Peter R. Kingstone, Timothy J. Power, eds. Democratic Brazil: Actors, Institutions, and Processes. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000. xx + 339 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8229-5714-0.
Reviewed by Michael Monteon (University of California, San Diego )
Published on H-LatAm (September, 2000)
BRAZIL: THE NEW AND EXCLUSIONARY REPUBLIC
BRAZIL: THE NEW AND EXCLUSIONARY REPUBLIC
Every specialist on contemporary Brazil should read this book. So should anyone who lectures on contemporary Latin America. The editors, Kingstone and Power, collected a group of young scholars who had just finished their doctorates or first books, and had them look at the Brazilian "New Republic" since 1985. Many also cast a backward glance and looked for any prospects that the New Republic will fail and be replaced by a return to military rule. None see that happening. The editors gathered twelve essays in all and provided a solid introduction and an intriguing forward by Thomas Skidmore. The work is packed with information on electoral rules, Church, political parties, labor union mobilization, business interests, NGOs, and even police violence.
Despite the broad range of topics, the anthology holds together. It poses two central questions. How do civic institutions function in the New Republic? And, how have civic institutions and private sector organizations enhanced or retarded public participation? Most of the essays center on the first question and then reflect on the second. All of them leave the same impression. Brazil has not evolved into a nation of democratic institutions; on the contrary, it is in many ways an exclusionary republic. Most people have little voice in politics or civil life. Official violence, a grotesque distribution of income and wealth, and poor life prospects for those at the bottom of society remain central problems.
The government moved quickly in 1985 to abolish the political remnants of militarism. The work opens with a discussion of electoral rules and the repeated attempts to decentralize administrative power and government spending. Determined reformers quickly extended elections to all levels of government. Timothy J. Power (pp. 17-35), Kurt Whelan (pp. 36-57), and Alfred R. Montero (pp. 59-98) discuss the differences between democratic expectations and political outcomes. On the one hand, this government is something new for Brazil. Suffrage is universal; even illiterates can vote. Voting, in fact, is mandatory. The new constitution of 1988 reduced presidential power and enhanced the roles of the national legislature and state and municipal governments. On the other hand, the new regime has suffered from bad luck and a poor fit between the desire to empower the legislature and local government and the realities of a nation plagued by high concentrations of income, wealth, and power. The first elected President, Tancredo Neves, who had enormous moral authority because of his role in opposing the military, died soon after taking office. His successor was a time server. The new openness in politics revived old practices tied to regional loyalties and money; a vicious clientelism soon permeated the entire national administration. Political parties, emerging in this hothouse, became and remain fragmented, parochial, personalistic, and corrupt. Indeed, some sections of this work could be read in tandem with the studies of clientelism in the past by Richard Graham and Riorden Roett. 
Administrative decentralization and the redistribution of national revenues to state and local authorities have left every level of government without the means to finance social programs. In many cases, the distribution of funds from the national to other government levels took place without any understanding of which level would do what. The expansion of political entrepreneurs and their clients has meant an allocation of funds by political agendas rather than social needs. Urban localities with the greatest numbers of people are underrepresented in the national legislature. At the same time, almost nothing has been done to alleviate mass misery in the Northeast. Reading this, I could not help reflect that this work is a good corrective to much of the unreflective cheerleading we read about Mexico and the end of one party rule. The first steps in instituting a new polity are crucial and, if poorly done, can be disastrous.
Not all the changes are bleak. David Samuels (pp. 77-98) makes the interesting case that the redistribution of national revenues, which began under the military regime, enhanced municipal creativeness. As monies fell into municipal hands, local leaders developed new educational and social service initiatives. Under military rule, municipalities became where the action was and have continued to attract young political talent. They are a level of government where initiative can actually lead to visible change. While still inadequately financed. Samuels argues, municipalities have a better track record attacking social ills than other scholars concede.
A second set of essays focuses civic institutions. Is Brazil developing the civil society, the institutional glue, to hold a democratic republic together? Will, for example, the military return as civilian rule fails the citizenry? Wendy Hunter argues (pp. 101-125) that the rise of elected government has meant a decline of military power and government spending on the military. This is an argument she makes at greater length in her book, this article provides a good summary, however.  The soldiers have lost key positions within the national administration and politicians prefer their own civilian interests over any military project. Even so, Hunter sees an irreducible core of military interests that will remain untouched -- one that can be maintained without intrusion into politics.
William R. Nylen (pp. 126-143) discusses the Workers' Party (the PT or Partido dos Trabalhadores) and focuses on the enormous dilemma between its ideals and the realities of electoral politics. The Workers' Party strongly believes in popular participation, in a set of left-wing goals built from the ground up. The poor, however, have little interest in politics. The Workers' Party has become the most effective voice for the bottom portion of Brazil's population, but it has not been able to translate its efforts into substantial policy changes. As other authors demonstrate, Brazil's political technocrats have become talented in excluding the poor from any substantive discussion of national life and the nation has economically moved in a neo-liberal direction.
Kenneth P. Serbin (pp. 144-161) argues that the Church, which played such an important role in sustaining democratic hopes during the military era, has now retreated into largely religious concerns. Part of this change is internal to the Church. Pope John Paul II is hostile to political activism and has rewarded conservative clerics with control of the hierarchy while punishing socially activist priests. For Serbin, the decisive event of the Church since 1985 has been the rise of Pentacostalism. The Church is now in a contest for souls with political consequences. What remains of the Church's commitment for the poor has translated into Church support for the Workers Party. The Pentacostals openly oppose the PT and its famous leader, Lula, in favor of right-wing, market-oriented political goals and candidates. They sell the gospel of a moral life leading to social advancement. It has, as Serbin makes plain, a very popular appeal.
Katherine Hochstetler makes some sense of the complicated subject of NGOs. Nongovernmental organizations, like the Church, played a crucial role in sustaining dissident opinions and documenting the social consequences of military rule. Now, they have to redefine their goals while not turning grassroots movements into their dependents. The rise of civilian rule has meant a cutback in foreign support for NGOs and popular organizations; the former, however, have government aid. An astounding 70 percent of all NGOs received some government funding in 1996. (p. 179) Hochstetler relates this change to forms of social protest as different as the women's movements and a new wave of land invasions. She concludes, "The image of the new Brazilian state that eventually emerges to the lens of recent social movement organizing is also between two poles: neither wholly democratic nor wholly authoritarian, it is a partial and uneven democracy." (p.182)
Under the rubric of "Emerging Processes," the editors group together discussions of trade, official violence, demographic changes, and the media. This section is a little too disparate, although the articles within remain well informed and well argued. In his discussion of government policies and business responses, Kingstone (pp. 185-203) presents a positive view of what, to the outsider, seems a series of political disasters. Through a hit and miss process, he claims that the regime is capable of repairing itself. "In essence, each of the New Republic's presidents has been able to pass some small portion of the overall program. In turn, the successor has been able to use those reforms as the based on which to build further." As a result, the New Republic has gone on, "muddling through gridlock." (p.186)
Jeffrey Cason (pp. 204-216) posits that external forces are also moving in a positive direction. He focuses on Mercosul (in Spanish, Mercosur) and the relationship of Brazil's participation in this trade organization to the prospects of democracy. Central to his case is the example of Paraguay. When a military coup threatened the presidency of Juan Carlos Wasmosy, the United States and Brazil, which in Cason's words were "speaking for Mercosul," told the president to stand firm and so helped sustain civilian rule. (p. 212)
In the closing article, Timothy Power and J. Timmons Roberts present excellent synopses of the massive social changes that occurred in the country. One of their tables (p. 237) demonstrates that Brazil has moved from a population of 61 million in 1955 to 155 million in 1995; it went from a rural nation to an urban one, from an illiterate country to one in which only 20 per cent of the population cannot read, from a nation totally dependent on coffee to one in which coffee makes a only 5 percent of merchandise exports. They present equally succinct and compelling numbers and figures on the electorate, internal migration, and the structure of the working population. They also note a subject that could have used its own article, the power of the media, especially the Globo conglomerate. I wish the editors had used this as their opening article.
The best article in the anthology is by Anthony W. Pereira.(pp. 217-234) He reflects on the relationship between governmental form and the abuse of authority. His examples come from those of political terror under the military regime and the police terror of the new civilian order. It may surprise many to learn that contemporary police terror, which grew out of the military regime, is the far more destructive phenomenon. The number of "disappeared" in Brazil cannot compare to the state terror in Argentina let alone the horrors of El Salvador or Guatemala. Still, the military murdered with impunity. Brazil has had its "truth commission" and the murderers and torturers have, as they did in Argentina, Chile, and South Africa, escaped with few consequences. Several hundred died for political reasons under the military regime; thousands were imprisoned and tortured. But this is nothing compared to present day barbarities. Pereira shows that the police have killed thousands in the state of Sao Paulo alone. Until recently, police forces could be tried only in military courts and so rarely answered for any outrage. The situation, however, is not hopeless. Recent efforts at instilling some social awareness among the police are having a positive effect, reducing the sheer number of victims. At one point 1,450 people in Sao Paulo alone were killed, that figure subsequently fell to a few hundred, still awful one must admit. (p.234) Official violence is, of course, an important litmus test of any political regime. A society that resorts to the murder of smalltime criminals, including children, is broadcasting some very deep-seated fears; a fearful society will find it hard to become a democratic one. A sobering statistic Pereira uncovers is that Brazil now has 400,000 military police, but even more security guards with little state oversight. (p. 230)
One could quibble with this or that author's conclusion. Hunter overlooks the arguments of Brian Loveman and Tom Davies that a crisis among civilian leaders, in which one faction calls upon the military to intervene, has often led to military rule.  The larger problems of the work, however, have to do with accessibility. This is an excellent work for academics, graduate students, and some undergraduates with strong backgrounds in political debates about democratization. It is really not a work to assign to undergraduate history students, especially in the first two years. There is simply too little historical context in almost all these papers. We are given little background on what kinds of institutions, electoral rules, economic crises, and personalistic politics characterized Brazil from at least the nineteenth century. Nor are the comparative dimensions very strong. Students who are reading on Mexico or Argentina would find it hard to make connections to what is being said here, although the series of crises and political shocks that have descended on Brazil since the early 1980s have strong ties to events hitting all of Latin America. Another obstacle for undergraduates is the absence of personalities. Time and again, I wished the author had taken time to narrate some biographical information on the presidents, on Lula, on some of the leaders of the social movements. Time and again, we are given succinct and accurate generalizations, but no faces, no emotion. All the dilemmas seem institutional, never personal. This is a work with little human appeal.
Finally, and somewhat shockingly, there is nothing about race. While the poor, the shanty-town dwellers, the landless, the religiously-motivated are all mentioned, they are given no racial caste. This, in a set of societies, for all their pretensions to racial democracy that are permeated with caste complexes. The Northeast remains, as it has always been, the area where slavery was born in Brazil, with the most entrenched rural poverty. How could any study of contemporary Brazil subsume it among categories as this one has? If we are discussing religious awakenings, why is nothing said about Afro-Brazilian religious movements? Are these not also challenging the Church's hold on the populace? Or, have the issues raised by Diana Brown years ago disappeared?  When one looks at who is being killed at Sao Paulo, are the police shooting whites with the same abandon as blacks? A new work by Michael Hanchard makes it plain that blacks did what they could to mobilize in major cities from 1945 and into 1980s.  Do their efforts today amount to so little that they do not merit mention in this work?
Everyone writes his own book and reviewers are prone to rewriting those of others. The above criticisms should not be misconstrued. This is a work worth arguing about. It provides information and impressions about the New Republic and how it really operates. It moves beyond the rhetoric of democratization and theorizing about elections and talks about how money and political maneuvering can often outvote idealism. It confronts the distance between the demands of market power, concentrated in the public arena within the media, and the need of most Brazilians for empowerment and access to social goods. The editors and authors are here complimented for such a path breaking study.
. Richard Graham, Patronage and Politics in Nineteenth-century Brazil. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990).
. Wendy Hunter, Eroding Military Influence in Brazil: Politicians Against Soldiers. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
. Brian Loveman and Thomas M. Davies, The Politics of Antipolitics: The Military in Latin America. Rev. and updated ed. (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1997); see also, Brian Loveman, For la Patria: Politics and the Armed Forces in Latin America. (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1999).
. France Winddance Twine, Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998).
. Diana DeG. Brown, Umbanda: Religion and Politics in Urban Brazil. (Morningside ed., New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). This is a reprint of work that carried its narrative into the 1960s.
. Michael George Hanchard, Orpheus and power: the Movimento negro of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994).
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Michael Monteon. Review of Kingstone, Peter R.; Power, Timothy J., eds., Democratic Brazil: Actors, Institutions, and Processes.
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