Tag Archives: Development

In Defense of Democracy: Implications of the Recent Political Turmoil for Brazil’s Workers’ Party

By Samantha Gowing

Samantha Gowing’17 is a guest writer double majoring in Community Studies and English

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is currently undergoing impeachment proceedings surrounding her alleged budgetary deceit back in her 2014 election campaign. Rousseff, the leader of Brazil’s socialist-leaning Workers’ Party, borrowed billions of dollars from state budgets for social reform programs—the debt of which she hid from public eye during the campaign in order to still win the election. Most experts, whether for or against Rousseff, tend to agree that these claims are valid. If this was only case working against her, then we might ask: is it enough to warrant her removal?

Of course, that isn’t the only case currently being used against her. Since her election, Brazil’s economy has continued to plummet, while political corruption—highlighted by the recent Petrobras oil scandal—has reached all-new heights. Although Rousseff herself has not been directly implicated in the scandal, many politicians in her party have, including her mentor and predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. No side in this battle, however, has gotten off scot-free. Over one hundred politicians from all parties were indicted with pocketing money from the scandal and several have been jailed. In more recent news, the Supreme Court suspended Eduardo Cunha, the man leading the impeachment drive against Rousseff, from his position as Speaker of the Lower House for his own involvement in the scandal. The scale of this corruption far surpasses what the world witnessed when Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup last year, and it doesn’t even end with Petrobras. An estimated 60% of Brazil’s Congress members are involved in all sorts of scandals, ranging anywhere from money laundering to (in an extreme case from the 90s) homicide.

Corruption is neither new nor uncommon, and Rousseff’s case is nowhere close to the worst the country has seen from a leading politician. In fact, New York Times writer Simon Romero even calls Rousseff “something of a rarity” in the current political climate because “she has not been accused of stealing for herself.” Although her budget deceit during the election may have been manipulative, the only valid claim being used against her is that she tried too hard to put money into social welfare programs benefitting the country’s poor. Rouseff and her party, however, have been at the center of the country’s frustrations—frustrations which have led to massive outbreaks, protests, and enough political pressure placed on the congress to lead to her impeachment proceedings.

A few months ago, I studied for several weeks in São Paulo, Brazil while staying with a family who lived just around the corner from Paulista Avenue, the city’s financial center in the downtown area. During my last weekend in the city, my host-family invited me to go to a protest with them on Paulista. The street was completely crowded with people wearing their country’s colors, shouting Fora Dilma!, and blowing into vuvuzelas every time a media-coverage helicopter flew overhead. We passed stages set up every few blocks with people talking passionately into microphones or bands playing upbeat music, and there were a plethora of food vendors and people to pass out balloons and flyers. Later, I found out that there were millions of people out on Paulista Avenue with me that afternoon.

The protest was fun—it was practically a party. The music was upbeat, and the police maintained safety in the streets by keeping a watchful eye on the events. And bear in mind, the people who came to that protest were the same people who can afford to live in the economically-flourishing downtown area of the city—that is, mostly white, upper-class residents who oppose the Workers’ Party agenda and believe that both Rousseff and Lula are to blame for the economic recession.

In the meantime, a different protest was stirring just beneath the surface. Earlier that week, we’d spoken with an eviction lawyer who worked with poor, displaced people in the city, and it was he who gave us a flyer about a protest occurring in support of Rousseff. I had planned to go, but countless warnings about the violence that would likely ensue held me back. Even before the actual protest began, police were already manning the area and waiting to disperse any crowds that might gather for the pro-Rousseff protest. The distinction was striking: Sunday’s protest, in all its magnitude and excitement, could only happen because it was state-sanctioned.

It is no coincidence that most people I met in support of Rousseff are the people I met working for human rights organizations or occupying abandoned buildings downtown to protest affordable housing shortages. When I spoke with them about the politics going on in their country, I learned that they were not even necessarily pro-Rousseff—but they still took her side because they felt strongly against the impeachment. The impeachment, backed primarily by state-sanctioned events of the wealthy elite classes, would undermine the previous election in which supporters of the Workers’ Party rightfully voted in Dilma Rousseff. Albeit, the vote passed with a 51% majority—but they were able to garner enough votes for Rousseff to enter office. The poor people of Brazil do not have the massive, state-sanctioned protests of the elite classes; they aren’t granted political platforms strong enough to catch their congress’s attention. If the impeachment proceedings continue, they might undermine even the most basic right to citizenship that under-resourced communities have in a democracy: the right to vote.

Around the time of the protest on Paulista Avenue, I noticed a particular narrative weaving its way through the US media’s coverage of events—a narrative that praised the demonstration of democracy that the anti-Rousseff protests seemingly represented. The impeachment proceedings have been lauded as a way to “defend democracy” and to empower the people; The Wall Street Journal described it as a “Middle-Class Revolt” in which “the effort to impeach President Dilma Rousseff is a sign of a maturing democracy.” The political action shown by the elite classes may seem impressive, but keep in mind: the state-sanctioning of the anti-Rousseff protest demonstrates the ability and access of the wealthy, elite class to use state institutions to influence Brazilian politics in their favor, while the lack of any meaningful voice from the poorer classes, who are repeatedly silenced by the same governmental institutions that benefit those in the upper-classes, continually puts them on the losing end of many of the political decisions made by those at the top.

In a country with a strong history of military dictatorships, with the most recent ending in 1988, the threat of a political coup is not far-fetched. Rousseff herself has begun to use the language of a coup in her fight against the impeachment, but continues to be written off as hyperbolic or over-passionate. Even if this is not the beginning of a coup, the implications of this impeachment could prove tremendously harmful for the country’s poor and politically-powerless populations.

The final vote for Rousseff’s impeachment has been projected for late August. On May 12th, 55 senators voted in favor of Rousseff’s impeachment—54 votes will be required in August to remove Rouseff from office. In the meantime, the interim president Michel Temer continues to hold office with a staff consisting entirely of white men; this cabinet is the first since the 1970s in which no women hold a position. Political leaders across Latin America have expressed their disapproval of this new shift in power. Temer has already begun pushing pension and labor reform policies as members of his cabinet recover from facing their own charges related to the Petrobras oil scandal.

Featured image from The New York Times

The Noiseless End to China’s One-Child Policy

By India Gupta 

After a four-day Central Committee meeting in Beijing, the Communist Party of China announced Thursday that it would abandon its iconic “One-Child Policy,” permitting all married couples the freedom to have two children.

The policy, dating back to 1978, was instated amidst major economic reform for the purpose of accelerating the modernization of China. This notion was both a distinct departure from traditional Chinese collectivist culture, which values strong family relationships, and the very embodiment of this idea (Chinese culture regards all of its people as members of a larger national family, exemplified by the word for nation, 国家 guó jiā, literally: national family). The policy functioned as a call upon the citizens of China to sacrifice for the collective good of the nation, with “good” equated with achieving modernization as quickly as possible. Contrary to popular belief, the one-child policy was not an overt response to China’s growing population. Instead, leaders of the Communist Party hoped to limit the population to a maximum of 1.2 billion by the end of the century with the rationale that that it is easier to modernize a smaller family or nation than a larger one. While the goal to keep the population within 1.2 billion by 2000 was not met, China has become the world’s second-largest economy by nominal total GDP and largest by purchasing power parity (PPP), though the impact of the policy on this growth remains unclear.

This idea, that limiting population growth was essential to promoting the rapid development of China, was disseminated through state propaganda and is now a welcomed truth among many Chinese residents—particularly urban residents, who hold front-row seats to the fruits of China’s rapid development over the past 30 years.

But reactions to the one-child policy are as varied and diverse as China itself. A nation of 1.36 billion, 56 distinct ethnic groups, and as many as 297 languages, is far too often reduced and/or misrepresented in outside perspectives, with the discourse surrounding the one-child policy being no exception. Some Chinese find this policy outrageous, that the government has no place invading the private lives of its citizens. Indeed, the United Nations cites the freedom to responsibly control the number and spacing of children as a fundamental human right. Moreover, Western discourse of the one-child policy largely emphasizes the policy’s human costs, ranging from an increasingly skewed gender ratio to violent, physically coercive abortions, that plague rural China. In general, rural Chinese residents rely more heavily on children to generate income, as well as lack the social and financial capital necessary to avert the consequences of violating the one-child policy. Thus, one can easily find narratives of horror, exposés of the egregious human rights violations committed on the one-child policy’s account in rural areas, such as this New York Times op-ed, which calls the policy “a flesh-and-blood tiger with claws and fangs.” So now that the one-child policy has been done away with, are the Chinese parading through the streets, celebrating the end of an era?

Hardly. News of the policy’s change has barely made a splash in China, and international human rights organizations are less than impressed. In a statement released by Amnesty International, China researcher William Nee asserts that increasing the number of permitted children does little to protect women: “The move to change China’s one-child policy is not enough. Couples that have two children could still be subjected to coercive and intrusive forms of contraception, and even forced abortions.” For the rural Chinese, a reformed policy of reproductive control is still a policy of reproductive control.

Meanwhile, for urban Chinese residents, many are saying “Thanks, but no” to the opportunity to have a second child. A 2013 survey found that nearly 50% of urban Chinese residents want no more than one child, likely due to the financial demand of raising children in urban areas and rising standards of living. For the past thirty years, the majority of urban Chinese residents have redefined their values to match this reality; one where having only one child has become both a necessity and a symbol of modernity. In a China that has adapted to life under the one-child policy, the end of the one-child policy came quietly.

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