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Brazzil - Politics - March 2004

Protestors Vow a Red April in Brazil

Students, union workers and Landless workers seem to be on
edge in Brazil. Apparently tired of waiting for Lula's campaign
promises of more jobs and opportunities, they are taking their
protests to the streets. They have decided to give the Brazilian
government "hell" as they are saying, this month of April.

Rodolfo Espinoza

Brazilian students are getting restless. Classes have barely started for the year and they are already on the streets protesting against the government's economic policy. Two thousand college and high-school students went on a four-hour demonstration throughout downtown Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, this March 30. They marched through several central streets of Minas's capital city, stopping for a while in front of the Central Bank building.

The protesters used the occasion to recall and lambast the 1964 military coup that started a dictatorship that lasted until 1985. This March 31, is the 40th anniversary of that coup d'état. Besides demanding changes in Lula's economic model, the students called attention to the need of more vacancies in the free state universities. They also want to get free subway and bus passes from the Belo Horizonte city hall.

Leaders of UNE (União Nacional dos Estudantes—Students National Federation) and UBES (União Brasileira dos Estudantes Secundaristas—Brazilian Federation of Secondary School Students) announced that this was just the beginning of a series of street protests. Next in line are protest marches planned for Recife, Fortaleza, Aracaju and Salvador, all capital cities in the country's Northeast.

UNE's president, Gustavo Petta, said that Brazilian social movements should "set fire to the country." He vowed to make April a "red" month and promised that the students will "give hell" to the President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. "That's what UNE, the Landless Movement and the Workers Unified Federation will do to the country. I believe we have to ignite the manifestations in the country in order to pressure the Lula government."

Jaime Amorim, the coordinator of the MST (Landless Movement) in Pernambuco state, on the other hand, announced that his people intend to increase the number of property invasions in the coming days and weeks and he threatened those farm owners who might react violently: "If they kill one of ours, we will kill 10 of theirs."

Amorim's tough talk was in response to Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, the president of UDR (Rural Democratic Federation) who has encouraged farm owners to hire private security to protect their lands.

Amorim and the student leader were both echoing the national coordinator of the MST, João Pedro Stédile, who, one week ago had already announced that April would be a red month in Brazil, in a reference to the movement's red banner, inspired by the communist flag. The Landless are participating now in what they call "struggle journey," a fresh wave of land invasions through the country to commemorate the massacre of Eldorado do Carajás, on April 17, 1996, when 19 landless workers were killed by the Brazilian military police.

For the Minister of Agrarian Development, Miguel Rossetto, the MST action was to be expected. He referred to April 17 as "a kind of May Day" for the Landless Movement. On March 30, Rossetto announced the release of an additional US$ 600,000 to finance programs of agrarian reform. He dismissed, however, the idea that this money was found in a hurry just to appease the MST.

According to the Minister, the government will be able to settle 115,000 families until the end of the year. Only 11,093 families were granted land, this first quarter, though, according to numbers released by the government. Another 197,000 families would be receiving electricity through a program known as Light for Everybody.

It was left to Vice President, José Alencar, the task to condemn the MST and its plan to disrupt the country in the coming weeks. Alencar, known for his off-the-cuff comments that sometimes embarrass President Lula, classified Stédile's threats as bravado: "This is the kind of bluster that we should expect from the Landless. Today, we are already suffering the effects of their threats. The government is democratic, but it has authority and it will not allow any act that violates the law."

The President himself appeared during a ceremony in Brasília to guarantee that Brazil is going to grow again and that there will enough money for the important programs of his administration. At the launching of a program encouraging the use of alternatives sources of energy, at Palácio do Planalto, Lula was upbeat: "We are not kidding when we say that the Brazilian economy will have a sustainable growth. And this growth will increase every year from now on."

The theme sustained growth was also emphasized by Brazilian Finance Minister, Antonio Palocci, who came in defense of Lula's current economic policies. During a senate hearing, Pallocci called for politicians to unite around the government's goals: "We are always open to debate on the instruments of economic policy, but for the good of the country the pillars of economic policy cannot be changed."

While some critics are calling for lower interest rates and higher public spending, the government's policy has been of tight spending in order to avoid inflation. This policy however has produced in Brazil a shrinking economy, which had a contraction of 0.2 percent in 2003. Now, even Lula's allies in the government are joining the opposition to decry this penny-pinching strategy.

Palocci, however, shows no signs that he will alter the government's economic policy: "If we jump and burn key stages," he says, "we will have to pay the bill and who will end up paying it is the population."

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