Caracas, September 30, 2022 (OrinocoTribune.com)—In this new episode of Chavista Chronicles from Caracas, we had the honor of interviewing journalist and producer Camila Escalante. She is based in La Paz, Bolivia, but has been in Brazil during August-September in order to cover the socio-political scene before, during and after the presidential race in the biggest economy of Latin America. She was in São Paulo at the time of the interview, where she will be this Sunday, election day in Brazil.
Camila Escalante is the editor of Kawsachun News and Latin America correspondent for PressTV. Previously she worked as producer and correspondent for Telesur and has been for several years a leading voice on Latin American issues from a socialist perspective, in the English language.
On Sunday, October 2, elections will be held in Brazil to elect the president, the vice president, one-third of the senate (81 seats), and the entire chamber of deputies (513 seats). The elections for state governors and lieutenant governors, state legislative assemblies and the legislative chamber of the Federal District will also be held on the same day.
More than 156 million voters are eligible to vote in these elections. If no candidate reaches 50% +1 of the valid votes cast in the presidential election on Sunday, there will be a second round on October 30, four weeks after the first round, in which the two candidates with the highest number of votes in the first round will compete.
The interview was conducted by Orinoco Tribune founder and editor Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza with co-editor Saheli Chowdhury. Besides some minor interruptions, normal for the busy pre-electoral environment and the use of shared internet service in Brazil, the interview was not affected by any major technical issue.
Below we present the questions asked during the interview and a summary of Camila Escalante’s responses.
1) In what situation are Brazil’s elections being held? Taking into consideration Bolsonaro’s policies—economy, wealth inequality, healthcare, COVID-19, Amazon forest, police violence, crime, racism, as well as his threats regarding not wanting to recognize election results, using the army, etc.
Escalante began her answer referring to the gigantic size of Brazilian economy, but also of its biodiversity, population, cultural and racial heritage, and how Brazilians feel proud of it, but at the same time they face tremendous poverty, food insecurity, crime, and inequality as a result of the failure of neoliberalism and the state itself. According to Escalante, this is the main issue that is being discussed and considered in Brazilians’ intention to vote, much more than Bolsonaro’s racism, misogynist and anti-LGBTQ attitude and fascist background.
She emphasized that the Brazilian COVID-19 catastrophe is part of the electoral debate, as many have called Bolsonaro’s attitude and polices during the pandemic “genocidal.” However, she insisted that the center of the debate is the economic crisis.
2) Only four years ago, Lula was branded a thief and sent to prison in one of the most emblematic cases of lawfare in recent times. Yet now, all polls are showing Lula leading the voting intention. Most polls are giving him a huge advantage over Bolsonaro in the presidential elections. What factors do you think have caused this turnaround? What have been the roles of social movements, political parties, media, and other actors in the Brazilian scene over the last few years, and are they really strong and decisive in driving Lula’s possible victory?
Lula is the most popular and beloved president in Brazilian history, according to polls and studies, was the first comment by Camila Escalante. She went on to explain that Lula’s popularity was even very high when the US-backed lawfare against Dilma Roussef was going on, and then when the lawfare was directed against him. Thus Lula’s charisma and popularity is a reality and it has a great effect on Lula’s chances in the presidential race.
Escalante highlighted that Lula has been receiving endorsements from numerous social movements and political groups. However, she also mentioned that Ciro Gomes, the candidate running far behind in third place on a fake left platform, might be a Bolsonaro pawn. She also referred to Simone Tebet, who is in fourth place in voting intentions, as another right-wing option that overall benefits Bolsonaro by subtracting some votes from Lula based on a feminist platform that is trying to capitalize on Bolsonaro’s misogyny
Escalante also highlighted the role of social movements like Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement or MST) that are actually running candidates at different levels, such as governors or state or federal deputies. She added that despite the political parties forming the alliance behind Lula’s candidacy coming from a broad political spectrum in ideological terms, social movements like MST have many well-respected leaders and candidates who are adding to Lula’s political platform.
3) Why is the upcoming election in Brazil significant for Latin America? What are the things that may change, and what are some of the biggest challenges in the path towards those changes, in the backdrop of what is being called the new Pink Tide and the complex international scenario?
On the issue of imperialism, Camila Escalante stated that the most advanced sectors of Brazilian politics are very aware of the US and European imperialist moves towards Latin America, but she feels that for Brazilians as a whole, there is a divide of people not knowing what is happening in other countries of Latin America. The language barrier is a big reason behind this, and in addition, many Brazilians pay more attention to what happens in the US and Europe than what happens in their immediate neighborhood. However, most Brazilians, overall, are paying more attention to their most urgent needs, their struggle for survival during tough economic times.
According to Escalante, anti-imperialism or socialism is an important issue for certain political sectors and even for the Workers Party (PT); however, when they are in office or running for office, they have to take less radical stances in order to capture the support of those Brazilians who are not very politically engaged. Brazilians want more respect for Brazil in the world stage, better engagement of Brazil in multilateral/international bodies, and for Brazil to be respected by the great powers, meaning US, Europe, China and Russia.
When connecting the possible victory of Lula to the debate about Latin America’s so-called Pink Tide 2.0, Escalante stressed that it will be a very important piece in the puzzle for having a more progressive and less US-dependent Brazil. The most important thing that Brazil would have to achieve during a new Lula presidency is better South-South cooperation with Africa and Asia, as well as better communication among Latin American countries, and especially, fighting unilateral sanctions imposed on countries of the region by the US and its allies.
In the context of anti-communism and the use of Venezuela as the bad example in presidential races all over the continent, Escalante told us that Brazil is no exception. There are high profile TV and radio hosts who are very articulate and active in injecting anti-communism into the population. On this issue, Saheli Chowdhury mentioned that President Maduro avoids making comments about presidential elections in Latin American countries precisely because his comments, if any, would be used in regional mainstream media and even some “progressive” media to attack any progressive candidate, using the spectre of communism.
4) Do you think Lula will really be a decisive force in moving the continent to the left, towards socialism and against US unipolarism? Or do you see a risk that he might become a new Gabriel Boric or Alberto Fernández, especially given the situation that his electoral coalition this time is very broad?
“Lula simply was not known as the utmost anti-imperialist and he is not running to be that this time either,” was Escalante’s immediate reaction to the question. Then she elaborated on the harsh conditions that Lula as a person had to face while growing up, dealing with poverty, water and sanitation problems, lack of housing, working as a teenage laborer, connecting that fact with what Brazilians really want him to be, not a revolutionary leader but a political leader who brings stability and prosperity and fights poverty.
In this sense Escalante mentioned she believes that is what other presidents in the region will love to see in a new Lula’s presidential term—a stable Brazil in economic terms dynamizing the region’s economy, but also pushing Latin American integration/unity projects like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) or fortifying existing blocs or multilateral organizations, and taking leadership in these efforts of regional unity as well as in the construction of a multipolar world order.
“Lula Da Silva was already in power, he won’t turn further right, people know his style of governance,” she added. “We don’t know who he will bring to the ministries, but we know he is surrounded by people like Celso Amorim who was his foreign affairs minister… the usual suspects of PT, so how much could it change in that regard?”
Following Chavista Chronicles’ usual format, at the end of the interview Escalante asked us about how Venezuelans see a possible victory of Lula in the Brazilian presidential race and what they would love to see out of a PT government, and also, what we remember of Lula’s previous terms in power and how we could describe it, apart from the extreme-left criticism of him just being a social democrat.
Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza opined that he remembered Lula’s first time in office very similarly to what Camila Escalante already mentioned. He added that he saw Lula as a progressive leader who had to run the complex state that is Brazil, and sometimes he had to make concessions to de facto powers such as the economic elite and international powers like the US and Europe. He also expressed his appreciation for the frank and deep friendship that Lula had with Hugo Chávez, which was very visible in every meeting the two leaders had during those years. One might expect that after all the attacks Lula has suffered in recent years, a new government headed by him would move to the left, but “if he at least keeps doing what he did during his first time in office, that will be a big advance for the region,” in terms of consolidating the Patria Grande concept.
He referred to the charismatic decisions taken by President Petro in Colombia on several key issues in a country far more polarized and penetrated by the right wing and imperialist powers, and wished that Lula would show leadership and commitment similar to the new Colombian president.
For Saheli Chowdhury, Lula’s charisma is a given fact, but she expects that Lula would not commit some mistakes that he made earlier, like sending troops for the UN mission in Haiti. In her opinion, Brazil was used to legitimize that occupation, and the US and Canada used Brazil’s name as a shield. She also expects that this time Lula would pay more attention to other regional integration bodies like ALBA-TCP or the Banco del Sur in addition to the strengthening of Mercosur. Moreover, despite Lula having an even broader political coalition behind his presidential campaign this time, she hopes that he will remain faithful to his ideals, and most importantly, he does not become another Gabriel Boric.
Camila Escalante’s work can be followed on Kawsachun News, which publishes news and analysis on Latin American issues in English. Escalante is also posting daily updates on social media, especially on Twitter, with important information about the elections directly from Brazil. Follow her work on @CamilaPress and @KawsachunNews on Twitter. Subscribe to Camila’s new podcast, Latin American Review.
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Orinoco Tribune special by staff
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