- Lula’s Brazil: The Management of Hope
This excellent documentary by Uruguayan filmmaker Gonzalo Arijón explores the strengths that led to the stunning 2006 re-election of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, with 61 per cent of the valid run-off vote. The film's prescience is all the more striking because it was shot two years into Lula's first term, on the eve of a corruption scandal, in which the former opposition fire-brand continued the neo-liberal economic policies the left had long opposed.
The hope referred to in the title emerges in recollections of the legendary Chico Whitaker, one of the Brazilian architects of the World Social Forum (WSF). He describes the extraordinary, almost painful, feeling of hope experienced on inauguration day in Brasília in January 2003. The film then introduces a long-time cook from the São Bernardo metalworkers union, where Lula led famous strikes between 1978-1980, as well as a rank-and-file São Bernardo autoworker and PT member. Their testimony provides evidence of a sense of identification bound up with Lula's trajectory from misery in rural Pernambuco through his migration to the big city and eventual election as the country's first working-class president.
From this opening, the film retraces Lula's personal trajectory while giving center stage to a dozen humble and eloquent voices from that "other Brazil, Lula's Brazil." We start with the recollections of Lula's cousin, who still lives in their home town, and follow health workers as they visit the homes of the rural poor to weigh malnourished children as part of the new government's Zero Hunger campaign. From there, we follow Lula's trajectory to the big industrial city of São Paulo where we visit contemporary squatters (sem teto) in an abandoned apartment building; families who mix struggle, resignation, and hope for their children while being helped by the government's hunger grants. We also visit the Daimler-Chrysler factory [End Page 703] in São Bernardo and witness an extended bar-room discussion among metalworkers who are proud that "one of their own" is running the country, and done so competently despite the predictions of economic disaster if he were elected. As they weigh their political disappointments, they show an acute awareness of the political constraints on government action ("he'd like to move quickly but Brazilian voters didn't give him a majority").
At this point, the film turns to the rural dimension through interviews with rank-and-file members of the landless workers movement in a São Paulo settlement. The views of these MST settlers, who criticize Lula's failure to vigorously carry out agrarian reform, are juxtaposed to those of large landowners (a powerful group, as Whitaker puts it, that the President certainly can't ignore given their potential fire power). One of the landowners interviewed says that Lula has been reasonable, on the whole, but he goes on to observe that it is the trade surpluses generated by exports by Brazilian agri-business that sustain the economy; family farming may be a social priority, he suggests, but it certainly is not an economic one.
In this fashion, the film sets up its overall objective: to "gauge the long and bumpy path ahead, a narrow path where hope and economic interests often clash." But is it really possible to "manage" hope under these tight constraints? Here, the film expresses the mature, critical, and balanced judgment that characterizes the mainstream of the Brazilian left. In the words of WSF leader Candido Grzyowski, Lula's government would do better if it were subject to more pressure from social movements (we see him being booed by part of the audience at the 2005 WSF meeting). Yet can one demand results from Lula as if he had led a revolution when all he did was win an election? After a brief final section illustrating urban problems in Rio, Whitaker notes that "a political...