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Latin America: Politics and Social Change

Brazilian Sees Need For Democratic Reform Party

By William Woodward

For the past 20 years, Carlos Lacerda has been one of the leading advocates of democratic government in Brazil. First as a journalist, later as publisher of his own newspaper, "Tribuna Da lmprensa" and finally as a state governor, Lacerda has continually fought to increase popular participation in government.

As a leading member of the Uniao Demoratica National Party, now banned by the military government in Brazil, Lacerda was elected governor of the State of Guanabara from 1960 to 1965. During his term as a "reform" Governor he built over 200 schools to assure a primary education to every child in the state, and launched three massive urban renewal projects to clear Rio deJaneiro's well known "favella" shanty towns.

Lacerda, speaks five languages--English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. He has published five books in the past two years, among them a Portuguese translation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." He has also translated "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" which was staged in Rio de Janeiro.

The following is an interview conducted at Harvard last week dealing with social and political problems of Latin America. Questions appear in italic type.

A second installment dealing more specifically with Brazil will appear tomorrow.

Alliance for progress

What is your evaluation of the social and economic improvements that the Alliance for Progress is making in Latin America?

Well, I can judge mostly from Brazil, which I know better, of course. Basically, I think we missed the point of the original plan meant by President Kennedy. It seems to me that he meant a broad plan of cooperation through which we would be associated with the idea of growing, of development--growing in all senses, economically, culturally, democratically.

While in the process of going on, specially after Kennedy's death, it has shrunk. Now it is rather more a problem of how to use appropriations to finance specific projects. Some of these projects, the majority of them, are very good projects, but still shrunk from the original broad and generous idea of a complete integration through cooperation.

I have been through a very interesting experience about the Alliance for Progress. As governor of Guanabara, which means mainly the city of Riode Janeiro and its outskirts, I was very much helped by the Alliance for Progress in its beginnings. We doubled the sanitary sewage services into Rio which was partly financed with Alliance for Progress funds through the Inter-American Bank.

We built a water system which is one of the most important in the world. Rio had a terrible problem of water shortage and we more than doubled the capacity for water supply. Half of the cost, about 40 million dollars, was financed by the Inter-American Bank with Alliance for Progress funds. And also in our school program, which was I think, the core of my effort there. Now we have places in the public school for every child, which we didn't have before. And part of it was financed by the Alliance for Progress.

We built as well Villa Alliancia, Villa Esperanca (which means hope), and Villa Kennedy, for about 40 thousand individuals. This was a housing development plan on the outskirts of the city for former slum area inhabitants. So we practically cleared about 19 favellas (slums) out of this plan.

We are paying back the loans. And it was quite a success. But bit by bit I realize that in Brazil as a whole, and perhaps in some other areas of South America, the Alliance became more a question of specific projects, of being too specific about projects, rather than seeing their social significance and the political implications.

By political implications I don't mean "strings attached." But I mean a sort of identity of ideals which were basically what Kennedy had in mind. While now it seems to me that here and there they have lost the main significance of that, and just transformed it into a sort of giving-and-taking-money proposition.


I'd like to ask you another question of particular interest to Americans. What do you think is the present influence of Cuba and Fidelismo in Latin America?

I don't think Fidel Castro has any more importance than he had in the beginning. As more clearly he showed that he was serious in his Communist ties, he began to lose importance.

I think there is a fact which is a social fact in Latin America that is far more important than Fidelismo: the growing of discontent, dissent, and nonconformism in each country developing autonomously out of their own aspirations and frustrations.

I think this is basically more important than the influence of Castro. In other words, I think the problem is more serious than as just a by-product of Castro.

Social Unrest

To what do you attribute the growth of social unrest and nonconformism in Latin America?

Basically to a very positive thing. That people are starting to discover that they are entitled to participate in the good things of life, such as consuming goods. It is a revolution of consumers, of newcomers to the consumers' market. And they feel frustrated when they hear that transistor radios do exist and they can not have them. And when they have one they want to buy the things that are advertised through transistor radios.

In other words, the technology of mass communications started this nonconformist movement much more than actually ideologies or clash of class groups. It's rather a popular feeling that they do have an opportunity and they are tired of losing opportunities.

Reform Parties

If you believe that a democratic party has a chance to make major reforms in the social structure, to what do you attribute the high incidence of military takeovers in Latin America?

Up to the last military coup (in Brazil)--about three years ago--the parties that claimed to be reformists were partly, let's say, an oligarchy that was trying to perpetuate its rule by just speaking in terms of fake reformism.

In other words, they used the word "reforms" as an opening key to the public support. But actually they did not make any serious move to make reforms. The oligarchy was in power for about, what, thirty years. They didn't create those reforms they were claiming. They were always postponing the reforms in spite of the fact or because of the fact that they were always using the word "reforms" like a sort of a magic word, a sort of a charisma through myths such as reformism.

So inflation--the discredit in front of the public eyes of those fake reformists--disorder out of demogagery and corruption--made the military intervene to reestablish law and order. But as very often happens, as soon as the military was in power they forgot about their previous commitments and there developed a sort of a lust for power in a minority of the armed forces. But a group that is dominant. And they got together with a few American business groups and they are dominating the country now.

The Military

What do you think the effect the coalition between what you call the "American business" groups and military leaders will be?

I think they will go to pieces. Because I don't think they can control any more a country such as Brazil, with about 80 million people. It's too big to be controlled by a clique, by caste, or any way by a dominant group without any commitment towards democracy.

It seems to me--I must clarify this point, I think--it's not the fact that they are corrupt or sold out to "Standard Oil," or anything of that kind. That is not what I am trying to point out. It's that the military believe in something that is out-dated in your eyes, and in the eyes, I believe of the majority of all people.

For instance, they believe that a Third World War is absolutely inevitable. By so believing, they do believe that we shall take the side of the United States as the side of good as against the side of evil. It's a sort of a good and evil, a sort of a "robbers and cops" game--the cop being America and the robbers being 'Russia or China if you wish.

This type of thinking is basically military deformation; since they are in power, they think that war is always inevitable.

The military are out-dated by facts and the technology revolution which includes the army too. The new weapons made the war not only inevitable but impossible in terms of no winner, so no war. They did not understand that the big problem now is the possibility of a clash between wealthy nations and deprived nations.

The amount of resources of wealth that they are throwing in armaments should be urgently put into development. By development I don't mean only factories but also universities and know-how and all this sort of things. It is cheaper; it is less bloody; and it is more effective. Even to win an ideological war if there is any.

Disparity of Wealthy

Is the disparity of wealth between rich nations and poor nations a major factor in international relations?

I think that the technological revolution has been substituted for the class revolution--the old Marxist concept. I think that what petroleum did in America, and electricity--what coal did in England--can be done now by electronics and computers and other devices, provided we can use them properly and at the right time which is now and not tomorrow.

We need desperately to improve the skill of our workers. To let them have a better living--more wages and more jobs. We need to use the tremendous capital that we have--it's about the only capital we really have plenty of--which is youth.

More than half of our peple is composed of people under 21 years of age. About 75 per cent of the productive workers are below 25 years of age. So this is a capital--provided that you can use it properly by giving them the capacity, and the ability, to use themselves.


I think education is the most urgent investment to make in Brazil, and the most productive. I think true education--taken as an urgent--taken as even as an emergency thing--is the most effective weapon to develop our economy and to grow up. And by education, of course, I don't mean only the skill of hands, but also the use of brains. We are wasting brains. We don't use them properly.

The military minority that took power are afraid of students speaking outside of their classrooms. Which I think is silly. Because in a country where they are in a majority--I mean the youth--and where students are in the minority of that majority, they have, so-to-speak, the power of attorney for their generation.

So students must be precocious and they must be premature. And I don't see any evil in it. Of course, I would not say that students always are right in their propositions and their criticisms, but I think it is important that they proclaim their nonconformism.

Popular Pressure

Will the overthrow of the military regimes come from a popular demand for normal political activity or through some other means?

I believe from normal political activity, as more of the people can pressure the government. At least in the case of Brazil. That is what makes Brazil completely different from some other nations of Iatin America.

In Brazil the armed forces do not compose a caste. They are basically recruited--I mean the officers' bodies--are basically recruited from among the lower or a middle class. People who have a certain number of sons and cannot afford to pay their studies send one or a few of them to the army. So their social strata are basically not based on privileges of any kind, but on the contrary, they are under-privileged to a certain extent.

These officers are very much submitted to public pressure because they belong to it. They are really just people who get in uniform. Of course with a slight degree of professional orientation.

Basically they believe in the same things most people do. I don't think they have a militarist vocation. A minority of the military calling themselves, let's say, intellectuals, may try to organize a militarist concept of government. They confuse technocracy and dictatorship and try to introduce technocracy through a military regime, using it as a medium to attain the technocrat's objective.

Our main purpose in democratic terms is to conciliate a technology revolution with a democratic way of doing it and living together. That's the only way because on the other hand we could not go on with the old idea of a liberal nineteenth century concept of just politicians on one side and technicians obeying them all the time.

New Party

To what extent do you feel that democratic parties in Latin America can be a viable institution for promoting the social changes which you think is necessary?

Up to now, at least in Brazil and to a certain extent in some other countries, the traditional parties were not able to fulfill that need or that hole in the social forces. In other words, the social forces of progressivism are not yet served in the majority of those countries, and I include Brazil, by political forces articulated as such.

In terms of ideology you have the Communist party, legal or illegal--illegal in Brazil--which at the same time is not enough and too much. It is not a mass party. But it is too much in the sense that they require first, to take power, to then make the reforms. They don't educate people for democracy. They would rather use their nonconformism and their resentment to take power.

We really need a new party concept not necessarily based on a strict, strait-jacket ideology, but rather on a broad program of courageous reform mentality. I may say, that's what some of us are trying to organize now

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