[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Volume 63 / Social Sciences


ENRIQUE DESMOND ARIAS, Associate Professor of Government, John Jay College, City University of New York (CUNY)

IN OCTOBER 2002, Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva, of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), was elected president in a clear victory over José Serra, the Minister of Health in Fernando Henrique Cardoso's second administration. This was a watershed moment for Brazil as the PT brought to power the first left/center-left government in 40 years. The election illuminated three critical issues within contemporary Brazilian politics. The first was a growing centrist consensus, as Lula and his allies did not push for the types of broad economic reforms they had advocated in the 1990s. This shift made Lula more palatable to the press and international financial concerns, paving the way for his election. The second was the increasing political strength of evangelical Christians, a rapidly growing religious minority in Brazil, as demonstrated by the third-place candidacy of Anthony Garotinho, whose campaign explicitly appealed to evangelical Christian interests. Finally, José Serra embodied the successful technocratic innovation that has increasingly characterized Brazilian public policy. Under his leadership, Brazil developed an innovative and successful anti-AIDS program that is but one among many successful policy efforts at the federal and state levels since the return to democratic rules. However, all of these questions fundamentally return to the evolution and operation of political institutions in Brazil in the generation since the return to democratic rule. The almost 200 publications reviewed in this section reflect the issues represented in these elections and some other critical concerns such as federalism, human rights, violence, corruption, and urban governance.

Despite Lula's victory, his party acquired only a minority of the seats in the Brazilian Congress with control going to the centrist opposition parties that had formerly led the executive. Over the next two and a half years, the PT government, inexperienced in national administration, struggled to balance competing internal interests while working with the myriad of potential opponents in the Congress. True to his word during the elections, da Silva did not challenge the economic policies of his predecessor and, indeed, worked to advance a restructuring agenda targeted at reducing the benefits to the unionized state workers that form a keystone of PT support. Resulting tensions in the PT led to the expulsion of more radical members and a series of deals with representatives of the numerous small parties holding seats in the legislature to support government-backed legislation. In 2005, however, it became clear that this odd compromise was based on backroom dealing and payoffs between legislators and representatives of the administration in which minority legislators were paid for votes on key legislation. This revelation led to extensive hearings, the resignation of da Silva's chief of staff José Dirceu, and a further fragmentation of the PT as some other important senior members left as a result of the scandal. Although da Silva staggered to reelection in 2006, he did so by fighting off a surprising second round challenge from his inexpressive opponent José Alkmin, the conservative former governor of São Paulo.

At the national level, the stories of the last four years have been the divisions in the PT, its leadership challenges as the party moved from a national opposition stance to a governing position, the struggles in dealing with the constraining structure of national institutions, and the consolidation of a national centrist reform consensus. Not surprisingly then, the greatest concentration of works (38 total) reviewed for HLAS 63 focus on the operation of national institutions. Some of these titles make important contributions to the debate on institutions in Brazil and other parts of the region, including an article by Leoni, Pereira, and Rennó on "political survival strategies" among Brazilian legislators (item #bi2004002517#), an article by Nicolau examining strategies for holding Brazilian legislators accountable (item #bi2003003910#), and an article by Figueiredo and Limongi discussing the structure and distribution of power within the federal legislature (item #bi2003003911#). Vianna also edited an important volume on this topic entitled A democracia e os três poderes no Brasil that includes chapters by some of Brazil's most important political scientists (item #bi2006001647#). Tavares has produced a similarly significant volume on institutions that brings together political scientists from Brazil and abroad (item #bi2006001645#). Dos Santos' O cálculo do conflito also provides important insight into the interaction between the party system and political institutions (item #bi2006001624#). Some attention has also been paid to the specific institutional impacts of the governments of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Of note is an article by Couto on how the use of provisional measures during this period led to instability (item #bi2003000591#). Pereira has put together an interesting book of interviews by major political actors assessing this era (item #bi2005001635#).

Since the 2002 elections there has also been a considerable amount of writing about the role of the PT in national politics and the changing nature of the party since the end of the 1990s. A number of books examining these issues contain essays by or interviews with party leaders. Of note in this area are books by Demier (item #bi2006001629#) and Harnecker (item #bi2005001634#) interviewing PT leaders. Rosenfield offers a cogent critique of PT leadership grounded in experiences in Rio Grande do Sul (item #bi2005001627#). César examines the evolution of the PT in the context of Brazilian democratization (item #bi2006001648#). This institutional story, however, is only part of a much more complex set of processes that scholars have followed throughout this decade.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, Brazil has emerged as an international leader in policy innovation in a number of areas. Beyond the successful AIDS program mentioned earlier, the federal government has advanced limited but successful poverty alleviation measures such as Bolsa Escola and Fome Zero that provide targeted income transfers to help address specific social issues such as school attendance among the poor and hunger alleviation. Some of the most innovative policies in Brazil have come from regional governments. The most well known of the efforts is Orçamento Participativo (OP, Participatory Budgeting), which was originally developed by the PT municipal administration in the far southern state capitol of Porto Alegre. This program built what scholars have called "associative democracy" by establishing various levels of popularly elected citizens' commissions to decide how to spend some government funds. The most significant writings in this area come from Barceló and Pimentel (item #bi2005001626#), Fischer and Moll (item #bi2005001642#), Koonings (item #bi2005002383#), and Wampler (item #bi2004002753#). Especially notable here is Leonardo Avritzer and Zander Navarro's edited volume A inovação democrática no Brasil (item #bi2005001629#), which offers a rich set of theoretically grounded essays that examine the participatory budgeting initiative, and Militants and Citizens by Gianpaolo Baiocchi (item #bi2005001617#), which offers a definitive account of the impact of the participatory budgeting process in Porto Alegre.

Innovation at the local and state level, however, has not been limited to the OP. These efforts have been studied by various scholars. Santos Júnior, in his examination of policy change in greater Rio de Janeiro, sees municipalities as potential drivers of reform though they face serious barriers to their efforts (item #bi2005001613#). In an edited volume, Soares examines these processes in Rio Grande do Sul during the 1998– 2002 PT administration (item #bi2006001625#). Finally, Marta Arretche, in a 2002 Dados article, examines the role of federalism in political reform in Brazil (item #bi2003005961#).

While there is much to laud about Brazil's political system, the country faces substantial challenges in terms of maintaining a basic rule of law across national territory. Within the context of political institutions this is often characterized by ongoing problems with official corruption. In 2006, Transparency International ranked Brazil 70th in terms of perception of state corruption, equal to Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Peru, India, and China. Brazil's overall rating, about 3 out of a possible score of 10, is much closer to Iraq, Chad, and Bangladesh (which had ratings around 2 on the same index), than to the US (7.3), the UK (8.6), or France (7.4). These corrupt practices are present at a variety of levels of the state and in a number of types of public institutions. This problem is discussed in a number of books included in this review, most of which are capably written by journalists. They usually detail specific scandals that have affected the country's major cities. These include Chico de Gois, Segredos da máfia, which looks at a corruption scandal in São Paulo (item #bi2005001589#); José Eduardo Cardoso's A máfia das propinas, which also focuses on São Paulo (item #bi2005001577#); and Lucas Figueiredo's Morcegos negros, which offers an examination of corruption in the Collor administration (item #bi2005001561#). Cláudio Weber Abramo and Eduardo Ribeiro Capobianco have also written an important article the looks at how corruption operates in the context of public contracting (item #bi2005003226#). Bruno Wilhelm Speck examines vote buying in Brazilian elections (item #bi2005004830#). Taken as a whole, these works raise serious questions about the political process in Brazil and suggest the need for further scholarly study. Given the very serious problems with official corruption in the federal government evidenced in relations between the executive and the legislature and the ongoing investigations and arrests by the Polícia Federal of public officials, this area of study is likely to grow.

Over the past 20 years, Brazil has experienced a substantial increase in social violence as a result of persistent problems with wealth inequality, ineffective social and housing policies, corruption, police impunity, the easy availability of firearms, and, perhaps most importantly, the drug trade. While this spike in violence had been limited principally to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the 1980s and early 1990s, the last ten years have seen a growth in violence in other major cities around the country as the domestic narcotics market has grown. Two authors reviewed in this section have addressed this issue. Justiça Global and the Núcleo de Estudos Negros have produced an important compendium of extrajudicial killings by police in Brazil in the 1990s (item #bi2005001593#). Martha Huggins published a significant essay on the memory of what she terms violence workers in Brazil, which examines how official torturers and killers during the dictatorship remember and describe their work (item #bi2005003172#). Those interested in this issue should also read Angelina Peralva's Violência e democracia: o paradoxo brasileiro (item #bi2005001590#). Given the growing discussion about possible solutions and the substantial efforts by a number of state governments to address police brutality, there should also be growth in scholarship in this area in the next few years.

These same broad social concerns can also be seen in the discussion of the land reform movement in Brazil. The most active group in this area is the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), which engages in land occupation in order to redress its members' grievances. Often their occupations are associated with violence as landowners employ private gunmen and police to retake occupied areas. Two works in this section address the activities of this group. Anthony Pereira's (item #bi2004001543#) and John L. Hammond's (item #bi2005004812#) substantial academic articles on this issue examine the interaction between the MST and the Cardoso administration, and media analysis of the MST, respectively. Bruno Konder Comparato has written a more journalistic account of how the MST has built ties to the Brazilian political establishment (item #bi2003000596#). Raimundo Santos published an essay examining the challenges faced by the MST under the PT government (item #bi2004002212#). Finally, Evelina Dagnino published a book-length discussion on civil society that touches on MST-state relations (item #bi2005001618#).

Media and politics have also received substantial attention during the period of this review with a number of articles examining how the Brazilian media, especially the Globo empire, interprets and impacts Brazilian politics. Antônio Albino Canelas Rubim has published several pieces on this topic. Two single-authored pieces examine the role of virtual monopoly media control on politics in Bahia (items #bi2003000637# and #bi2004001609#). A co-authored piece with Leandro Colling examines the evolution of the impact of media on presidential elections since the return to democracy (item #bi2006000358#). Fausto Neto, Verón, and Rubim have published an account of the role of television in the election of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva as president of Brazil (item #bi2005001615#). Taylor Boas, in "Television and Neopopulism in Latin America," examines the role of television in supporting the election of populist presidents in Brazil and Peru (item #bi2006000019#). Ana Carolina Rocha Pessoa Temer wrote an interesting article examining the shifting representations of the da Silva government's first week in office on the Globo television network (item #bi2005002684#). Finally, Luis Felipe Miguel published an interesting book on the role of media in building myth in public discourse in Brazil (item #bi2005001645#).

Religion is a growing issue in Brazilian politics. As mentioned earlier, Anthony Garotinho, the former governor of Rio de Janeiro, ran for president on a specifically evangelical platform. The growing numbers of Protestants in Brazil have taken faith into the political arena in a way that the country's Roman Catholic majority has not. Increasingly legislators at various levels are experiencing electoral success by placing their religion at the center of their campaigns and political activity. While the role of religion in politics is quite different in Brazil than it is in the US, it is increasingly important to Brazilian political life. Several authors address this issue: Maria das Dores Campos Machado and Cecília Loreto Mariz have examined the different political strategies of explicitly Roman Catholic candidates and those coming from the Igreja Universal (item #bi2005002595#); Maria das Dores Campos Machado and Fabiana Melo de Figueiredo examine the impact of gender and faith on political contests in Rio (item #bi2004000337#); and Ari Pedro Oro analyzes the activities of legislators associated with the Igreja Universal (item #bi2005001988#).

These various writings provide a comprehensive picture of the state of debate on politics in Brazil. Generally the field is dominated by institutional analyses of national political institutions and parties. Nevertheless there is substantial important analysis of public policy, federalism, state and local level politics, human rights, and civil society.

Go to the:

Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (7/11/14)