Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 30, 2018

Did the PT in Brazil dig its own political ditch?

Filed under: Brazil,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm

(Posted to Facebook by Rob Wallace. Rob has told me that a longer version is in the works destined for broader circulation. I will post a comment when that is available. For the kind of analysis deployed below, I recommend “Clear-Cutting Disease Control: Capital-Led Deforestation, Public Health Austerity, and Vector-Borne Infection“, a book that includes Rob as one of its co-authors.)

Brazil under the Partido dos Trabalhadores took the BRICS route on development. A recent visit showed the country indeed had parlayed a capitalism with Brazilian characteristics, simultaneously attracting foreign direct investment and raising standards of living across large sections of its population.

Whatever one makes of that choice, the PT may have effectively dug its own political ditch. The strategy, caught mid-stride, both empowered a bourgeoisie that held no loyalty to a workers’ party and left many millions behind. Along the way, PT functionaries took their cut. The soft coup by a rump of corrupt reactionaries that opened up the path to open fascist Jair Bolsonaro would have been laughed off if charges of PT corruption hadn’t held any water.

Now the neoliberal deforestation we described in our book Clear-Cutting Disease Control, driving the emergence of new outbreaks in Brazilian wildlife and human populations alike, will be let off its chain under Bolsonaro likely down to the last oxygen-producing tree.

We described some of the dynamics of what were PT-led changes in Brazilian land use. Here, (a) Ranked field size based on 1 km global IIASA-IFPRI cropland percentage map for baseline year 2005 (Geo-Wiki Cropland, Fritz et al. 2015). Huge plantations gouging the Amazon.

(b) Combinations of expansion and contraction for cropland and pasture in minimum comparable areas where both crop production and pasture production intensified, 1996–2006 (Barretto et al. 2013). Cropland and pasture growing in the Amazon even a decade ago.

(c) Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) farmland investments in Brazil (Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos et al. 2015). The pension fund, now called just TIAA, is investing hundreds of millions in US$ into Brazilian fund Radar Propriedades Agrícolas S/A co-created with giant sugar producer Cosan to acquire land for sugarcane and other commodity crops. Cosan manages the fund, retaining first rights to acquire parcels before Radar, through TIAA’s Brazilian subsidiary Mansilla Participacoes Ltda, and places them on the market. By 2012, Radar acquired 392 farms in Brazil of over 150,000 ha of an estimated value over US$1 billion. TIAA invests into Brazilian farmland by a second pathway: TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC, a US$2 billion global farmland fund aimed at Australia, Brazil, and the USA. To circumvent Brazilian law against foreign acquisitions, TCGA invests indirectly through Tellus Brasil Participações Ltd., also managed by Cosan.

(d) Dynamic agriculture frontier in Brazilian Legal Amazon: cattle population by municipality and along road infrastructure (Pacheco and Poccard-Chapuis 2012).

(e) Urban areas as detected from nightlight glow, 1992 and 2010. Note the growing periurban infrastructure through ostensibly rural areas and deep forest (Lapola et al. 2014).


  1. Raul Zibechi discussed much of this in his 2015 book, “The New Brazil”.

    Here’s the Table of Contents:

    Click to access newbrazil-toc.pdf

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 30, 2018 @ 11:53 pm

  2. I’m not a great fan of Glenn Greenwald because of his association with Ron Paul, whom I hate and despise wholeheartedly, but he had some interesting comments in an interview on Democracy Now (yes, but). Greenwald, who lives in Brazil, put a large share of the blame on the apparent kangaroo court that threw Lula in jail so he couldn’t run for president–evidently the rightward swing was influenced by the corruption charges (of course Rousseff was also thrown out for that reason, though I didn’t listen to the whole interview and did not hear Greenwald mention Rousseff in the part I heard.)

    Greenwald made the very disturbing point that voting is mandatory in Brazil, so the results can’t be regarded–like the results of any U.S. election–as a minority verdict. (I suspect that while Lula remains popular, his party and government are in fact widely believed to have been actually corrupt and that this has something to do with the election result. (Need more info on this point.))

    Could this be a warning to leftwing governments everywhere–keep your hands out of the cookie jar and avoid “the appearance of impropriety”?

    It was interesting BTW to hear the great libertarian Greenwald talking about social classes–he did a good deal of that. He seems to believe that in the final analysis, actual corruption or no, this result was in fact one manipulated in ruling-class interests.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 31, 2018 @ 3:24 pm

  3. Then again for Greenwald everything is the product of manipulation by ruling class interests.

    Comment by John Game — October 31, 2018 @ 4:46 pm

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