- Gerardo Lissard
- BBC News World
The dialogue is interrupted by an ovation and José “Pepe” Mujica warns: “There is a hubbub because Lula is arriving,” who has just been elected president of Brazil.
It is Sunday night and the former Uruguayan president is in the bunker of his friend Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in São Paulo. He traveled to accompany him in his closing campaign and in his most important election.
From there, when the Brazilian electoral justice confirmed that Lula had won a tight ballot against the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, Mujica evaluated the importance of the moment in an interview with BBC Mundo.
Both leftist leaders have known each other well since the times they were presidents, the Brazilian between 2003 and 2010 and the Uruguayan from 2010 to 2015.
But Mujica warns that times have changed. And the challenges too.
What follows is a summary of the telephone conversation with the former guerrilla fighter who gained international recognition as president for his messages against consumerism and for a democratic government under which Uruguay legalized marijuana, abortion and same-sex marriage.
How do you evaluate this victory for Lula?
It is a gross error to consider that here there was a lawsuit between the left and the right. Here the fundamental dispute is democracy with authoritarianism.
The state apparatus in the hands of a temperament like the president (Bolsonaro) had and with what he did, can have the formalities of a representative democracy. But the abusive use of power permanently undermines the foundations of democratic relations.
Perhaps Brazil is the most formidable experiment in miscegenation in the contemporary world. It is a population that has a diverse origin, that has the joy of living typical of Africans. And there was a polarization that was breaking that cultural character.
I fervently hope that Brazil will recover, because Lula is in political terms a true social democrat, in the sense of a fighter for the welfare state.
He has done a feat because he has faced a State: the entire apparatus of the State was at stake in this.
He is a 77-year-old man with a vitality, a humble origin. And the real support for him was given by the poorest Brazil. He has won for that. And he almost lost out to the relatively developed, middle-class country of the south. paradoxical thing.
I hope that rancor can be overcome and that it helps to give Latin America a presence in the world, because that is another characteristic of Lula.
Do you expect Lula to have a more centrist presidency, different from that of his first two governments?
I defined him as a fighter for a welfare state. That is, to seek that the Brazilian economy works and distributes better.
But they are going to criticize him for not being radical from the left. And from the right they are going to criticize him for being a populist. It is inevitable, because social democrats are not in fashion at this stage of our history.
Lula was never a radical in the strict sense of the term. He was and is a wrongdoer. That is to say, a union leader who has spent his whole life trying to compose trouble to find the best possible solutions.
It is what we expect. What is the weak point? The succession: what is there after Lula?
Bolsonaro has lost, but many believe that Bolsonaroism has shown its strength in this election. Are you worried about the opposition that Lula may have in her next government?
You have to understand what Brazil is, which has a constitutional disease.
The Brazilian Parliament is very similar to a stock market, because there are a number of state parties that make the decision, negotiate and tell the Executive Power when they line up: I vote for this law if you build this bridge or these roads for me.
There is a world of negotiation below. It is incredible what the political reality of Brazil is when we analyze it in underpants.
So, it is true that Bolsonarism voted very well. He used all the resources. But it is made up of a negotiating lineage from a cloud of political currents with local interests. And there will be a world of negotiations, inevitably.
That is not easy, neither for Lula nor for whoever is there. Only God can handle this reality. And since such an important man does not deal with politics, Lula will have to deal with it.
What mistakes should Lula and his Workers’ Party avoid making again in government?
Luna is 77 years old. The problem comes later, because Brazil is not Argentina. Brazil does not have that strange thing that no one knows what it is, but it is an animal that exists, which is called Peronism, which puts up with dictatorships, this happens, and it has a whole litter of people who have no idea what Perón was nor Evita, but she has them from God.
Brazil does not have that mystique. It may be, I don’t know, that Lula’s passage generates it over time. But all that is yet to be revealed.
I am just a friend, a companion of Lula, who was when he decided to comply and go to jail with a crowd of people who supported him and turned him down. Then I went to see him in jail. And now I’m going to see you back, President. I have had the glory of living to see it.
You say that creating a successor to Lula’s leadership is one of the challenges facing the PT…
Without a doubt, because men pass and the causes remain. That is a problem we all have.
And really in recent years I have seen the historical parties disappear in France, Italy and elsewhere.
What is happening is not simple, because there are cultural changes that go beyond our political views.
Have mercy on me: you are talking to a fighter who is 87 years old and cannot stop seeing reality through the glasses of his life. That is what limits me.
You mentioned the time you went to visit Lula when he was in prison. His conviction for corruption was annulled by the Brazilian Supreme Court, due to errors in the process and lack of impartiality of the judge who tried him. But many believe that corruption is one of the Achilles’ heels of the PT governments in Brazil and other leftist governments in Latin America…
And why do you leave the right-wing governments out? Do you think that right-wing governments have a pact with the devil?
Corruption is inherent in human civilization. It is older than love. It has always been and it is obvious that in modern societies.
Hours would have to be dedicated to the functioning of the Brazilian Parliament. There is something called the “secret budget”, which is distributed and has little to do with political decisions.
There are a number of institutions that are amazing. I don’t think they are responsible for the corruption. Do you know who is responsible for the corruption? That tacitly in contemporary societies, in fact, they tend to educate us that to succeed in life is to become rich, whatever it may be.
Those who really like money should be kicked out of politics. Because politics is another story. It is not that there are no interests, but they are not material interests. There are other things that are at stake.
As you will see, these are issues that go beyond this electoral passage, almost philosophical.
“Mr. Money is a powerful gentleman, capable of transforming gold into dung and dung into gold,” said Quevedo 500 years ago.
The question was whether he thinks the PT will have to take any special precautions with corruption issues now that it returns to government.
It is not a problem of the PT. It is a problem for the whole of Brazil, because now other scams are going to be uncovered.
I have confidence in Lula because I know what Lula is and how he lives. But from there to the fact that in a collective organization there are no people who deviate, I don’t dare to say it about anyone.
The human condition is fragile. And we will always be exposed to that.
The wave of leftist governments that emerged in recent years in Latin America is compared with that previous wave, to which you belonged in 2010. Do you see similarities or do they have nothing to do with each other?
I do not think so. Because Petro is a thought in Colombia; there is a new thought. And also in Chile.
Sometimes it doesn’t fit. And I congratulate myself. Because the new generations have to have the courage to commit their mistakes in any case, but not to repeat ours. Because if not, we have not experienced anything.
So for you there is no possible comparison?
No, it’s another circumstance. And we are above all in another world. We are at the dawn of a brutal change of era.
And we have a challenge first in America that sometimes we don’t understand: either we jump on development and have a fortune to put into our children’s heads, or we’re going to be left in the bunch of the irrelevant.
Because if capital has been relevant for development, from now on knowledge will be more so every day. And that depends on the intellectual quality of the new societies.
I do not believe that technical and scientific training is cheap. And there are many economic resources that must be put into it. If not, we keep it.
Here we risk our lives, because what is coming is not a time of much change; It is a change of times. Soon there will be robots walking the fields with almost no workers, banks that will be a machine, and operations without surgeons. That is the world that is upon us.
I’m not going to be there because of my age, but we have to work so that those who are, are up to the challenge. Because if not, they won’t even have a job washing floors.
Once Lula takes office, the vast majority of Latin America will be under leftist governments. Is it possible for these governments to articulate a common agenda?
That is one of the weak points. We have to stop screwing around from the left and the right in Latin America and have the capacity to get together with what is there. So that? To defend ourselves. If not, we are the ticket of the rich world.
If we are waiting to agree one hundred percent, we are going to get together in the year of the goalkeeper. Therefore, we have to have great strategic patience and get together with those who are careless.
At the beginning you mentioned the “abusive use of power” by Bolsonaro, which you said undermines democracy. Now, a criticism leveled at the left in Latin America is that it has failed to criticize leftist governments that make the same abusive use. Do you think that this is a deficit or something that the left has to change?
No, the problem is something else: that here in America we are used to having bosses who get into everything. There are things that I don’t like that happen, but I shouldn’t get involved.
We do not have to confuse definitions that are different.
Developed countries have an abusive style. Bosses are created that have the right to impose their points of view anywhere on Earth. And those of us who are old remember that the sanctions imposed on Spain did not affect Franco; affected the Spanish people who went hungry. Those who put Italy was the same.
The economic sanctions they impose sacrifice the poor.
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