On April 17 Brazil’s Lower House of Congress (Câmara dos Deputados) opened an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff pending a formal trial in the Upper House (Senado Federal). The ensuing series of events put an abrupt stop to almost fourteen years of the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores-PT) tenure in the presidential office.
‘What happens in Brazil stays in Brazil’ seems to be the slogan of a heterosexual and white elite that has ruled the country with the iron fist of oppression, racism and gender inequality for the past five centuries and that has orchestrated president Dilma’s impeachment. The members of this elite avoid interfering with the decisions of key global players, as long as they can exercise their power domestically. This is the crucial feature of coloniality. In the last fourteen years, though, the elite stranglehold on Brazilian politics has been disturbed by the Workers Party.
We must understand that what is at play in the current political crisis in Brazil is much more than a domestic scuffle; what is at play is the future of coloniality and the forms of liberation from it. In the terms I put forth in my latest book, Decolonizing Democracy: Power in a Solid State, the Workers Party agenda has ‘decrypted’ the constitution of power in Brazil, while turning the country into a force to be reckoned with on a global scale, hinting at a new polarity of power different from that of capital’s Empire.
Workers Party Inside/Out
Inside of Brazil, 50 million people have been lifted out of absolute poverty in the past 14 years. Let us focus on this fact alone. The ontological condition of democracy is that the meaning of politics may only come to fruition when there are absolutely no conditions or qualifications to participate in the body politic. Power is ‘encrypted’ when democracy and politics are severed from each other. Hence, when to belong to a body politic one requires a certain identity as a membership card, democracy becomes a simulacrum. In these terms, 50 million people lifted from absolute poverty has not only an intrinsic value; it empowers populations that considered themselves invisible and an aberration to a system bent on occluding them as the very condition of its existence. This empowerment through visibility allows us to see that these hierarchies, in their nakedness, are neither natural nor immutable but are held together by precarious discourses and practices that have simply used methodical violence posing as law and culture.
The Workers Party agenda empowered those considered lesser than human, the ungovernable, the untamed. This is the point where we begin to understand that the ‘hidden people’ are both the excluded from the system and its symbolization. The element that symbolizes and gives sense to the wholeness and integrity of the system is the one that has to forcibly stay on its fringes, in a permanent state of exception. Hence, when the hidden element ceases to be part of a state of exception, democracy has to be rewritten.
Outside, on the international arena, Brazil went from an atrophic form of endogamy to become not only an architect of Latin American unity but of novel decolonial linkages. The country led new forms of integration in Latin America, blocking the omnipotent power of the United States while including Cuba and the recently radicalized Venezuela, and thus creating a new geography of power, anti-imperialist and anti-colonial to the bone. Things did not stop here. Brazil ignited new global relations that included ties with African nations and peoples, recognizing and feeding on a common colonial past, and at the same time opened its arms in unconditional solidarity to Haitians and Palestinians, the true wretched of the earth. In short, Brazil became a global decolonizing agent and a new frame of reference to the Global South. All of this came to an abrupt halt with the process of impeachment, or, if you like to call things by their name, with a ‘constitutional coup d’état’: the new trend of power in the region.
Outside, during the Workers Party years, the ‘Monroe doctrine’—the basis for power relations in this hemisphere for the last two hundred years—was challenged for the first time; it was looked dead in its eye by a different kind of animal than that of Cuba or Allende’s Chile. When the United States returned from its Middle-East Mc-Wars, they found their backyard thrown into disarray; they found a new and solid political chemistry based upon democracy and social equality, and this could not stand.
The script of coloniality to stifle such emancipatory movements is as simple as ABC: to unleash the hounds of the local elites. Today it seems as unnecessary as it is untidy to rattle the streets with tanks and soak the walls in blood; the answer is in the ‘good book’, the constitution. Modern law as the neo-gospel of capitalism is the chronic disease of democracy; it is the catalyst of a pandemic called neoliberalism.
The solution was then at hand, having been brewing for centuries. Coloniality is so deeply embedded in the country’s elites that the operators of ‘Empire’ have to do nothing but turn a blind eye and let things roll. Let the elites mobilize the middle class as the first line of ideological fire, embracing with legal pitchforks and ideological torches the never failing pseudo-causes of morality and national pride, the latter another name for racism.
The ghost of the Cold War haunts Latin America. It means the ‘commie’ apocalypse is coming, in this case, incarnated in former Brazilian president Lula from the Workers’ Party, a poor blue-collar man rising from the swamp of poverty, and in the recently impeached president Dilma: yes, a woman’s name, yes brilliant, and yes capable, an anathema for the establishment. Dovetailing in the current purge is the fear that homosexuals, blacks, indigenous, prostitutes and any bearer of difference will soon take over and create a politics of sin.
But this political crisis is also a good time to look at the shortcomings of Workers Party, as a common weakness in recent projects of decoloniality. The Workers Party mistake, as Perry Anderson has noted in his book Crisis in Brazil, is that it thought it could use the country’s institutional framework to change it in favor of the excluded. The party did not realize that the system was built precisely to maintain class hierarchy intact. Thus, when it used the corrupt system without ‘decrypting’ and reprograming it from the inside, it corrupted itself as well; it crashed into a classic Catch 22.
Instead of refreshing the stale space of politics from the bottom up with social movements that have always fought from muddy trenches, it launched itself in a suicidal pact with the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, PMDB —an old political dinosaur born from the entrails of the dictatorship. The pact was weak in its own foundations: one cannot privilege the excluded and the hyper-rich at the same time, unless the hyper-rich want to give up expropriation, which is their lifeline. Hence, the Workers Party became the devil’s concubine (PMDB) and watched undaunted how the Constitution was used as its own guillotine.
What is happening in Brazil is a global event. It is up to us to keep being secondhand citizens of ‘Monrovia,’ or at last create an imagination that helps us to overcome coloniality.