The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Brazil:
Lula and agribusiness

Jun 2, 2008

Marina Silva, Brazilian Minister of Ecology in Lula da Silva’s government, has just resigned the post she has held for five years. No one in the country had to wonder why she decided to quit a government that hasn’t cared about protecting nature for years. Rather, they were only astonished by the reasons she gave for remaining as long as she did.

Marina Silva, who was born on an Amazon rubber plantation, was a comrade of the ecology and union militant Chico Mendes, who was assassinated 20 years ago by henchmen in the pay of the landlords. She belongs to that current of the Brazilian left which defends the idea that Lula and his government balance between the interests of the population and those of the rich. Like others, she believed she could work within the government to push it to adopt good policies. It took her five years to figure out that Lula didn’t defend nature any more than he defended the workers’ interests.

Since he came to power, Lula, a former union leader, has turned his back on the ideals proclaimed by the left and by his party, the Workers Party. Ecology was no exception. Particularly in Brazil, this cause is closely linked to the struggle of small farmers against the big landlords and agribusiness.

Under Lula, agrarian reform has stagnated even more than it did under his right-wing predecessor. A few peasants have been given land. Budgets to help equip them have shriveled and what has been allocated has barely been spent. The big landlords, who rapidly understood that Lula’s government was on their side, redoubled their violence. Never have there been so many expulsions of peasants from the land and so many assassinations of militants in the Brazilian countryside. The assassinations have gone unpunished, even when they involve foreigners, like U.S. missionary Dorothy Stang, shot in February 2005.

This total reliance on exports by Lula’s government meant unhesitating support for industrial agriculture, in particular large-scale cattle raising and soy growing, the two sectors where Brazil is the world’s leading exporter. The consequence has accelerated the destruction of the Amazon forest. Gigantic farms were carved out of the forest by illegal burning and bulldozing. This burning is responsible for most of Brazil’s carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Brazil is the fourth largest emitter of such pollution in the world.

The authorization of genetically modified crops is only one aspect of this policy that favors agribusiness. Another aspect is the eviction and extermination of Indian tribes, who occupy vast coveted reserves.

Bio-fuel speculation is another area in which the government favors big landlords. Lula has gone so far as to call the big planters of sugar cane “heroes.” These big planters defended slavery and the slave trade right up to the end of the 19th century. Today they remain the most reactionary sector of the Brazilian bourgeoisie.

When Marina Silva resigned, Lula commented that “environmental policy won’t change.” In other words, he told the big landlords and agribusiness capitalists they have nothing to worry about.