel] Temer. They have all supported Temer’s administration. [Congressman Jair] Bolsonaro voted in favor of the labor reform, in favor of freezing investments in healthcare and education for 20 years. His party was the most loyal to Temer in Congress, even more so than the PSDB [the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, of candidate Geraldo Alckmin].
The PSDB is Temer, the mastermind behind the coup. It has a minister in the government until today. When we begin to discuss agendas for Brazil, people will realize that the PSDB represents an agenda that was rejected by the people. The current administration is represented by these “Fifty Shades of Temer,” surely opposition candidacies will grow.
Revoking Temer’s reforms
We will have two main agendas. The first is to revoke the setbacks. On the first day of government, we will present a bill to Congress and Brazilian society to rescind the acts of the Temer’s administration, starting with the federal spending cap, labor reform and the handing out of Brazilian deepwater oil reserves to foreign companies.
With a 20-year spending cap, there is no way of governing for the majority in Brazil. That means draining the entire national wealth to pay interests on public debt. It is to undermine the investment capacity of the Brazilian state and take the economy even further into a hole. [By revoking the spending cap] we will have the conditions to build a positive agenda.
Increase in public investment
No country in the world has overcome crisis without public spending. So, we’re going to create the Levanta, Brasil (Rise, Brazil) plan. It is a set of investments in infrastructure, basic sanitation, housing, health, and education. This, while improving public services, generates employment. By creating employment, it creates income and tackles inequality. This is the way forward.
Where does it come from? We often hear “the Brazilian state is bankrupt, if fiscal deficits accumulate, it has no investment capacity.” Hold on. Let’s come back down to earth. Brazil is not a bankrupt country, it is the eighth-largest economy in the world. The problem is that national resources are severely misallocated. The way to resume an investment policy, such as the Levanta, Brasil program, is to confront privileges.
This alone can solve the problem of unemployment and generate income for the Brazilian population.
We are going to put in place – and this is going to be one of the first measures of our administration – a progressive tax reform, taxing profit and dividends, taxing wealth as the Constitution already determines, increasing the inheritance tax rate. Only this will allow us to invest BRL 120 billion per year. The non-taxation of profits and dividends in Brazil has become a way for tax evasion, for individuals to evade the income tax by becoming legal entities.
We will also reduce production and consumption tax. In our program, there is a proposal to reduce the income tax rate for companies, because the increase in taxation should be on income and wealth, not on economic activities. That is what we believe. There is also a proposal to increase the tax on financial operations, mainly to end short-term trades and the complete deregulation of capital flows, which, in turn, generate exchange rate speculation in Brazil.
Increase revenue by reducing corporate subsidies
We will also tax vast fortunes and raise inheritance tax. We believe that, with this, it is possible to raise tax revenue in the country and create the conditions for a gradual reduction of all types of consumption tax, so that the poorest and the middle class can pay less.
We will also address the stipends provided to business owners. This year alone, the Brazilian state missed out on BRL 283 billion due to tax exemptions. That is, businessmen were granted favors and did not pay tax. An advantage that the worker who will pay his property taxes does not have.
Let’s end the spree of debt renegotiation programs for companies. What is it? Large businessmen and economic sectors, agribusiness especially, which never pay taxes, owe millions in unpaid taxes. After their debt has accumulated and reaches the hundreds of millions, they say: “I want another 20 years to pay,” and the interest is lowered.
This is connected to campaign financing. These are large groups which fund electoral campaigns and then have Congress in the palm of their hands. Tax relief in Brazil today is 4 percent of GDP. The world average is 2 percent of GDP. That means cutting exemptions in half, raising an extra BRL 140 billion for investment.
Brazil has the potential for regional leadership. Today, we have a government that does not lead the country, let alone the region. Regional leadership cannot be confused with relations of imperialism with neighboring countries.
The integration we want in Latin America is economic but also social and cultural, that is very important. It is to strengthen Unasur, strengthen Mercosur and relations of solidarity and trust among our peoples. The south-south relationship is strategic. We have to align ourselves with countries that suffer from the same problems that we face and that face the same challenges.
Reinforce the BRICS
As a way to strengthen multilateralism, we must resume the strengthening of the BRICS and the BRICS Development Bank as a counterpoint to the U.S. policy towards Latin America. But this cannot be a model in which Brazil acts in a subservient way.
In our government, Brazil will not be China’s farm. Brazil will not be a country that exports commodities, iron ore, soybeans, to China at low cost, while buying value-added products. It cannot be that way. We will strengthen our investment in science, technology, and innovation so that we are able to produce higher value-added products and not take up this neo-colonial policy of re-primarization of the economy, which we have seen in the last 30 years.
Investment in technology and innovation
Investment in science and technology is not necessarily for long-term results only. There are already technology initiatives in the country. Fiocruz, for example, is a center of excellence in the country and today it is underinvested, put to one side. What we are going to do is to value the centers that already exist and also to encourage new areas.
We have brilliant minds that are leaving because they do not have adequate research and working conditions here. Investment in public universities, in public research laboratories in strategic areas, brings about results that are not necessarily long-term. At the same time, we believe in building a public investment, rather than the logic of creating a supposed favorable business environment which is supposed to attract the confidence of international investors.
This whole litany has been repeated in recent years and what we are seeing is 14 million people unemployed. The result is deficit after deficit, to further sink the Brazilian economy in this well of unemployment, loss of income, and social inequality. This is not the way; the way it is to use public investment so that the Brazilian people can benefit from the economy and not half a dozen international bankers and investors.
How to deal with Venezuela?
Brazil must respect the self-determination of the Venezuelan people, like that of all other peoples. Venezuela is going through a critical moment, due to a severe economic and political crisis, and this is expressed in the migratory movement on the border with Roraima. I was in [Roraima state capital] Boa Vista recently, I was in the Venezuelan shelters, I talked with migrants, with the people of Roraima.
The situation is obviously serious. The problems of Venezuela will be solved by the Venezuelan people. It is not Brazil, much less the United States – which had the arrogance, through its secretary of state, to insinuate a military coup in Venezuela. The United States has the bad habit of calling every government with which they do not agree a dictatorship. Nicolás Maduro, like it or not, was elected president in an election with international observers.
In fact, José Luiz Zapatero (former prime minister of Spain), who cannot be called a Bolivarian, was one of the international observers who testified to the legality and transparency of the electoral process. It is not our place to make any kind of illation about the Venezuelan electoral process, or it would also be possible to do the same about the American elections, marred by fake news and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
You cannot have double standards. Our government will respect the self-determination of peoples and defend a peaceful and negotiated solution to the conflict in Venezuela. The only people who can say how Brazil can help are the Venezuelans themselves. It is not up to Brazil to arrive in Venezuela and say “we have the solution for the country.” Just as we would not accept that any country would come here and say “we have the solution to the Brazilian crisis.” I see such a great interest in Venezuela, as if Brazil had no problems of its own.
We have a general development model proposal for the country. We are not among those who believe that by simply increasing GDP all problems will be solved. We want economic growth, but with income distribution and environmental sustainability. That is, to respect traditional populations, indigenous peoples, and quilombolas, for agribusiness not to devastate forests and do whatever they want, polluting rivers, to avoid environmental crimes such as those we saw in Mariana (Minas Gerais) with predatory mining.
It also involves a modal shift of the transport and energy model. In the field of modal transportation, our government will act to strengthen the waterways and ferry routes to the detriment of roads.
It is not possible for a country such as ours, with the highest water potential in the world, to have 80 percent of its transportation made on roads, which is the most expensive, polluting and violent system of transport. The amount of death in traffic in Brazil every year is shocking. This, of course, comes from the lobby of the auto industry and oil. That is how this [reliance on roads] was constructed.
At the same time, in the field of energy, we will promote a gradual replacement of the transition model from fossil fuels and non-renewable energy to renewable energy. We look favorably on what has happened in Germany regarding strengthening wind power and solar energy.
Those who invest in Brazil today are foreign companies, because there is no research here. Development of science, technology, and innovation will also happen in this area. We have to have our own research conditions in order to develop solar energy, wind energy and even from a hydroelectric point of view, something that is not as destructive as the big projects that have brought harmful effects to traditional communities and forest peoples.
Governing for the majority
We are facing the most immoral Congress in the history of the country. A Congress that legislates with its back turned to society. We are hoping, of course, for renovation. PSOL is launching candidates throughout Brazil, representing not only new faces but a political renewal of principles and practices.
I believe we will have a degree of regeneration. But we know well that the form of elections in Brazil, the political system, is flawed. The structure of elections favors local oligarchs and those who have the money to be involved in clientelism. That’s what it’s all about. So one must draw the conclusion that this political system is bankrupt. And this is a conclusion that most of the Brazilian people have already arrived at.
Politicians are afraid because they have privileges. Most of the Brazilian people have already realized that the political system, as it is organized today, has been knocked out, it has failed. We need a new way of doing politics, more than just political reform. We need a democratic reinauguration in Brazil.
The path that we understand to be necessary involves popular participation. Governing not only with a majority in Congress. It is instead to establish dialogue and to respect Congress, to have an institutional relationship. Voting is not a blank check, representatives have a limit, and that limit has to be given by popular participation. With plebiscites, referendums, popular consultations, and a mobilized society.
Let’s go back a bit: how did the military dictatorship in Brazil end? Did the generals gather in a room and say, “our time is up”? No, there were hundreds of thousands, millions of people who took to the streets.
The process of mobilizing society with a government that encourages participation and calls on the people to decide on the significant issues, bring power closer to the people, this is the way for Brazil to stop being held hostage by the old alliances, the old tricks and the promiscuous relationship between legislative and executive powers of the past 30 years.
We intend to govern with the majority of society.