Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I'm shocked, SHOCKED, to learn there are class divisions in Brazil!!!!!!

Today, there's an article from the making the rounds from the AP today (I clipped it from Angola Press, but it's everywhere) about Brazil's election. The writer claims that, in this electorate, Brazil's population is suddenly fracturing along class lines.

Excuse me?

This is NOT new. First of all, the divisions are there regardless of elections. Despite efforts to curb the growth between lower and upper classes (minimum wage here is about $171US a month), Brazil still suffers one of the worst gaps in income in the world, a fact that has existed for centuries but was exacerbated from the 1960s onward.

Second of all, Brazil's electorate has voted along class lines for about as long as the majority of the population has been able to vote (which has been shaky, having most recently endured not being able to vote for president from 1964 until the elections of 1990). This is how Getulio Vargas was elected in 1950 - on popular support from the lower classes in the face of wealthy opposition. Likewise Juscelino Kubitschek in 1956, and numerous other high-level politicians in Congress and at the vice-presidential level.

And yet the writer and the AP act like this is some major demographic shift, that Brazil's electorate is falling apart in a bitter battle along class lines. This is NOT, I repeat NOT, news.

The article refers to the 2002 election in which Lula won with support from the poor AND middle classes, but this was the exception, not the case. The middle class in Brazil nearly always votes with the conservative PSDB/PFL (Brazilian Social Democratic Party/Liberal Front Party). The only reason Jose Serra, the PSDB candidate in 2002, lost middle class votes was because the previous administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002) had attempted to privatize everything, successfully privatizing phone companies, television stations, etc., and only being stopped when he tried to privatize the roads, the free public universities, and the national petroleum company, Petrobras. Additionally, FHC (as he's known here) pulled some of the shadiest maneuvers ever, announcing throughout his campaign in 1998 that the economy was fine, and then doubling the rate of the real (Brazilian currency) the day after he was elected. The economic troubles and inflation (while not as bad as in the early 1990s by any stretch of the imagination, when it was in the 1000s of percent) left the middle class willing, briefly, to try something new in Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva.

That was a one-time deal. The middle class hates Lula, the PT, and the left for a number of reasons. By and large, the Brazilian middle class, despite arguments otherwise, is racist, and does not want to see the middle class expanding to include "brown" or *gasp* BLACK people into it. This has been one of the accomplishments of Lula (who has helped to expand the middle class). Similarly, they hate that their president never went to college (he attended technical school), was a laborer, and came from the poorest part of the country. When they can find no rational objection to his administration, they simply devolve to sheer personal hatred. The middle class has only briefly harbored an interest in any left-ish candidate, and that was in 2002. (And as for the elites, they object to any leftist party on economical grounds, as well as for some of the reasons mentioned above).

This just goes to show absolute ignorance on the topic. The author presumes that, by looking at the last election and this one, we're seeing a marked shift, and a fragmentation of politics in Brazil. That's always been there - it's just returning. He refers to "some political analysts" fearing "the increasingly divided electorate", but fails to mention who they are. I know it's "just" a newspaper article, but memo to the AP and its writers:

Next time you're writing about a foreign country's election, try to know a little about the people and the history before you start spouting "information" that's totally wrong.