Dilma Rousseff Takes a Page Out of Chavista Playbook

Dilma Rousseff receives support from the PMDB Party for her reelection campaign
Dilma Rousseff receives support from the PMDB Party for her reelection campaign, at the same time as PMDB leaders in Congress have asked that she repeal her “social participation” decree. (Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom)

EspañolOn May 23, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed decree 8.243 and established the National Social Participation Policy (PNPS). This grants state powers to social movements that the central government designates as part of “civil society.”

The policy has generated immediate criticism for having been approved without first going through the National Congress. It also grants special privileges to organized movements generally seen as supporters of the ruling Labor Party, and allows them to become official civil society leaders.

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The decree’s stated goal is to “strengthen and promote democratic mechanisms and forums for dialogue and joint action between the federal government and civil society” — to broaden the role of the public in government accountability and encourage civic participation.

The departments and agencies of the federal government are to take this into account in the formulation, execution, monitoring, and evaluation of its programs and policies. In addition, a process for social participation in the stages of planning and budgeting is also in the works.

The decree creates the Governmental Committee for Social Participation (CGPS) to advise the secretary general in the monitoring and implementation of the PNPS, which is made up of representatives from civil society who are elected through “transparent mechanisms.” The decree, however, does not specify the election procedures.

From Representative Democracy to Marxist Socialism

Brazilian media outlets have described this decree as “Bolivarian,” because of its resemblance to the system of government installed by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. That has allowed for the establishment of a parallel state apparatus with discretionary privileges for social organizations that favor Chavismo, including unaccountable funding. As a consequence, spontaneous forms of citizen participation have faced persecution or been co-opted by the regime.

Erick Vizolli, a Brazilian lawyer and columnist for the website Liberzone, has compared this decree to the power that was given to the soviets in 1917. The strategy aimed to legitimize the government of the Soviet Union that followed the rule of Czar Nicholas II.

The danger, as Vizolli describes it, is in policy decisions made by a few leaders from various social movements who generally do not have fixed or transparent mechanisms for election. “The state’s decisions will only come into effect when they are legitimized by parallel agencies, for which no one voted or voiced their approval, and whose only ‘merit’ is the fact that they are aligned with the partisan ideology of the executive in power,” said Vizolli.

Roberto Chiocca, director of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute of Brazil, shares this same concern. He believes that for citizens to participate in the political process they will now be required to go through certain mechanisms imposed by the state. These social movement organizations, he asserts, generally hold collectivist views — which leads them to resist individual freedom or pluralism.

“Much of the criticism for the decree that Brazilians will make is actually characteristic of the social movement groups in general, which, at the end of the day, are all socialists and mostly financed by the state itself. A ‘social’ movement can’t be organized by people who actually work, because we can’t go out in the middle of the day to hold meetings or organize a demonstration. The demonstrations in Brazil are always carried out professionally, where ‘protestors’ are paid or promised direct privileges,” Chiocca told the PanAm Post.

In addition, Chiocca warns that the measure is an expansion of the state, since these groups see themselves as immune from punishment and all-powerful, because they receive privileges from the government.

Vizolli and Chiocca agree that, although representative democracy is not perfect, it does offer voters better options to choose from. “As more movements demand the expansion of the state and participate with special powers in the state’s decision-making… State intrusions could increase rapidly, since it will no longer just be politicians pushing for more intrusions, but ‘society’ as well,” said Chiocca.

Congress Issues an Ultimatum

Alves, Rousseff and Calheiros in Congress
Alves, Rousseff and Calheiros in Congress. (Wikimedia)

On Tuesday, June 10, representatives of the National Congress declared their disapproval of the decree, considering it an attack on representative democracy.

For those against the social movement groups supportive of the ruling party, these policies, in substance as much as in the way they were approved — without the consent on Congress — are indicative of the tendency for government cronies to take control over official government policy.

In his column, Vizolli highlights the fact that this decree should be considered unconstitutional. It orders the creation of a new public administration agency, which the executive is constitutionally prohibited from doing and must first be taken to the legislative branch.

The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Henrique Eduardo Alves, and the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, have called for Rousseff to abolish the measure. “If the government does not respond by tomorrow, we are going to vote in favor of the repeal of this decree,” Alves said yesterday. However, the next deliberative session for representatives is expected to take place at the end of June.

General Secretariat Minister of the Presidency Gilberto Carvalho says he will go before Congress to explain the contents of the presidential decree, but he notes that the Presidential Palace is not willing to revoke Rousseff’s decision. “It is a decree whose goal is to strengthen society’s channels of representation,” he said.

Alves and Calheiros both belong to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). In an awkward turn of events, on the same day that Alves issued the ultimatum to the Rousseff administration regarding the decree, PMDB members voted to endorse Rousseff in the next election by a narrow majority of 59 percent of the 673 delegates.

“I need the PMDB. We need to be more and more cooperative in this upcoming fight,” said the president during the party’s convention.

The last survey from Datafolha showed that, at the beginning of June, the president’s popularity fell from 37 percent to 34 percent, although she remains the leading candidate among voters.

Translated by José Niño.

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