onsdag 19 juni 2013

When FB calls the shots, revolutionaries should worry

By Jorge Capelán, Tortilla con Sal.

When Facebook's Chairman and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, say it's revolutionary one should be wary. The past 10 day's protests in Brazil have been hailed by most progressives in the West as well as by activists and politically committed people all over the world as a revolutionary event. Although they might have a positive political effect, they are not revolutionary per se, and they actually could be used by forces interested in preventing Brazil from playing a decisive role in the budding multipolar world order.

During the last 10 days, a movement has grown, apparently out of thin air, demanding "changes" in Latin America's largest country. According to various reports, it all started with small demonstrations of less than 3.000 people protesting against the rise of 20 cents of Real (less than USD 0.10) in the price of the ticket of the collective transportation system in the city of Sao Paulo. Now it's tens of thousands of people demonstrating in tens of cities all over the country. The demonstrators protest not only against the price and lousy quality of collective transportation, but also against the deficiencies in other public services such as education and health care. They protest against the building of expensive stadiums to host the coming soccer World Championship instead of cheap housing projects, as well as against the corruption of a political system designed to render ineffective any attempt to carry out deep changes.

All this sounds wonderful but, it has to be said, this is not a revolutionary situation.

Who can imagine a revolution ousting a government which has shown that economic policy is not about first creating wealth in order to later distribute it, but the other way around? What is revolutionary about destabilizing a government that has proved that one can both expand the internal market through popular consumption and boost exports? Those are two of the basic tenets of neoliberal Capitalism, and both have been crushed to pieces by Lula's and Rousseff's governments.

These protests are taking place in a country where a progressive government has managed to lift 40-50 million people (about 20-25% of the population) out of poverty. The Brazilian middle class is the one with the largest growth in Latin America - from about 20% in the 1990's to 50% or more today. Inflation is under control and real wages are rising; unemployement is at a all-time low and the government is very popular. Even today, after images of police repression against the demonstrators have been broadcasted, with a popularity drop of 8%, 55% of the Brazilians have a positive view of the government and 77% think President Dilma Rousseff is doing a good job.

Initially, the protesters were met with violence by the authorities, but the government's attitude promptly changed to a conciliatory one. In several cities, the local governments have cancelled their plans to raise the bus ticket and are open to dialogue with the demonstrators.

According to president Rousseff "the protests show the value of democracy and reveal that the citizen are demanding their rights". She condemned isolated cases of violence but valued the prevailingly peaceful attitude of the participants in the protests. That, she said, is "proof of the greatness of our democracy and of the civic character of our people, and is a direct message to those in charge at all levels".

The issues raised by the protesters are not baseless - they are acknowledged as problems by the government and by ruling PT's leaders. Even many of their criticisms of PT itself have been acknowledged by Lula and others. The neoliberal political system is one of the forces holding back Brazil's development. But this is not an insurrection. 250.000 demonstrators do not make a revolution in a country of 205 million. 1/1000% does not make a revolution. Political majorities do. The left in Brazil does not have a majority of its own and is dependent on broad alliances in order to govern, which in turn reflects on its ability to deepen the changes.

These demonstrations have been compared to the mass mobilizations that took place in 1984 and 1990. In 1984, millions of Brazilians took to the streets to demand democratic elections. In 1990, it was to force the then president Collor de Mello to renounce. 250.000 Brazilians today is not much considering that the country's population is 30% larger and is more urbanized. Back in the 80's and 90's, it was political parties and social movements, with clear agendas and slogans with a common objective that took to the streets. Those were organic movements, with strong roots among the popular sectors.

It is not clear who is leading today's protests in Brazil. There is a strong anti-establishment sentiment and a mixture of left-wing and right-wing agendas of urbanized middle-class strata.

It's been said that these demonstrations were convoked through the social media. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world's richest men (13 billion dollars) holds a sign in front of the camera: "IT'S NOT 20 CENTS! #CHANGEBRAZIL!" Revolution? Come on... Zuckerberg got the seed capital to start his firm from CIA's front In-Q-Tel. Facebook, one of the capo di tutti capi in the Internet is a regular informant of the National Security Agency, it was revealed a couple of days ago. In fact, the revelations go, FB and companies such as Apple, Google and Yahoo gave the agency "direct" and unrestricted access to their servers.

I'm not saying that Facebook organized the protests, but it's clear that the CIA's department for Cyberwarfare has a stake on what is going on in Brazil.

The protests may be an opportunity to consolidate the South American giant's rupture away from neoliberal policies, but they might also lead to further destabilizing incidents which in the short or medium term could compromise the process of integration and independence of our continent. So far Dilma Rousseff has reacted wisely. Let's hope she and the PT succeed, because we need a strong Brazil.

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