Oil exploration platform in the Pre-Salt fields.
Oil exploration platform in the Pre-Salt fields. Photo: Hélio Campos Mello

Large national corporations, public and private, have been facing what appears to be a national and international legal siege, with obvious implications for the Brazilian economy as a whole. Petrobras, which has been under internal and external attack since its foundation, but had managed to establish itself as a large company in the midst of this adversity, was one of the first targets of this new wave of investigations, and remains in the spotlight. The large private corporations of Brazilian engineering, since the 1980s international players in the area, have become the villains of global corruption.

The Brazilian nuclear program, as well as its derivative projects, was also squeezed into international espionage operations and internal operations against corruption, causing the arrest of one of its most renowned scientist-entrepreneurs, Admiral Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva. Recently, the meat industry was at the center of an international scandal, triggered by another anti-corruption operation by the Federal Police. Even the Tupiniquim media, which likes scandalous police operations and selective leaks, this time sided with agribusiness, the apple of our liberal heralds.

Apparently, the moralistic rage of federal judges and police, with the majority support of public opinion, in their fight against systemic corruption (from the left) and its physiological allies, caused a collateral result: it increased the GDP crisis and made the Brazilian economy lost ground in the world.

Several “conspiracy theories” abound on the networks, some delusional, others more well-founded and proven via wikileaks. Would the judges and prosecutors be CIA agents who had infiltrated the Brazilian state? Dilma Rousseff fell because Brazil would become a world power in alliance with the BRICS? Does the United States want to destroy the big Brazilian corporations to open our market to “its” capitalists?

Delusions aside, I don't see a centralized manipulation of evil evil geniuses in all this political and geopolitical imbroglio in which we got ourselves and were involved. But it is undeniable that the siege of Brazilian companies is serving many internal and external interests, in addition to the epic and always welcome fight against corruption. It is, let's say, a window of opportunity for the sharks of capitalism to act, taking advantage of the condominium-treme-treme policy that took over Brazil.


In addition to the conjunctural issues of this tumultuous beginning of the 1930st century, the conflict between the Brazilian developmental project and international capitalism has a long, complex and nuanced history, beyond the simple Manichean clash between “nationalists” and “deliverers”. I think that the origin of this dispute is in the late XNUMXs, when a project of industrialization and national economic affirmation was outlined, led by the State and by some internal political and economic actors, such as the Army and the Vargas federal bureaucracy.

Before that, Brazil was a big coffee farm, an agro-export park, with light industries here and there. Of course, no one, strictly speaking, was against industrialization, there was just no coordinated national policy, nor clear strategies for it to take place in conditions of backwardness and underdevelopment. The terms of trade with industrialized countries were unequal and the customs policy did little to stimulate Brazilian industry. The country's agricultural vocation was sung and praised by the prim politicians of the First Republic, almost all of them organically linked to the farm. On the other hand, the colonels of the grotões, also owners of land and people, cared little about the national economy, as long as they could continue to rule the municipality, appointing their aggregates to public offices and appointing judges and delegates to control the gang.

The modern Brazilian foreign policy, built at the beginning of the Republic and consolidated by the Baron of Rio Branco, adapted to this reality. In the midst of the imperialist race of the late XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries, Brazil confirmed its vocation as an exporter of raw materials, a regional “power” without major aspirations, subordinated to the great rising world power, the United States. Obviously, this is not a story of victims and villains, but of negotiations that are both complex and asymmetrical, which do not fit in this article.

But in the midst of this Casa Grande, happy with its share in the world latifundia, around the 1920s, voices began to emerge that defended industrialization planned and supervised by the State. Among these voices, a handful of authoritarian political leaders, such as Getúlio Vargas, and the military who felt they were the last defenders of the violated homeland. After the so-called “1930 Revolution”, this group took power, with the help of dissident agrarian elites, tired of supporting São Paulo coffee. It was soon realized that it was not so simple to modernize the economy without changing the structure of society. And, in this sense, the “revolutionaries” of the 1930s were hardly revolutionary. Between leaps and bounds, the industrializing project began to be outlined in the best Varguista style, that is, trying to please “Greeks and Trojans”, farmers and industrialists, workers and bosses, Nazi Germany and the United States, new and old elites.

This industrial development project won the national debate and became State policy between the late 1930s and the mid-1950s, opposing two major forces in society: the large import-export traders and sectors of the federal bureaucracy – civil and military – commanded by Varguismo, with the support of some large industrialists. The two groups had different conceptions about the industrialization process and the role of the State in the economy. For the large trading and agro-exporting groups, entrenched in the liberal discourse, industrialization should occur “naturally”, without exchange rate stimuli and market closure. For the developmentalists, it was necessary to stimulate the State, planning and some intervention in the economy. This debate about the best economic policy for Brazil ended up being connected to another great national debate: what, after all, was Brazil's place in the world?

The military, from the mid-1940s onwards, had a paradoxical position. They were great enemies of Vargas' mass politics, who considered an open door for the subversion of the social order, but, in general, they supported the industrializing project led by the State. Given Brazil's position in World War II on the side of the Allies, the Brazilian military expected US support for a large-scale industrializing project, for the simple reason that without heavy industry there would be no strong national army. After the war, however, South America left Uncle Sam's radar and interests. The logic of the North American foreign agenda has once again repeated the eternal mantra of opening markets and importing private capital. Industrialization, if it came, would have to be the consequence of this process, and not of the autarchic closure of the national market to imports.

The economic policy of the second government of Getúlio Vargas (1951-1954) signaled a more active role for the State in the basic industrialization project, creating the conditions for the expansion of a national heavy industry. The creation of Petrobras, in particular, faced strong external and internal resistance, even though the state-owned company did not monopolize the fuel trade, the most profitable part of the business.

Vargas' suicide caused, momentarily, the national-developmentalist policy to be threatened. But the social and political forces that defended industrialization were articulated around Juscelino Kubitschek. Deftly, JK managed to bring together the three economic actors that were in tension: the state, national capitalists and multinational corporations, relying on the appetite of rising European capitalism to counterbalance an excessive US presence in the durable goods market. JK's developmental model chose to stimulate the consumer goods industry and large public infrastructure works by the State.

The rhetoric of the JK era was nationalistic, but the resulting economic reality was capitalism “associated and dependent” on financial resources, industrial plants and imported technology. This seemed to be the only possible path of industrialization for a backward country within the capitalist system, a possible choice given the geopolitical and economic reality of Brazil. The social pact between workers, capitalists, landowners and the middle classes guaranteed a few years of peace and prosperity, between one and the other right-wing udenista tantrums. International capital was also happy.

In addition to consolidating a new domestic economic model, in which industry had a privileged place, JK launched, albeit timidly, the foundations of a new foreign policy. The President's reasoning was more or less the following: a vigorous process of industrialization in Brazil and Latin America would only reinforce capitalism on the continent, creating a richer society, diluting pockets of poverty and underdevelopment and, consequently, the specter of communism. For all these reasons, it should be actively supported by the Americans. But until the Cuban Revolution, the communists seemed to be too far from the Americas to worry the United States, which turned a deaf ear to Operation Pan-American, as JK's proposal was called.

This policy was paradoxically consolidated under the enigmatic and contradictory Jânio Quadros, JK's arch-enemy in domestic politics. It was renamed “Independent Foreign Policy” and was expanded by João Goulart, who was on the left of the two presidents who preceded him. His reforms promised more development, more autonomous capitalism, income distribution and more democracy. Whether all of this was viable or not, cheap demagoguery or serious reformism, the fact is that from 1962 onwards, American concern about a possible rupture of the historic alliance between Brazil and the USA was rekindled. The fall of Goulart after the 1964 coup, one of the battles of the Cold War in Latin America, seemed to clip the wings of Brazilian economic nationalism.


The initial alignment of the military with the United States, great supporters of the coup, seemed to confirm the suspicions that the “deliverers” gained power to harm the Brazilian economy and replace it with an agro-export vocation, free trade and subordinated to “American imperialism”. ”. However, after the honeymoon, it was soon realized that the army in power did not have a homogeneous economic and geopolitical thinking. If anti-communism united the military with Washington, the Big Brazil project that began to take shape in 1968 caused some tension with the State Department and the White House. Brazil's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that year was one of the first symptoms of this estrangement.

The relationship between the two countries became a courtship of interests in the Medici era, when Brazil became an important player in the fight against the guerrillas and leftist governments in South America and its thriving economy sucked all the dollars at its disposal. A major importer of capital and with an industrialization focused on the domestic consumption market, the “miracle” economy did not threaten the geopolitical game and international markets. The system was happy. The middle class consumed, the workers didn't complain (even because they couldn't), the communists were dead, imprisoned or exiled.

The relationship became complicated under the Geisel government. The reorientation of investments towards basic industry, the new wave of nationalization of the economy, economic protectionism and the projection of Brazil to markets never before occupied, caused one of the most tense situations with Washington and its office boys neoliberals. To make matters worse, the Americans became sure that Brazil wanted to join the atomic club by establishing a nuclear agreement with West Germany in 1974. In addition to pressuring the Brazilian nuclear project through all diplomatic means, the United States knew how to use its international human rights policy against the dictatorship which, by the way, provided every reason to be condemned in this area. The maximum point of tension was the breaking of the military agreement with the United States in 1977, more symbolic than effective at that juncture. But still, eloquent.

Brazil under Geisel wanted to play an economic and political role in addition to being a minor partner of the North Americans. The country was projected towards Africa, whose flag was planted with the prompt recognition of Angola, independent from Portugal and ruled by communists, by our right-wing dictatorship. The country was projecting itself towards the Middle East, starting to sell weapons, chickens and expertise in civil construction to pro-Soviet dictatorships, in exchange for oil.

Betting on state-owned companies and the closing of the domestic market, the Geisel era wanted to enrich Brazilian capitalism, not to break with international capitalism, on which Brazil was, as it had always been, dependent, but to raise the country to a new level in the game. international political and economic The country gained more energy autonomy, created new matrices, completed the second industrial revolution, when the capitalist world was already starting the third. The Brazilian military, at the end of the military regime, even tried to hitch a ride in this process, stimulating the national computer industry by decree.

Brazil did not explode the Atomic Bomb, the nuclear plants consumed a fortune and took a long time to get off the ground, the national computer industries were not able to compete with the Gates and Jobs of life. The economic crisis of the 1980s and the foreign debt imploded the dream of the developed Brazil of the JK years and the Brasil Grande of the military. In the 1990s, Brazil began its long path back to being an exporting and primary economy, champion of commodities. Today, with 100 tons of soybeans exported, we are able to pay for 1 cell phone chip.


The Lula era, even without seriously threatening this reality, tried to reconcile it with a new social policy and a new geopolitics. Without the shadow of the Cold War, it was believed that Brazil could assert itself as player world without being considered a threat to the “West”. But we seem to have forgotten to “combine with the Russians”, or rather, with the Americans.

The discovery of pre-salt reserves by Petrobras, the Brazilian space program, the military re-equipment program and the nuclear submarine once again worried Washington. Furthermore, Lula's conversations with the BRICS, with the hermanos Bolivarians and the daring to set themselves up as a mediator, alongside Turkey, in the pacification of the Middle East and the reinsertion of Iran in the community of nations, were too much for the brothers. The policy of “national champions”, symbolized by Eike Batista in his pre-Bangu times, of glory and glamour, was the way to affirm the new Brazil Potencia. Dilma Rousseff and her new economic matrix promised to go further.

As of 2013, the portal of history has closed again. International finance capital began to denounce the spending of the Brazilian state and the threat to the sacred primary surplus. The Lula social pact, already criticized upstairs for some time, was over. The white middle class no longer wanted to share airports with the poor and public colleges with blacks. The “national champions” turned out to be just what they always were, casino gambling capitalists, taking cheap money from the BNDES and investing it in the financial market. As if there was any surprise in that.

Cases of systemic corruption facilitated the siege of the PT political project and the national-developmentalist economic policy, which was already proving to be unsustainable without effective political, fiscal and tax reform, which, incidentally, was never seriously on the agenda of the left in power. More than that, they showed the way to implode the ultimate symbol of the struggle for industrialization in Brazil, Petrobras. Operation Lava-Jato opened up the dangerous relations between the state-owned company, construction companies and political parties. The model of financing electoral campaigns, built in the 1950s, expanded throughout the 1990s, was put in check and was the tactic to sweep the left from the command of the State. The rest is history.

It seems that Brazil’s legal-political system and its civil society face the dilemma of how to reconcile the fight against corruption – an imperative that could unite several ideological currents if it involved a profound political reform and was not scandalously selective – and strategic defense national economic interests, whether or not we like the iron laws of world capitalism.

Under the applause of a part of public opinion, the rotten nerves of our capitalists and global companies are exposed in the autos de fe by public morality, this sudden obsession of Brazilians, even those who evade taxes, bribe traffic guards and bet on the old game of animal. The new entrepreneurs, worshipers of the gods of the market, want to clean our capitalism with forceps. As if the market were not the great corruptor of politics, as if “our” capitalism existed, and as if it were dirtier than that of others.

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