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Dissolve Brazilian National Congress, Says Spanish Sociologist

07/03/2013 - 08h30



The Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, 71, says that there is no hope of reforming the Brazilian National Congress. Castells argues that Congress should instead be dissolved in favor of a constituent assembly. 'Brazil's main problem is not economic, but political,' he affirms. 'If the political system is not reformed then the hope for change represented by the recent protests will give way to collective anger and individual cynicism.'

Castells is one of the most highly regarded scholars of contemporary social movements and their political consequences. By coincidence, he was in Brazil last month during the protests, and wrote of the experience in an article published on Saturday by the newspaper 'La Vanguardia', of Barcelona. In the text, he writes that policemen of Brasilia and the Ministry of Justice killed demonstrators, though this did not occur.

In an e-mail interview with Folha, Castells said that 'Brazil has reached unsustainable levels of both ecological and urban deterioration.'

Folha: To what do you attribute the demonstrations of recent weeks in Brazil?

Manuel Castells: I don't interpret social movements, I simply observe what those involved have to say about their motivations. Initially, these demonstrations were about the fare increases, then about the demand for free fares, because mobility is a universal right. To this demand were added others regarding health and education, services essential for human life. These demands are currently addressed neither by the market nor by the state in sufficient dimensions, given Brazil's economic growth.

The protestors say 'It's not about the 20 centavos, it's about our rights.' In other words, young people feel that neither the established institutions nor the politicians respect their rights, and nor do they offer them the means of participation. That's why they have taken to the streets, and President Dilma agrees with them. Moreover, the level of political corruption is an insult to the dignity of the citizenry.

Do you believe these demonstrations could have occurred without the social networks?

No. In our kind of society - the network society - social networks are the public space in which social movements are formed. It is from there that the movements can occupy urban public space and then come to infiltrate public institutions. However, that is not to say that the social networks are the reason for the movement. The movement is a revolt against the injustice and humiliation that many young people have to endure on a daily basis. Still, the social networks are an indispensable medium through which they can meet, debate, organize and express themselves outside of the political system and outside the traditional channels, which they see as bureaucratic.

Karime Xavier/Folhapress
Castells is one of the most highly regarded scholars of contemporary social movements and their political consequences.
Castells is one of the most highly regarded scholars of contemporary social movements and their political consequences.

Social networks have had a strong presence in Brazil for some time. Why did it take so long for something like this to happen?

Precisely because the cause is not the social networks in themselves, but outrage against conditions of life in the cities which have been imposed by a kind of wild, speculative economic growth. Brazil has reached unsustainable levels of ecological and urban deterioration, as well as of corruption and arrogance amongst the political classes.

How do you compare what is happening in Brazil with other social movements around the world, like the Arab Spring, the 15th of May Movement in Spain and the Five Star Movement in Italy, as well as with what is currently happening in Turkey?

In every case, the movements are spontaneous, without leaders, without a common ideology. They surge from a sense of outrage, and come out in defense of human dignity. They come into being on the social networks, they manifest themselves in urban public space and they reject forms of government which they consider undemocratic. Essentially, they are movements against the corruption of the political classes and for a new type of representation. They emerge under both dictatorship and democracy, in periods of economic growth and in times of crisis, and in different cultural settings. The context may be different, but they are alike insofar as they are all social movements in the internet era.

The Brazilian Legislative and the Executive are trying to respond to the protests. How do you see the relation between the networks and the established institutions? And what will this relation be like in the future?

President Dilma Rousseff responded as a democrat. She listened to the voice of the streets and tried to act immediately, promising investments in transport, health and education. She also proposed political reform by means of a referendum, in order to overcome the opposition of the Brazilian political classes, the majority of whom have been corrupted, not only by money, but also by power. They think that the power belongs to them and not to the citizenry.
Brazil's main problem is not economic, but political. The political parties represent only their own interests, and they oppose any attempt at reform that would limit their privileges. This is a key point. If the political system is not reformed then the hope for change represented by the recent protests will give way to collective anger and individual cynicism.
In its present state Congress is incapable of reforming itself. It should be dissolved, to make way for a constituent process of democratic reform. Brazil could be an example to the world. The President has the moral authority to lead the process of reform, along with leaders like Marina Silva and perhaps the ex-Presidents Lula and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. However, many professional politicians should retire, and set up businesses to create jobs with the money they earned in politics.

Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE

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