Journalism from the center of the world


Since the start of this year, the veteran politician Aldo Rebelo has been active in the municipality of Altamira, which is the center of environmental and agrarian conflicts in the State of Pará. In the city, he has gained the support of land-grabbers and farmers by opposing Lula government’s policy for climate and the environment, in line with politicians who support Bolsonaro, such as Senator Zequinha Marinho (the Liberal Party, for the State of Pará). Aldo was the Minister of Defense in Dilma Rousseff’s government and is also close to the military. In this interview with SUMAÚMA, he says it is necessary “to rely on these national powers to protect Brazil’s sovereignty”.

In the past, Rebelo was a Brazilian Communist Party federal deputy and minister of the Workers’ Party governments. Today he is a member of the previous presidential candidate Ciro Gomes’ Democratic Labor Party (PDT). Rebelo avoids public criticism of former president Jair Bolsonaro and echoes the far-right politician’s statements against the NGOs that play a role in protecting the forest and its peoples. The one-time communist claims the radical right never posed a fascist threat to Brazilian democracy. “They used this pretext so as to avoid any debate regarding the national question, and, in the election, asked people to rally around their candidate, namely Lula, against fascism,” he says. In 2018, Aldo experienced a frustrated attempt to run for the presidency as candidate for the Solidarity party. When he ran for the Senate in the State of São Paulo, in 2022, he ended up in seventh place.

SUMAÚMA: You talk about foreign interference in the Amazon and say ministers Marina Silva (Environment) and Sonia Guajajara (Indigenous Peoples) are acting “on behalf of the agenda of the United States. Who are you trying to talk to?

ALDO REBELO: I am trying to talk to Brazil, which cannot accept that the Amazon region should be under the control of organizations that almost represent a parallel State within the Brazilian State. On the environmental front there was continuity between various governments, which were transferring responsibility, under State policy, to NGOs [non-governmental organizations] – or transferring non-governmental organizations’ policies, that were being adopted [by the government].

Don’t you trust President Lula to preserve Brazilian sovereignty, whether over the Amazon region or in general?

I wonder whether or not President Lula really wanted to appoint Marina to the ministry. Because he fired Marina from the ministry. It was a very tough moment, permits were not being issued by the Ministry of Environment, there was an interview with Minister Paulo Bernardo [of Planning] who blew the whistle on the influence of NGOs in the MMA [Ministry of Environment], which led to the request for Minister Marina’s resignation. Later on, during the campaign, there was an alliance between these environmentalist sectors of the Democratic Party [in the USA], Germany, France, Norway and the UK, with President Lula’s candidacy, and I think that this led him to make concessions in relation to this agenda, which in reality is against any proposal for Brazil’s development, particularly in the Amazon region.

You say your political project goes beyond agribusiness and the military. But you always stress the importance of these two sectors. When you spoke to the news outlet Portal 247 you said you hope Lula will not choose “to wage war either against agriculture or against the military. Could you explain this?

Of course, because I don’t think President Lula is going to make war against the union and workers’ movement. What I was talking about was precisely these two sectors, which certain parts of President Lula’s support base have a very pronounced dispute with. With the military, I think it is a mistake. I spent four years arguing with my left-wing friends that there was not going to be a military coup. Even after Bolsonaro removed the three commanders of the armed forces and fired the Minister of Defense, there were still people who believed there was going to be a coup. Two kinds of people believed in a coup by the Armed Forces: those who were camped outside the barracks, who believed that there would be a coup in their favor, and half a dozen misguided people in progressive circles, who believed that there would be a coup against them. So, I think it was a mistake, one that he [Lula] didn’t make, because he chose a Minister of Defense who helped pacify this sector, together with the military commanders.

You speak of the agrarian and military sectors as guarantors of Brazil’s national territory. Where does this central role come from?

The military sector is older, because the history of the world over the last 200 years has been a history of disputes between these two types of nationalism: that of strong countries, of colonial empires and American imperialism, and that of the countries that try to protect their national interests, which is not heavy handed or aggressive nationalism. What are the power structures of this type of nationalism? One of them is the Armed Forces, which are responsible for the world’s great deeds as well as its great tragedies. In Brazil, the Armed Forces were institutions that helped build the national state. And agriculture because it conveys the image of Brazil as a major food producer, which the United Nations values, stating that Brazil will account for a significant part of the world’s supply. This is national power. You have to rely on these national powers to protect Brazil’s sovereignty.

In your book “The Fifth Movement” you praise the Vargas Era but make no mention of the 1988 Constitution, which legitimatized social rights and created the Single Health System (SUS). Why not?

I didn’t mention the 1988 Constitution in order not to speak badly of it. There are things that actually merit a positive evaluation, but there are also some terrible things. At the time, president José Sarney said that, as a result of the Constitution, it would be impossible to govern Brazil. After all these decades, it looks like he had a point. Because the 1988 Constitution was written at a time of transition in Brazilian life. The military regime had only come to an end a short time beforehand, and liberals, both conservatives as well as progressives, wanted payback. The military regime had persecuted, revoked mandates, and in the political world there was an idea, although it was not clear or public, of getting revenge against the military. The 1988 Constitution ended up empowering immature civilian entities that had no notion of their responsibility, as is the case with the Public Prosecutor’s Offices, because the civilian leadership wanted to counteract the strength of the military. So, they gave authority to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, District Courts and the Supreme Court, and weakened the Executive Branch, which was also the symbol of authoritarian power.

Is this why you argue that Brazil has to have “a democratic but strong Executive Branch”?

Without a strong Executive Branch, Brazil will not make any progress, the president will not govern anything, it will be under the control of Congress, with its secret amendments, of the Federal Supreme Court, with its individual decisions, and of those apparatuses that are within the state itself and that will have more power than the government itself. Particularly those linked to the environmental area and the Federal Police. Do you think the government controls this kind of people?

In a recent interview, you said Brazil is not threatened by fascism or communism. You are aware Brazil is not under any sort of threat from communism, but Brazil has been threatened by a far-right wing movement that is coordinated at an international level. Don’t you think you are underestimating this?

What I do know is those people who think that Brazil is under threat from communism look at our relationship with China and sometimes with Russia itself, and think that this relationship is what would constitute this communist threat. And those people who think that the threat is fascism use this pretext to avoid having any debate about the national question, and at the time of the elections asked people to rally around their candidate in order to oppose fascism. And I put the question: what is the fascist threat? Is there a fascist threat in the United States? There is a right wing, a far-right wing, which does not represent an institutional threat.

In the United States they tried to challenge the election results…

In the United States there is always confusion. It was like that in the election when Al Gore lost, it was a coup by the Supreme Court [which in 2000 ordered that the recount in Florida be suspended and this gave victory to George W. Bush]. It’s a very complicated system. Our system is more transparent, and I didn’t see any fascist threat to our election here in Brazil. Are there fascist groups, are there right-wing groups? Yes, but I don’t think it represents a threat to a democracy, which is being tested and surviving with bumps and bruises.

Spell check (Portuguese): Elvira Gago
Translation into Spanish: Meritxell Almarza
English translation: Mark Murray
Photography editing: Marcelo Aguilar, Mariana Greif and Pablo Albarenga

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