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Lula turns on his party's left wingers

By Tom Lewis | May 30, 2003 | Page 5

THE STAGE is set for a June 3 showdown between Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva and left-wing members of his own Workers Party (PT). The PT has already ousted three national deputies and one senator--João Batista de Araújo ("Babá"), Lindberg Fária, Luciana Genro and Heloísa Helena--from appointments to key committees in the country's Congress. These four now face expulsion from the Workers Party itself because of their vocal opposition to Lula's economic policies.

The disciplinary action is meant to intimidate other PT dissidents. According to Babá, "The PT's left wing is keeping quiet. They have criticisms, but they're not saying anything because they hold public offices. If they raise differences, they will be removed. "The leadership wants to use our expulsion to avoid future dissent."

Lula's proposal to reform a nearly bankrupt social security system has drawn the dissidents' most intense criticism. The proposal mirrors one floated during the administration of Lula's predecessor, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso--who was known for pursuing so-called "neoliberal" policies in line with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The PT blocked Cardoso's plan at the time, but is now attempting to push through an almost identical "reform."

Lula's proposal would reduce the size of public employees' pensions and raise the retirement age from 53 to 60 for men and 48 to 53 for women. PT officials are selling the package by slandering public sector workers as coddled and spoiled. The aim is to win support by driving a wedge between public and private sector workers.

Social security reform represents only one element in Lula's "neoliberalism with a PT face." To the great satisfaction of the World Bank and IMF, Lula raised the target for a government budget surplus--excluding debt payments--from 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent.

Lula's appointee as head of Brazil's central bank hiked interest rates from 25.5 percent to 26.5 percent as a measure to keep and attract foreign investment. Between January and May, Lula spent three times as much on debt repayment as on infrastructure--even though the PT once stood for repudiating Brazil's debt to international bankers. In particular, Lula crippled his highly touted "Zero Hunger" program with inadequate funding.

All of these measures hurt workers and small businesses while serving the interests of Brazilian big business and transnational banks and corporations.

Beyond the left wing of the PT, activists in the environmental, student, labor and landless movements have also become disillusioned. Lula's government has relaxed its opposition to genetically modified foods. It continues to implement education cuts and tuition hikes mandated during the Cardoso period.

Labor has launched vigorous protests against the changes in social security. And the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) has renewed estate occupations as a way of forcing Lula to move ahead with land reform. A political opening exists on the Brazilian left to build a new workers party--one committed to the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist goals of the original PT in the early 1980s.

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