With Argentina and Bolivia expropriating big energy firms and Brazil nationalizing strike and scandal plagued World Cup projects, Latin America's often convoluted take on socialism has created a money-hungry cookie monster that's desperate for dollars to cover social costs and palliate restless workers. Boasting the world's 6th largest economy, Brazil, with its American-style consumer habits, is now the region's soft power battlefield for class warfare politics.
The Communist Party of Brazil was given the political plum of running the ministry of sports by president Dilma as a reward for staying inside her Worker's Party coalition government during her dramatic move to the political center. But responsibility for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, included in the brief, was too much of a temptation for minister Orlando Silva. After praising Dilma's social inclusion policies in a conference call in which this writer participated, Silva was swept up in Dilma's anti-corruption campaign and resigned, only to be replaced with another, more respected Communist Party leader, Aldo Rebelo, who does not look kindly at foreign governments, sports marketers and NGOs meddling in Brazilian affairs.
Pro-labor media reports that in Brazil, 150,000 workers were out on strike during the first three months of this year, most of them at World Cup stadiums, Belo Monte hydroelectric projects and public works projects in Bahia state, where in February over 260 people were killed in unrest triggered by a police union strike. But while use of economist John Kenneth Galbraith's theory of countervailing power gives the Medal of Freedom winner some much deserved street cred, unions in Brazil and throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America need to modernize their political education programs to help working families bootstrap into the middle class.
In spite of being the world's 6th largest economy, the minimum monthly wage in Brazil is just 622 reals ($320). Workers who assemble iPods at the Foxconn plant outside Sao Paulo are lucky to earn twice that. A union sponsored think-tank study indicates that it should be 2,329 reals ($1,190), roughly double the official government wage. The think-tank formula includes food, housing, health care, transportation, family education, clothing, and a retirement package, costs that the Workers Party government does not acknowledge including in their calculation.
Dilma's nationalization of the World Cup organization responsibilities, with tacit approval from the international governing body of football FIFA, is a blow to the powerful Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) and continues the shift in the tectonic plates that undergird Brazil's political class that began with her election in 2010 and occur around every 25 years or so.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently visited his ailing predecessor, 98 year old Joao Havelange, who is in a Rio de Janeiro care facility. Blatter also met with Havelange son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira, who just days after resigning as head of the CBF to avoid corruption charges being developed by federal police and their Interpol component, was rehabilitated by leaders of the organization to serve as its honorary president.
Under the nationalization plan presided over by sports minister Rebelo, former central bank director Henrique Meireilles has become involved to provide oversight and international consulting firm KPMG has been retained to help strengthen the ethical image of the project.
In spite of all the bluster about this corruption, the vote buying, slush money, payoffs and bribes associated with moving the national capital from Rio de Janeiro to the new city of Brasilia and the development of the Federal District under then-president Juscelino Kubitschek in an era of unsophisticated media coverage, was worse.
The settling of old political scores is running quietly in the background of the nationalization. Both Havelange and Teixeira were supportive of U.S.-backed military governments that jailed, kidnapped, tortured and disappeared thousands of leftists and both men opposed compensation for the victims and their families after Brazil launched its current form of democratic government. Several members of the current regime were arrested and tortured, as were communists, and president Dilma herself. Dilma has just named the members of the "truth commission" that will issue a report throwing sunshine on collaborators in the Brazilian version of the "dirty war" and human rights violations committed by military and civilian military-influence regimes during the period 1946-1988.
Also strengthening Dilma's hand in the run up to the 2014 presidential campaign, which goes off during the World Cup time frame, are new revelations of World Cup corruption that dash the presidential ambitions of potential Dilma challenger Sergio Cabral, the populist governor of Rio de Janeiro state. Cabral is a leading figure in the Brazilian Popular Democratic Movement, the party of vice president Michel Temer.
Deeply involved in World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics preparations, Cabral was tagged partying at the Ritz Hotel in Paris during a junket sponsored by World Cup scammers. Then his photo was buzzed up on the blog of his old political nemesis, the evangelical populist Anthony "Little Boy" Garotinho. The tagged photo, buzzed up right after the Blatter meeting with Teixeira, became citizen journalism-provided collateral for the federal police investigation into World Cup improprieties known as "Operation Monte Carlo."
Cabral was rolled out to American business leaders as a contender by Bush family and Henry Kissinger pal the Brazilian political kingmaker Mario Garnero last December at an event at the Harvard Club of New York City. Now governor Cabral is mustering his political capital to avoid being called to testify in the government anti-corruption investigation before a special congressional committee.
Meanwhile Brazil's most strategically significant near-government conglomerate seems to live above the law. Unscathed by the scandals is Odebrecht, Brazil's global engineering and contruction firm on par with Bechtel and Fluor that runs major operations in Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, and the United States. With its own portfolio of World Cup construction projects the company wields as much influence in shaping the Brazilian political landscape as Koch Industries does in the United States.
What makes the Odebrecht strategy similar to the Koch Brothers, whose brand of American-style economic libertarianism has been buzzed up by WikiLeaks icon Julian Assange and the Swedish Pirate Party that hosted him on their servers, is that their strong investment in political action actually helps incite the anti-American blowback that is gaining traction in Latin America. Meanwhile, slick green building projects appeal to the silver spoon socialists and environmental NGOs and help take the edge off of their assisting quasi-Democratic regimes in Latin America and in Africa, including Angola and other oil rich Portuguese-speaking nations that are of interest to the Pentagon's growing Africa Command.
Odebrecht was a major contributor to the successful Dilma presidential campaign that was managed and fund bundled by wealthy former Trotskyite Dr. Antonio Palocci. A popular physician and mayor of a left leaning college town, Palocci took his red star over to the Workers Party, where he served as finance minister during Lula's Odebrecht-friendly presidential tenure before resigning to avoid prosecution in an influence peddling scandal. Dilma's relationship with Odebrecht goes back to the days when she was Lula's influential minister for mines and energy.
Odebrecht builds logisitcs and energy security infrastructure that help keep Brasilia's allies the Castro regime, Hugo Chavez and coca farmer Ivo Morales and their socialist international world view in power. Calling Lula "our boss" Odebrecht provided former president Lula with an all expenses paid trip to Castro's Cuba in support of the big sugar ethanol refining project they are building there. Dilma was hobnobbing with the Castros in Cuba in February adding lustre to the big Odebrecht projects when bloody police union strikes broke out in Bahia state, and its governor, Jaques Wagner, was there too.
Odebrecht also has a quiet, but influential presence in the United States, riding the Pentagon gravy train with an Iraq redevelopment contract and a US Army water project award in the sugar land around Clewiston, Florida.
Connections between Argentina's socialist internationalists and their fellow travelers in Brazil's left wing circles, formed during the Cold War and the Dirty War in Latin America helped build the foundation for silver spoon socialism in the land of the Samba.
Luis Favre, the Trotskyite internationalist who was formed in the radical Peronist movement bankrolled by Argentine financier David "Dudy" Graiver has long worked behind the scenes in Latin America's printing and publishing industry. Favre, who has resided in Brazil on a French passport but still holds Argentine citizenship, has helped influenced the political views of Peronists Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, Dr. Antonio Palocci who served as Dilma's chief-of-staff until resigning to avoid yet another corruption scandal and former Workers Party mayor of Sao Paulo Marta Suplicy, who happens to be Favre's ex-wife.
As a consultant to the Workers Party international directorate, Favre was an architect of the political space that opened the way for Lula to become president and for the creation of the Brazil-based World Social Forum, an internationalist vehicle that provides an alternative agenda to the concepts evangelized by the World Economic Forum.
Prominent families like the Matarazzos, Gerdaus, Suplicys and Odebrechts in Brazil and the DiTellas, Eskenazis, Fortabats and Graivers in Argentina have always had quiet family connections on the right and the left. But the social equality reset and the world-wide outsourcing of international propaganda and public diplomacy work by the State Department, and the Pentagon -- called disinformation during the Cold War -- is helping to disrupt the traditional social networks they have used for mediation.
Latin America's pink cocktail would be shaken, not stirred without a proper Hollywood connection. In Haiti, where Brazilian U.N. peacekeeping troops provide security for his aid operation, Oscar winner Sean Penn hopes critics of his charity work die of colo-rectal cancer. Meanwhile, the former husband of Madonna is amping up the social equality advocated by Cristina Kirchner and Hugo Chavez to the growing number of show business public diplomacy enthusiasts who use cause related marketing to boost their incomes and box office power.
Celebrity influence ebbs and flows with the times. Just a few weeks before the assassination of president John F. Kennedy brought and end to his vision of an Alliance for Progress with Latin America, the Beatles amped up the huge gap between rich and poor during their Royal Command Performance in London with John saying "... the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you'd just rattle your jewelry." Today, half a century later, Sir Paul McCartney plays to packed crowds in Dilma's Brazil where the silver spoon socialists rattle theirs and the clapping from the cheap seats gets louder.