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FERNANDO HADDAD IN NYC
November 29, 2018 - New York City

RLS–NYC

For photos of this event, visit our Flickr pageDuring the week of November 26, Fernando Haddad—Workers’ Party (PT) candidate in the recent Brazilian presidential election—came to the United States for his first international appearance since his defeat to far-right candidate Jair Bolsonoro in the election’s second round on  October 28.

Haddad arrived to the US with the intention of building international networks that could help to offer progressive political alternatives and halt the advance of the extreme right. The former mayor of São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world, thinks that in order to succeed, such a movement needs to operate locally while gathering international support. USA was his first stop on this tour, and next year he’ll be in Europe seeking to build a progressive front there with allies in Spain, France, and Portugal.

Over several days of meetings in New York—including at the NYC City Council, The Nation magazine, and our office—Haddad found an interested audience. On November 29, we hosted him at our office for a meeting with progressive allies in the international political community. Our goal was to hear Haddad’s analysis of the current political situation in Brazil and discuss how international allies can support progressive democratic and human rights struggles there.

Some of the questions he confronted were:
– Will the other branches of government make Bolsonaro accountable for anything? Is it possible to maintain a system of checks and balances in the country right now?
– How will the economy do?
– What will be the role of the military? Is it reasonable to expect military collaboration with global North powers and even interventions in the region?
– How broad is the popular support for the PT now?
– What will happen to international NGOs operating in Brazil? What will happen to funding streams coming from abroad? How will this affect the work on the ground?
– What level of response should NGOs prepare for (i.e., creating escape routes for activists, helping migrants trapped between Venezuela and Brazil)?

On Thursday night, Haddad spoke in front of more than 350 people at The People’s Forum in Midtown Manhattan. This event was co-sponsored by Jacobin magazine and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. At it, Haddad spoke compellingly about the situation in Brazil in a wide-ranging conversation with journalist Laura Flanders from The Laura Flanders Show (watch the full conversation here).

The politician described some of the factors that contributed to Bolsonaro’s victory and his loss, including: the failure of neoliberalism, the economic crisis, the political strength of the Christian right in his country, and the spread of fake news on social media.

About the election, Haddad was strong in his assessment: “Lula would have won.” He called the former president’s imprisonment “persecution,” condemned even by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Haddad also criticized Bolsonaro’s economic agenda, calling it “regressive neoliberalism” (as opposed to what Nancy Fraser has called “progressive neoliberalism”). While he expects the country to see a slow recuperation in the next years—coming out of its worst recession period—he also thinks the new president will use religion and morality to hide any problems with the administration. Haddad reminded us that the vote for Bolsonaro was  one rooted  in the feeling of being victims of the policies that helped women and people of color progress during the last decades. From now, the state will take an oppositional stance in issues like gender and LGBT equality (or what the right is calling in Brazil “gender ideology”), and will censor political conversations in schools and universities. Academics, teachers, workers, students, and people of color in general will suffer persecution because of this.

Haddad was sober in stating that Bolsonaro is now more popular than he was before the election. He explained Bolsonaro’s agenda as having three pillars:
– radical neoliberalism (different from the one from the 90s implemented by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso);
– conservative moral and political power of neo-Pentecostalism;
– total alignment with Trump in issues of foreign policy and international relations (climate policy, relationship with China, status of Jerusalem, Latin America).

Looking forward, Haddad thinks there will be two fronts of action against Bolsonaro:
– defending civil, political, and environmental rights, which enjoys a healthy consensus among Brazilians and will attract a broad coalition;
– defending social rights, on the other hand, is a more contested front. A large part of the middle class no longer believes in the Constitution of 1988, which guarantees social rights, and see it as overly ambitious. Some social programs such as Bolsa Familia are already well established and probably won’t be cut, but in many other fronts such as education, health, or affirmative action programs, it’s expected that Bolsonaro will be able to roll back without affecting his chances for reelection.

Meanwhile, the PT has been politically weakened but remains very popular. After all, it did get more than 45 million votes in the election. At the same time, the smaller left-wing party PSOL has also seen big gains after this election. The parties of the resistance need to learn how to talk to people, how to really reach them, and how to work together. His conclusion is that the PT particularly needs to learn new ways of organizing.

What can the international community do? Some ideas brought to the table to support his movement include:
– boycotting Brazilian companies that have supported Bolsonaro’s campaign;
– demanding accountability from Facebook for the WhatsApp fake news campaign that so badly damaged Haddad’s chances particularly during the last week of campaigning;
– lobbying US progressive congress members to create visibility and pressure;
– forming rapid response coalitions to act against specific threats.

After New York, Haddad went to an invitation-only political event held by the Sanders Institute in Vermont. There, he met with US Senator Bernie Sanders and a host of other progressive figures from the US and abroad. He spoke compellingly about Brazil “harvesting the consequences of the neoliberal project’s failure,” while comparing his home country to the US and other places in the world where the nationalist far right is advancing. Together with Sanders he voiced unequivocal support for the need to form a progressive international front against this far right.

We were proud to have received Fernando Haddad in New York, and hope to have played a small role in helping to bring international attention and support to progressive movements in Brazil during one of the most challenging periods for the South American power since its return to democracy.

Check out our recent piece explaining Brazil’s shift to the far right.

 

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Photo: Matthias Lambrecht/Flickr

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Photo: Matthias Lambrecht/Flickr

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