What is the Forum of São Paulo? And why is the far-right so obsessed with it?

. Oct 26, 2019
são paulo forum

A few years removed from the commodities boom that elevated local economies and lifted millions out of poverty, Latin America has been working off a pretty severe hangover. Brazil and Argentina have seen inequality levels rise; the people are protesting on the streets of Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador; the Peruvian president was almost ousted, and Venezuela is enduring the worst humanitarian crisis of the Western hemisphere. 

For Brazil’s far-right, all of these cases have a common thread: they are the fault of the Forum of São Paulo.

</p> <p>This left-wing conference—created 29 years ago by the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—is now far more important to the right than it is to the left.&nbsp;</p> <p>For the former, it is a sort of bogeyman, a mysterious group of communist plotters elevated well beyond its actual significance or influence. Members of the current administration call it the cradle of “cultural Marxism.” <a href="">Olavo de Carvalho</a>, the self-proclaimed philosopher who acts as the president&#8217;s intellectual guru, calls it &#8220;the vastest political organization ever to have existed in Latin America.&#8221;</p> <p>Just this week, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo said the Forum of São Paulo is using &#8220;violence, manipulation, crime, corruption, and fraud&#8221; to regain power.</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">10/Querem que façamos vista grossa ao Foro de São Paulo e sua insana aposta de recuperar o poder através da violência, da manipulação, do crime, da corrupção e da fraude.</p>&mdash; Ernesto Araújo (@ernestofaraujo) <a href="">October 24, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>For the left, however, the event was always more of a sporadic get-together than a formal congress. The 2019 meeting didn&#8217;t have a single high-profile leftist politician in attendance.</p> <h2>What is the Forum of São Paulo? </h2> <p>In 1990, the fall of the Berlin Wall—and the imminent crumbling of the Soviet Union—left the Latin American left orphaned of any international point of reference. In several countries—Brazil included—neoliberal agendas gained steam, with privatizations and severe austerity being implemented.</p> <p>The Forum of São Paulo, conceived during one of Lula&#8217;s trips to Cuba, was an attempt to mobilize the region&#8217;s left around the ideals of democratic socialism—despite the irony of having Mr. Castro and his anti-democratic tendencies as one of its core leaders. The plan was to gain more representativity and, of course, win elections. The first meeting was held in São Paulo in a now-defunct downtown hotel, gathering around 60 political parties from across the region. Now, 120 parties from 25 countries take part in the event.</p> <p>“When people talk about the Forum, it seems like a super-powerful organization. When in fact they are only groups which are historically repressed in their own countries, trying to seek dialogue and integration,” said Carolina Pedroso, a foreign affairs professor at the University of Ribeirão Preto, speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>Other analysts are less generous with the Forum. Historian Daniel Aarão Reis, of the Federal University Fluminense, told the <em>BBC</em>: &#8220;The Forum of São Paulo could have been a great arena for debate, but it has become an instrument of self-congratulatory politics—always conditioned by a &#8216;common enemy&#8217;. The forum never became a new Communist International, in the way the right-wing likes to say, but it also failed to propose self-critique of the left. Fearing alliances could break apart, [members] opted instead for silence.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="mercosur kirchner dilma maduro" class="wp-image-26472" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Most leftist leaders failed to call out Nicolás Maduro&#8217;s (R) anti-democratic politics in Venezuela. Photo: Lula Marques/PT</figcaption></figure> <h2>&#8216;The fault in our Left&#8217;</h2> <p>Across the political spectrum, cold analysis of the Forum of São Paulo shows an organization that has never really been of enough importance to mold any congruous &#8220;Latin American leftist thought.&#8221; Even more so because the left lacks homogeneity throughout the region—seeking different goals by different means, depending on the country.</p> <p>But, for a political group like the one that revolves around the figure of President Jair Bolsonaro, the Forum of São Paulo is the perfect bogeyman. Few people actually know anything about the group, allowing it to take on this shadowy, mysterious quality, The existence of a dangerous enemy lurking and waiting to pounce is a pivotal part of Bolsonarism. Were the Forum of São Paulo or Lula&#8217;s Workers&#8217; Party <a href="">removed</a> from the picture, it would become more difficult for the president to rally his support base.</p> <p>According to Olavo de Carvalho, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro has a &#8220;historical mission&#8221; to investigate the Forum of São Paulo. Mr. Carvalho even used his Twitter account to call for a parliamentary hearings committee on the event: &#8220;NOBODY in this country understands that a [hearings committee] is the most urgent and important thing?&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">Será que neste país NINGUÉM entende que a CPI do Foro de São Paulo É coisa mais urgente e importante?</p>&mdash; Olavo de Carvalho (@opropriolavo) <a href="">July 14, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>He and his followers cite Colombia&#8217;s FARC guerilla and Chile&#8217;s far-left Revolutionary Left Movement (<em>Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria</em>, MIR) as members of the Forum, to imply that the organization is much more sinister than a simple gathering of like-minded politicians.</p> <p>In fairness, <strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>columnist Claudio Couto pointed out a problem within the left which helps fuel far-right conspiracy theories: its unwillingness to call out authoritarian regimes, which they instead identify as “progressive,” “socialist,” or “communist.”</p> <p>He believes the left&#8217;s relationship with these regimes is &#8220;<a href="">borderline fetishist</a>.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>&#8220;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 <em>modus operandi</em>.&#8221;</p></blockquote> <p>To borrow Mr. Couto&#8217;s words, we could also say that Brazilian far-right&#8217;s relationship with the Forum of São Paulo is its own fetish.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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