- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

CURITIBA, Brazil — Thirty-four years ago, Jose Dirceu and Jose Genoino, the two top men inside the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, were considered left-wing terrorists.

Mr. Genoino fought in the Amazon jungles against a U.S.-supported military dictatorship. Mr. Dirceu trained as a guerrilla in Cuba.

Now the two Joses, in an ironic twist, are the source of political censorship against members of their own party, the most influential leftist political party in the developing world.

On Sept. 1, both men suspended eight members of Congress from the ruling Workers Party for 60 days for voting against the president on key reform issues.

Four others face expulsion Oct 25. Mr. Genoino, the Workers Party president, has already expressed his intent to cut them loose.

Last year at this time, Mr. Lula da Sliva’s political campaign was informally dubbed “Peace and Love,” but that changed as political realities set in.

Most party leaders favored punishing the 12, who are currently without official party representation. They are allowed to carry on with their congressional duties, however.

“They are doing more than just voting systematically against the government,” said Andre Vargas, president of the Workers Party in Parana, a wealthy southern state bordering Sao Paulo.

“They’ve been leading movements against the government. We allow dissenting opinion, but if you’re going to agitate against the party, it’s time to go,” Mr. Vargas said.

The fighting centers on pension-fund reform laws for government employees, who make up 6.5 percent of the nation’s work force.

The government wants to cap public-sector retirement income in an effort to fight a $19.31 billion annual shortfall and create a more egalitarian system among public and private employees.

Supreme Court judges, who receive roughly $5,920 per month tax-free in retirement, a small fortune in Brazil, have attacked the reforms in the press.

On Aug. 6, 18,000 civil servants protested in Brasilia, smashing windows of the congressional building.

“This is no longer a left-wing government. It’s a center-right government,” said Joao Fontes, one of the congressmen facing expulsion. “Lula said he has changed, but he changed in the worst way.”

Mr. Fontes and other allies, mostly university professors, made their message public Sept. 1 in a manifesto titled “Workers Party Rescue.”

The two-page document says the government is following the neo-liberal policies of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and that pension fund reform was pro-market, not pro-worker.

The document was reportedly signed by 2,221 party members and higher education unions and is more evidence of organized protest against the government from a significant support base.

“We want to return to the organic roots of the party. The party has been genetically modified,” said party dissident, Joao Batista Araujo, better known as Baba.

“Lula is surprising me every day by being more of a libertarian than a leftist,” said Stephen Kanitz, a nationally known business consultant. “He’s done a 180-degree turn on his original view that the state should guarantee your pension. The correct way to do pensions is you get the government to contribute 8 percent of your salary to a social-security fund, and if you want to retire with more, then you have to cross your fingers in the stock market. If you lose, that’s your tough luck.”

There are signs of social unrest among Mr. Lula da Silva’s constituents like labor unions, and growing violence between unemployed rural workers and farmers whose lands are increasingly under invasion threats by the Landless Rural Workers Movement, known in Brazil by their acronym MST.

The economy also keeps Brazil’s president in the cross hairs. With economic growth is expected to be barely 1 percent this year, and with $51 billion sitting in reserve, many economists have questioned the wisdom of following the International Monetary Fund policy of keeping 3.75 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in reserve.

The Finance Ministry set an even higher goal of 4.25 percent of GDP to put aside this year, in order to control spending and pay down Brazil’s internal debts.

Leaders like Mr. Fontes want the government to spend at least some of the reserve on development projects and social programs.

Despite dissent with the ranks of Mr. Lula da Silva’s longtime supporters, he remains popular with 77 percent of the public, polls show.

“Lula moved to the center and made alliances with center-right parties in order to survive politically,” said Walder Goes, a political analyst in Brasilia with close ties to the government. “He’s going to lean more left soon, which means he’s going to likely spend an average of 19 percent more on social programs next year.”

Fernando Oliveira, one of the founders of the Workers Party, said Mr. Lula da Sliva will have to pull left to keep his promises.

“With the policies running this economy, he won’t be able to keep any promises,” said the 64-year-old retired sociologist from the University of Sao Paulo, who was one of the signatories of the Workers Party Rescue paper.


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