The Bolsa-Familia (family allowance) today.
The social conquering of the political-electoral instrument.
This text is part of the Maastricht Congress, here
As I said, this is not the content I intended to present… in fact, it is much more than I intended. Or at least, most certainly, it is more than a lot of people in Brazil — especially those bonded to the government, would prefer me to speak out, that is, they prefer I did not speak at all — hope.
However, do not worry; I will not waste my or your time quoting conditions, rules or exceptions. I will not play this game. I will not fall in this trap; I will not enter nor throw anyone into this bureaucratic maze in which the guardianship technocracies are constructed solely by the need to maintain those who need to be informed. Nevertheless, I will not use this as an excuse to omit or disguise fact and data, something the current Brazilian president Dilma-Cunha does.
At the end of the text I present the Brazilian government links where such information can be accessed. It is obvious that I build up my arguments observing such publications, but I prefer not to waste my line of thought under official data, not only because they can be corrected at any time, but because I make sure to maintain my own perspective based on the cause and not in the mere reproduction of other people’s contents.
In Brazil, this is a general proceeding during times of crisis. Do not accept anything without checking the source and avoid it even more after you have knowledge of it. Thus, criticism or compliments, definitely, I prefer to base my thought on knowledge I trust from my own experiences. I do not refer to my experience in Quatinga Velho only, or to ten years of activism in social projects, but to my own personal experience living in Paranapiacaba, one town amongst many in the outskirts in Brazil and suffering not all deprivations and pressures of those who live in these places, but enough of them suffering sufficiently to be able to speak about things I did not only hear or read about.
I do not weave my criticism as a specialist, authority, nor like a government scarecrow or opposition parties, but as a citizen, a witness of this Brazilian experiment. I speak with know-how.
I speak as a person who knows, like no other, the importance that money has in the lives of people who do not have anything and at the same time realize how unfair it is to bond it to the power relationships.
I speak as a person who recognizes all that the bolsa familia (family allowance) represented as a social advance, but also its political party use by the government, above all regarding its conditions as a blackmailing tool for votes which reduced it to a new gadget of negotiation like the old electoral voting fodders in Brazil.
I speak, thus, as someone who knows the other end of the line of how this machine works and perpetuates the marginalization of peoples and persons while their social inclusion is promoted via propaganda.
I speak as someone who knows its operation for those who live at the margins of society when they are not compulsorily under some form of guardianship, whether it is a police or social assistance guardianship, they are literally nowhere, they do not exist even in terms of figures.
No, I certainly did not come here to lend my voice to the government. I did not cross the Atlantic Ocean all on my own to present the point of view of those who are compromised with the government and repeat the official statements with a straight face saying that extreme poverty has vanished when all you need to do is walk out of your office and visit the closest shanty town to realize they are lying. No, I came here to lend my voice to those who are unprivileged, to those who have miraculously disappeared thanks to embarrassing and disconnected governmental discourses, so very detached from reality.
And with my utmost sincerity, I see no controversy regarding what I am saying here. If there is any controversy, it is produced and serves those who live under these schemes and never tire of making up stories, as we say in Brazil, “for the sake of appearances”.
For those countries which have been aware of, for a long time: wellness states; social-democrat parties in power; in general, conditioned income transfer programs are no great mystery. Their benefits and traps are well documented. It might be a bit harder to explain the distortions and peculiarities of the bolsa-familia (family allowance) to them. But for those who have some idea about the Brazilian economy and politics, I guess, this is not going to be difficult whatsoever.
So, nothing I will say will surpass the present reality. It is harsh. No matter how sincere and impacting the complaints, nothing will expose the Brazilian and governmental realities more openly than themselves. It does not matter how many times the lies are repeated, nowadays, fortunately, not even the most dishonest and slippery intellectuals are able to cover up the footprints left by their bosses and clients, some of these lies are even criminal. So, my words will not leave these kings of the realm any more nakedly exposed than they already are.
I don’t mean to say that all we read about the bolsa-familia (family allowance) is good or bad or that it is completely false and dishonest. Even the most committed and imperfect studies and news stories are still sincere and less impregnated by intentions and ideologies. Academic or journalistic, governmental or big media studies: they can bring up little reliable information, for those who are able to read the country Brazil between the lines, they can tell a lot of stories; obviously not stating, but regarding what they can cover up. They can tell us how programs and even information can be manufactured.
In the case of the bolsa-familia (family allowance), the discrepancies between the publications, both from the left and the right wings, surely demonstrate the overall lack of credibility from both sides, the amazing lack of respect regarding other people’s intelligence and an overbearing and arrogant approach that “nobody from outside” will verify in loco what they are telling us and that none of the insiders will “leak” the reality of facts. Even if that happens, they are able to “demolish” the discourse, the person’s personal history or even worse, simply erase it.
Yes if you could read the data and figures about Brazil with one eye on their perspective and the other open to the reality, regarding real people made of flesh and bones, hopes and dreams, feelings and willpower, you would understand better not only what I am saying, but what is the ideological coherence of these figures in comparison to the social and human natural order disrespect. You would understand where my words are leading to: the prevalence of ends upon any principle, the prevalence of ideologies upon any criticism, self-criticism and morals. Not unusually, you are faced with the worst prejudices and even crude ignorance; one which is completely coherent with the logics of such thoughts. You would be taken by surprise with the level of political, economic and cognitive alienation and detachment from the Brazilian bourgeois classes, right and left wings that respectively control the major media means and the state advertising tools.
You would understand the mutual hatred which evidently does not overcome the real division of social classes; nevertheless, it would still be a fight between brothers and sisters for hegemony within a power that can have two sides in everything, except for: the worker-slavery dogma themes and the people’s government-guardianship. The object of employment, study and power project and social programs, but never as a set, collective or society of equal beings.
The controversy, however, is brought up from this war of misinformation (where the Basic Income is targeted more often by the “friendly fire” and the enemy’s) than the drawbacks or merits inherent to the bolsa familia (family allowance) itself. It is brought about by a propaganda war where admitting errors or acknowledging the merits means losing a battle. Within this battlefield I am relieved not to be a soldier on either side and to be able to say at my own risk two or three things about the bolsa familia (family allowance).
It was an undeniable social triumph.
Regardless of how much the Brazilian ultra-right wing denies it, and goes on to deny it over and over again, the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) was indeed a very important social triumph, I would even go as far as saying that it was also a cultural triumph for the country. I know the way the Brazilian government tries to sell the all-anything-benefits as if they had reinvented the wheel, or even as if it had been the beginning of the Basic Income, especially when they have left the country bankrupt; but for a country like Brazil, which criminalizes poverty and social assistance, where those who beg for a piece of bread are still beaten and stoned, the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) was indeed a great social leap. Pay careful attention to the verb “was”.
The Bolsa Familia (family allowance) inaugurated a new trap for poverty, not only economic, but now also political.
Nowadays, no matter how the pseudo-left who reside in power deny it, the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) had been reduced to a political-electoral control tool by those who depend on it and it became the main piece of the government-party propaganda. The program openly disturbed not only the deficiencies inherent from its origin design as a neoliberal income transfer and compensation program as it openly started being sold as aggregate values.
So as to perpetuate it, the government abdicated from all corrections and necessary evolution and all emancipation and empowerment, all the guarantee of the minimum vital for the human right, no matter if it is only a discourse.
As it had been broken, the government started to preach openly about assistencialism and paternalism and to defend without any embarrassment the low class clienteles, the criminal electoral blackmail as long as it had been legal or at least they had been legally summoned. It has even become the object of incredibility, not only for the aspects it has to cover up, but even in the acts that necessarily enhance and produce data which is good enough to be used by its propaganda machine.
The Bolsa Familia (family allowance) is not only a social assistance program and a mass social-political control program. It has become an enormous currency for the exchange of favours and propaganda and at the same time it fakes reality and controls the masses. For the regime in power, it is not only one more social program, it is a symbol. It is not just an assistance program, if one regards it as such, he/she is underestimating it in all its mass social engineering, publicity and psychology perspectives.
The Bolsa Familia (family allowance) is not merely a reunion of former neoliberal complements or transfer programs, established by the other siamese and competing social-democratic party, it is a huge propaganda and conditioning machine, not only elected, but also party-oriented, it is mass popular and ideology oriented.
And even though, with all its political uses and abuses, unfortunately, the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) represents the only option of survival in the country in the face of so much public policies forced scarcity. But what about the Basic Income law? My dear friend, in Brazil, the Basic Income law is only less known than Quatinga Velho. For all effects within the war of misinformation in Brazil, not only does the Basic Income not exist, but it can never exist. This is an item that all those who occupy or intend to occupy the throne agree on.
The first thing one learns about Basic Income when it is put into practice is that people are not politically supposed to implement it, but merely promise it.
The authoritarian and reactive left wing in power wants to perpetuate the income transfer conditions, they will not let it go nor will they open the doors of this voting fodder. And what about the right wing? Oh my dear, the current ascending right wing is ultra conservative. If they could, they would put an end to all income transfer programs as rights, they would not only do it, but they would also maintain only the conditions and counterparts just to “watch these ignorant and lazy people learn”. Even those who declare themselves as liberals and declare that they are against any government subsidy and state expropriation are not in favour of any restitution whatsoever of any public asset due as a social dividend for each citizen. Obviously, they are not against the state subsidy and police protection for their private assets and perks.
In other words, forget Basic Income, ecology or liberalism. If it depends on the political classes, we will go back to the XIX Century instead of moving towards the XXI Century. We will either sink with the government oriented politicians in an economy whose bias is authoritarian and a bankrupt social-wellness labour state, or we will go back to the precarious labour conditions and thereby return to the police oriented state, more precisely, we shall only keep this part of our still archaic state, despite being extremely expensive and bureaucratic in privileges and benefits and which has remained police oriented and does not regard people’s constitutional and inalienable rights whatsoever.
Try to understand that when the government preferred to jeopardize its social conquests in the name of the perpetuation of its power project by adopting a cheating kind of propaganda, omission and facts making up strategy instead of dealing with the necessary adjustments to the main social program from the government, the government not only buried the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) evolution, but it also jeopardized the program’s sustainability.
In all reality, this has always been the basis of the blackmailing attitude: to sell the idea that if the opposition takes them out of power, the social programs will come to an end. However, instead of the siamese social democracy which timidly implemented the basis of the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) named as Bolsa-escola (school allowance), we have had the ascension of a right wing, which may have even brought to life the blackmail argument they needed so badly to remain in power. Nevertheless, that symbiotically fed and sustained this vicious cycle and did not expose to the public opinion the political class as the amorphous mass against the whole society, but as people capable of doing anything in exchange for money, social position and power.
It no longer matters what justice condemns or vindicates. On the contrary, justice’s own credibility is at stake thanks to them. Nowadays, public opinion perceives all political opponents as one great mass of people apart and separate from the real society. No longer as a class of privileged people, but as criminals. It is as if the people had assimilated not only the suspicion or denounces, but they had assumed the mutual accusations that are set by the legal decorum. “your excellency is a criminal”, “a psychopath”, “a maniac”.
Consequently, it was not without reason that the public started to form their own judgments and came to believe accordingly, that they had put at stake not only the risk of social programs, but the country’s democratic institutions. And if you ask, how is that possible? How did society permit such a thing? The answer is: Society? In a country where the left and the right wing rule, authoritarianism grew in the vacuum of civil society without any sense of social or political responsibility, above all, an organized society that has never been anything more than a state of private appendix — serving as the “stooge” or doormat for these sectors.
Not even the most conservative parts of our society who have been full of criticism about Bolsa Familia (family allowance) and have never needed to be coherent to weave their most absurd objections — never have they been embarrassed of their inhuman prejudices. Not even now, when the distortions of the PT (Workers’ Party) power project made them realize what was going on. They were not able to distinguish the electoral political trap, promoted by the conditioning of the benefits of income transfer; let alone understand how necessary and absolutely vital is its role as a fundamental right, and also as a defence mechanism against the institutional vulnerability from the democratic rule of law, the strategy tool where populist opportunism stood up high and established itself.
No sirs, not even after losing, did the bourgeoisie manage to stop defending their hippocratic and ignorant argument that people who accepted those conditions and humiliating counterparts were ignorant and submissive. They who would never subdue without suing the government under the same conditions, they could not admit that such choices are so rational as their support to those who subsidize them or which on a deeper level come exactly from the lack of guaranteed freedom and rights as basic conditions for a free and dignified life. They cannot understand that, by that, a lot of people simply cannot assume, not even for themselves, that they do not consider those people as human beings with the same rights that all citizens have; not for the time being. In fact, it would be naive to suppose that they would get to the conclusion that the sole way to set these people free from political exploitation would be to guarantee their freedom, establishing the unconditional Basic Income or at least, making Bolsa Familia (family allowance) an unconditional program.
All in all, the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) was indeed a progress of absolute necessity. But this “Damn it Paulo Freire and emancipation, I want to remain in the power” destituted more than the credibility of the program, it destituted the future of the social achievement that could indeed have even evolved towards the unconditional Basic Income, but if, it were not in the hands of those who were controlling it and continue to do so. People committed to a power project in which the project’s dependents are manipulated.
That being so, today, I only believe that Basic Income should be derived from citizens’ and popular constitutionalist movement initiatives but I also see better chances arising from them, especially in Brazil. For that, even the oligarchies support is welcome, knowing it would only take place because of the imminent ruin of their privileges and therefore as a salvation tool, very cautious measures should be taken so as to prevent the destruction of the unconditional income and emancipation policies.
Whereas the right or left wing bourgeois is concerned, they are in permanent dispute for representation of power; I see that they only support Basic Income as a practice when this is absolutely necessary for their strategy, as they know, even if instinctively, all the popular empowerment is its own limitation for their power projects. Thus, the left wing would only hand in the rings so as not to lose the fingers, by the moral weariness or by the disassembly danger of their Bolsa Familia (family allowance); and the right wing so as to establish the rupture of this domain or to attempt to establish a minimum of affinity with a population to which they have no bonds whatsoever, not even left wing rhetoric.
Thus, I guess that it is now clearer why the BIG law is stillborn, or still, why the Quatinga Velho will never be well recognized, not until this regime remains in power. While the law was being signed, the party buried alive its political author. For instance, it is understandable why Suplicy and Van Parijs had been hosted by FHC when the Bolsa-escola was implemented and never by Dilma Rousseff. It is understandable that Suplicy had publicly complained regarding the unfulfillment of the meeting with the president for the composition of work group. So, it is no coincidence that Bruna Augusto and I, Quatinga Velho coordinators were cited for the group even though we had not been mentioned at all for the pilot-project. For those who do not find the incoherence, I will show you: Besides being co-responsible for the actualization of the Quatinga Velho experience I have no other merits in life, not even academic qualifications that would justify my presence among the “scholars”. I hope no unsuspecting figure of tomorrow will ever say my name was solely there because I was somebody’s friend.
No irony please. It is possible to suppose that it would have been much better to accept limitations inherent to the design of the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) program and to pursue the possible solutions. But when one looks carefully, it is impossible to avoid sarcasm: they were right. We realize the necessary correction or evolution towards the Basic Income was really a utopia as it meant exactly that they would have to abdicate from a powerful electoral machine and walk towards the empowerment of the program’s dependents. And when we realize who in reality are in power and the fact that the Basic Income is in practice, the question is no longer, why didn’t they do anything? But, knowing who they are, why would anyone really believe they would have done that?
Finally, I have spoken extensively about the lessons I have learned with Quatinga Velho during my lectures, so here I am going to talk about the lesson we should learn with the Bolsa Familia (family allowance), not only we, Brazilians, but the world’s citizens. Or at least, those who understand that like ecology, the economy is entropically integrated and do not wish that the economic crisis is worsened by crazy and underdeveloped leaderships.
It is no use either closing the borders nor lending money to the governments, banks or financial markets in times of crisis. They are not the solution, they are not different. They are the other side of the same coin; they face the same problem standing in the path of humanity.
All the impediments and conditions they impose before and after, so that people can access the resources they need, not only the capital that finance them, but all the means and resources, above all the natural resources they control (and which do not belong to them), are the reiterated origin of poverty and their illicit enrichment, the source of their power and government, military and industrial budget which is not and has never been the true richness of the nations.
Their illegitimate prerogatives for the acquisition of benefits, privileges and perks derive from the expropriation and prohibition of enjoying people’s and human beings’ natural rights. They are the maintaining principle of the subsidy socio-economic systems to the alienated labour, political, military and even religion enticement by the deprivation of vital basic needs. Accepting them is accepting the economic and political game grounds which reduces Basic Income to a mere government concession program and it will not be evaluated according to the needs or nature of the population, but from this artificial body and those corporations which support them.
Pretending we do not see the blatant lack of endeavour and the guarantee of a Basic Income in vulnerable areas of the world, where people are enslaved by transnational corporations, seduced by populist and authoritarian governments, criminal or ideological and cultural fundamentalist organizations is to ask for the army of nationalist, racist and religious fanatics to proliferate in exchange for a loaf of bread. It is akin to asking the fugitives of these devils and their hell to come and knock on your door.
Better than fighting fascist and genocidal leaders and their fanatical armies, it is to stop their proliferation in the world armouring the democratic Rule of Law from these populist authoritarian and irresponsible people, by prophylactically protecting people and societies with the guarantees of real freedom such as with the unconditional Basic Income as international rights, at least by the person to person income transfer systems, without borders. Systems in which the control of resources do not pass through the hands of these terrible, good-for-nothing reprobate statesmen enabling them to fulfil their goals: to empower people who need it, to set them free from poverty and political traps rather than the economic ones.
After all, it is a brutal mistake to ignore the conditioning or the violation of fundamental freedoms, even if it is towards safety or even worse economic earnings. As is the case, once freedom is conquered it cannot be taken away easily, political powers subtracted, rarely are given back, not without a fight. So, all I ask for is that you do not allow yourself to get trapped: we set free those who are less privileged, those who need the most fundamentally basic things in life; they will not only not run away from their houses, but they will also build their own democracies, more fulfilled with citizenship, guaranteed freedom and equality of authority than we experience today, even in more developed countries.