Note from BW of Brazil: I have to admit, I really didn’t think it would actually happen. I mean, we’ve all seen accusations of corruption against politicians, we’ve seen single digit approval ratings, we’ve seen impeachments and scandals, but how often have we seen a former president of a country actually sentenced to prison time? The drama surrounding trials of former President Lula da Silva has played out like a popular Globo TV prime time novela right before our very eyes. We saw when federal authorities arrested him, we saw when he gave testimony in court in his own defense against accusations and we’ve seen rallies both in support of the Workers Party (PT) leader as well as demonstrations calling for his imprisonment.
I think perhaps one of the easiest ways to ascertain the importance of Lula’s situation is just considering the media coverage. In the past year and a half or so, I would bet money that Lula has been on more magazine covers of important Brazilian news magazines than any other personality. For one stretch in 2017, it seemed his face was on the cover of ALL of the major news magazines, Veja, ISTOÉ, Carta Capital, Exame and many others. But with the recent Supreme Court 6-5 decision to deny Lula’s plea to avoid imprisonment, the 72-year old former president has been told to prepare to hand himself over to begin serving a 12-year sentence.
Needless to say, there are numerous angles and opinions on these developments. There are those who believe he is one of Brazil’s greatest thieves, while others believe he is the only politician who did anything to try to even up the vast social inequalities since the country’s origins. But as we deal with black issues and developments that affect the Afro-Brazilian population, the intent of this article is to analyze what black people have to show for eight years (2003-2010) of the Lula Administration with some arguing that it was actually 13 years, as his hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff’s presidency lasted until 2016 before her impeachment. So let’s take a look at this…
Did the black population advance in the political field with Lula?
By Pedro Borges
The political field was another arena of involvement between Lula and the black population. The creation of the Estatuto da Igualdade Racial (Racial Equality Statute), SEPPIR and the holiday of November 20th are milestones in this process. For some experts interviewed by Alma Preta, the administration represents a step forward in the fight against racism in Brazil. For others, politics has left something to be desired.
On January 9, 2003, in the first month as president of the Republic, Lula decreed the inclusion in the school calendar of the holiday of November 20th, the date of the death of Zumbi dos Palmares.
During the administration of the Workers’ Party (PT) main leadership, other measures were taken, based on the historical agenda of the movimento negro (black movement), such as the creation of the Racial Equality Statute and the Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality (SEPPIR).
The Alma Preta site decided to talk with activists from the movimento negro, from different political specters, in order to evaluate the actions of the Lula government for the Afro-Brazilian community.
The report comes as the ex-president, accused of corruption, defends himself in the legal sphere in a process that can culminate in his imprisonment. Lula, who is also in the running to compete for this year’s election, is still leading the polls and has support from the população negra (black population).
The study Afrodescendentes e Política (Afro-descendants and Politics), conducted by the Painel BAP, indicates that 22% of the black voters in São Paulo would vote and 19% would certainly vote for Lula in this year’s presidential race. On the other hand, 34% said that they would not vote for him, 6% would probably not, 17% might or not and 4% couldn’t respond.
Senator Paulo Paim (PT) believes that support for the former president is justified by Lula’s recognition of black men and black women as subjects of law.
“With the pressure from the movimento negro and the developmental sensitivity of Lula, several public policies for the black population were created.”
Federal Deputy and former Minister of Social Assistance from 2003 to 2007, Benedita da Silva recalls that actions taken by the Lula government in areas such as education and the economy have contributed to the development of the black population.
“In the Lula and Dilma governments, for the first time in 500 years, the income of the preta e parda (black and brown/mixed) population grew 51.4%, while that of the white population increased by 27.8%, according to IBGE.”
Tago E. Dahoma, member of the Ciclo de Formação Marcus Garvey (Marcus Garvey Training Cycle), believes that the advances of the administration, given the support received by the black movement and the Afro-Brazilians, were timid.
“We can perceive that the policies in Lula’s government were mostly universal and, with that, they resonated in the black population. But in something that needed to be racially specified, few things were done.”
What do the activists of the Statute of Racial Equality think?
The formulation of the Racial Equality Statute is one of the highlights of the relationship between Lula and the fight against racism.
According to the text, enacted on July 20, 2010, the Statute aims to “guarantee the black population the realization of equal opportunities, the defense of individual, collective and diffuse ethnic rights and the fight against discrimination and other forms of ethnic intolerance.”
The bill, authored by Paulo Paim, is a tool in the struggle for the rights of the black people, according to the senator.
“It is a landmark in the history of the povo negro (black people), a watershed. Certainly, the history of struggles and policy-making will be divided between before and after the adoption of the Racial Equality Statute.”
Benedita da Silva completes and points out that the Statute had important political ambitions, interrupted by the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
“The Statute pointed to a future in which the participation of blacks in society and in public power corresponds to its relative weight in the population. As we know, unfortunately, the coup of 2016 interrupted this gradual process of liberation of the black population.”
The state president of the PSOL and coordinator of the Círculo Palmarino, Juninho Junior, makes some remarks on the Statute and recalls that the text went through a series of changes during its approval in the Brazilian legislature.
“The original text of the Statute was built on the basis of the demands of the black social movement. But in its proceedings in the Câmara e Senado (House and Senate), underwent several changes.”
From the first document, the chapter on the regularization of quilombola territories, the session intended for Afro-Brazilian women, and the projection of quotas for black actors and actresses in advertising pieces and television programs were withdrawn.
The deleted part most felt by activists, however, is the repeal of a national fund to boost the Statute and the fight against racism, as explained by ECA-USP professor and member of the anti-racist network Quilombação, Dennis de Oliveira.
“We made progress in the constitution of legal frameworks and public policies, but we have not advanced the budget allocation that guarantees the full implementation of these policies and legal provisions. Therefore, I believe that in the specific case of the Statute, it turned out to be a letter of good intentions, but with little practical result, even in the Lula government.”
Another criticism of the Statute is the “authorized” condition of the document, which does not oblige public managers to put into practice what the text proposes.
Tago E. Dahoma says that, after so many changes, some organizations of the movimento negro itself called for the non-continuity of the process of approving the milestone.
“Even so, the government did not intervene to defend the Statute in the House, despite the massive support of segments of the black movement to the government, saying that it was part of the democratic game. They washed their hands and in that, more than 10 years of political construction and mobilization were lost. “
What about SEPPIR?
The Secretariat for Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR) was created in 2003 during the Lula administration, the result of a previous agreement between the movimento negro and the Workers’ Party (PT).
The secretariat was formed to coordinate, articulate, formulate and follow public policies aimed at Afro-Brazilians. Among the proposals developed by the organ, we can underline the Sistema Nacional de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (Sinapir) (National System for the Promotion of Racial Equality or Sinapir) and the National Ombudsman for Racial Equality.
The institution represented a breakthrough for part of the movimento negro, because the space would be excellent for the articulation of the racial agenda with other ministries, in the case of the Treasury, Education, Culture, among others.
“SEPPIR is very important and fulfills its historical role. The existence of a Department of Racial Equality recognizes that there is racism in Brazil and that is why it is already a great advance,” says Beatriz Lourenço, a member of the Frente Alternativa Preta (Black Alternative Front)
Activists, however, criticize the lack of investment and structure the secretariat has received. Published research shows that the budget of SEPPIR was low and was falling as the years of the PT management were succeeding.
In the 2011 and 2012 biennium, the resource sent to SEPPIR was R$ 42 million, 26% less than the 2009 and 2010 biennium, when the number reached R$ 57 million. It is worth mentioning that the amount still suffered a cut, according to a determination of the Lei Orçamentária Anual (Annual Budget Law or LOA), and that SEPPIR also wiped out the forecast of appeal of some projects, due to the reduction of the transfer.
Even though some programs do not require financial investment and can be developed through political articulation, of the 28 proposals defined by SEPPIR for 2012, only 9 had budget allocations. Among those that did not receive funding, some are: “Implementation of the National Policy for Health Care of the Black Population”, “Implementation of a system for monitoring, following and encouraging policies to promote racial equality”, “Support for production and dissemination of communication materials with anti-racist and anti-sexist content.”
Juninho Junior emphasizes the importance of the financial resources for the implementation of the planned policies and affirms that the absence of investments can generate a drain of the initial proposal.
“We even joked. There’s a Ferrari, a great instrument, without having investment, without having gasoline, relevance, budget, conditions to actually focus on things.”
The absence of blacks in other ministries is also remembered in a negative way. Outside of SEPPIR, other black ministers in Lula’s administration were Benedita da Silva, of Assistência Social (Social Assistance); Gilberto Gil, of Culture; and Marina Silva, of the Environment.
Beatriz Lourenço criticizes the reduction of the black movement to the fight for racial equality. For her, the fight against racism is beyond any secretariat.
“We can talk about anything. So while it seems to be a major breakthrough, having a Racial Equality Secretariat does not change much when we do not change the Ministry of Justice, Labor and Planning.”
Benedita da Silva, a former minister and now federal deputy, makes a caveat for the absence of blacks and points to the need to see the coalition of a constructed government composed of parties that were not committed to the racial issue. To exemplify the point presented, she recalls the management she had at the head of the Rio de Janeiro government.
“When I was governor of Rio de Janeiro, for example, I nominated seven black men and women for the first echelon of my government, which consisted of 30 secretariats, and countless other under-secretaries for second-level positions, since the composition of my government, which had PT, PCdoB and PSB (political parties), allowed this type of decision.”
Regardless of the actions directed directly at the black population and the absence of blacks in the upper echelons of the government, Edson França, National Vice-President of UNEGRO and member of the PCdoB Central Committee, believes that the achievements of the black population in the Lula government being beyond what is conventionally called racial equality.
In 2013, after a 10-year review of the Bolsa Família program, the federal government reported that of the 13.8 million families served by the program, 73% declared themselves to be preta (black) or parda (brown). Another important indicator is that 68% of the families that benefited from the program were headed by black women.
Holiday of the Day of Black Consciousness
The consolidation of November 20th as a special day in the anti-racist struggle in Brazil is a historical agenda of the movimento negro (black movement), dating back to the early 1970s. The date was introduced by Lula on January 9, 2003 in the official calendar of the country and is a way of remembering the resistance of Zumbi and the entire Quilombo dos Palmares.
The Day of Black Consciousness as a national holiday was approved by the Constitution and Justice Commission of the Chamber of Deputies on October 5, 2017. The text that went to the House of Representatives, however, is still stalled and has not yet been voted on.
Although not a national holiday, the date is remembered by five states of the nation, such as Alagoas, Amazonas, Amapá, Mato Grosso and Rio de Janeiro. Rio Grande do Sul has a law that celebrates the day but does not define it as a holiday. In the country, there are 1,045 municipalities that celebrate the day, according to a SEPPIR study, done in 2015.
Dennis de Oliveira highlights the date as a demonstration of strength of the black movement.
“November 20 is the only holiday created by a Brazilian social movement. The 1st of May, Labor Day, is a date proposed by the international labor movement. This alone demonstrates the importance and the recognition of the historical struggle of the black movement since enslavement, which places us as subjects of history.”
Source: Alma Preta