In 1985, Brazil was leaving the military dictatorship it had been under for 26 years and changing to a representative democracy.
During this period, the citizens were not given the power to choose their politicians directly. Only a few people related to the army had the right to vote. So whilst the process of democratization led to the end of indirect vote, it was not able –through formal and informal mechanisms of influence– to prevent a minority (with a strong economic hold) from monopolizing political powers.
Why is the recent Brazilian democracy not giving power to the people?
The private financing of election campaigns is the main tool to control politics, as big companies “donate” considerable amounts of money to election campaigns. These companies have great influence on any candidate’s chances of being elected.
The laws today impose limits for the private financing of campaigns, but these limits are insufficient in preventing the dysfunctions previously mentioned.
Such practices generate an exchange of favors between corrupt candidates and powerful companies that want guaranteed benefits and the constant presence of their “interests list” on parliament.
The Projeto Novo Recife (The New Recife Project)
In 2008, in the city of Recife, one of Brazil’s largest capital cities, a huge area of public interest (where the José Estelita wharf is located) was sold for a very cheap price to a group of companies during an auction which was questioned by the public ministry. Such companies financed the election campaigns of a considerable number of the city’s politicians. Four years later, in 2012, the prefecture of Recife approved, in a dubious process, a project of luxury condominiums. This project was called “Projeto Novo Recife”.
The public’s acceptance of the project was minimal. The plan caused indignation amongst teachers, architects, social movements and residents of the region, who saw a land that belonged to everybody fall into the hands of a privileged minority. In 2014, just after constructions began, a growing number of protesters deciding to occupy the wharf and prevent work from proceeding. The movement was named “Ocupe Estelita” (Occupy Estelita, in free translation).
Ocupe Estelita (Occupy Estelita)
A crowd of people gathered at the construction area to protest and fight to stop construction. This idea of occupying José Estelita Wharf was inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which protests against the socio-economic inequality that exists in the United States. Activists took tents and food and decided to spend the first night in the property.
During the 28 days that the first occupation lasted, the Ocupe Estelita movement also gained support from Recife Artists. Musicians, writers and filmmakers helped in breaking the silence of traditional media by launching an Internet campaign for the cause. A lot of acclaimed artists in Brazil were involved, both performing and supporting the Ocupe Estelita.
Under the orders of the governor, shock troops and Police cavalry breached the agreement of waiting for the end of negotiations with the public power to clear the area. Lawyers of the movement were unable to negotiate a peaceful exit. About 150 police officers were called to act and they attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. Three Brazilians were injured and four were arrested.
To understand better what happened in the José Estelita wharf and what happens in recife, watch the video below (ENGLISH AND FRENCH SUBTITLES CAN BE ACTIVATED)
It is not a Recife exclusively
The Projeto Novo recife is a great example of how favors are exchanged between politicians and companies that finance campaigns. It is a project which has not only been approved in a very irregular way, but which is also extremely beneficial for the rich at the cost of the other citizens. It is a clearly unjust and elitist corruption cases have been linked to the election campaigns.
Companies that search for benefits by financing campaigns are not exclusive to the Recife case; it is something that happens often. It creates immense political imbalance, which generates situations like Projeto Novo Recife.
Being a recent democracy, it is acceptable that Brazilian politics are in need of reforms. This project requires urgent reform and attention, and the question of private financing of campaigns is its backbone. The end of private financing can generate clean campaigns, and, consequently, drastically decrease the power of these corporations in Brazilian politics.