'New Political Order' Emerges in Brazil
President Collor offers a sweeping program for national debate as a fresh crop of governors takes office
BRAZILIAN politics entered a new phase last week as the government of Fernando Collor de Mello celebrated its first year in power and governors took office in 24 states. To mark the anniversary, Mr. Collor announced an all-encompassing, long-term "national reconstruction plan." Unlike previous approaches to Brazil's myriad problems, the plan is meant to be discussed by various interest groups and the Congress.
"The government proposes, the government does not impose," Collor said in a speech announcing the plan last Thursday.
The events and new tack taken by Collor appear to "consolidate a new political order," says Walder de Goes, a political analyst. "The governors are new and influential political actors," who cannot be ignored, he adds.
Many of the governors spoke out against Collor's federal economic policy in their inaugural addresses. Brazil's state and federal finances are more closely linked than in the United States, so the governors more powerfully influence national policy and often use their constituencies as launching pads to the presidency.
Collor's new plan calls for tax, administrative, labor, and education reforms, incentives for business modernization, programs to foster agricultural growth and independence, greater privatization, savings and investment incentives, and debt renegotiation.
The omnibus plan also includes environmental protection programs, programs for children, mothers, schools, health care, housing sanitation, land reform, social security, and regional development, as well as demarcation of indigenous people's lands.
Just a year ago, Collor unilaterally told Brazilians their savings accounts and investments would be frozen for 18 months. For most of his first year, the president refused to bargain with politicians and interest groups.
But today, the freeze and the rest of Collor's initial plan to bring down inflation are seen as having failed. In a poll published last week, only 23 percent of those surveyed called the government's performance "good" or "very good," compared with 71 percent before Collor took office.
Brazilians applauded his new plan's intent and its inclusive approach, but they wonder if the plan will be translated into action.
"Now he sees the need for dialogue," says Mucio Gurgel de Sa, director superintendent of a large fruit exporting company. "No one can govern alone.... Now he has found the right path."
The route to economic stability has eluded Brazilian officials ever since a civilian president took over from the military in 1985. But in at least one Brazilian state, drought-ridden Ceara, the mood is upbeat, thanks largely to former governor Tasso Jereissati.
Mr. Jereissati's administration is a model for the rest of the country, says Professor Goes, of the University of Brasilia, adding that Jereissati and his successor Ciro Gomes (who took office last Friday) are part of a "new group of the best quality within Brazilian politics." Politicians and analysts say the two men could play important roles on the national scene. Both belong to the Brazilian Social Democratic Party.
Jereissati, a businessman turned politician, inherited a debt-burdened administration with a swollen bureaucracy that was prey to the whims of political cronies. Using public opinion to help break the existing state power structure, he modernized government finances and made administration more efficient.
Jereissati's health-care program brought Ceara state's infant mortality rate down to 65 deaths per thousand births, from 95 - saving 15,000 infants, according to UNICEF. Today, Ceara natives lionize him and expect even better schools and clinics.
"I am happy with his administration," says Joao Candido Duarte, a shoe salesman in Fortaleza, the state capital. Interviewed last week, Jereissati described his gradual victory.
"You have to make a model out of your administration, from tip to toe, beginning with your own behavior you cannot make exceptions," Jereissati said. "I got credibility even when things weren't working. People felt I was at least making an effort." But credibility gained from results, he adds, was his key to success.
Collor, with apparently little to show for his year in office, inspires less confidence these days. A January wage-and-price freeze failed to keep prices down as much as wages, much to consumers' discontent. Brazilians also despair that their long-term problems will ever get solved.
Still, the rise of new leadership and the Collor plan's full recognition of a need for greater participation, are at least a beginning, analysts agree. Writing in the Folha de S 139&gt;o Paulo newspaper, federal deputy C 142&gt;sar Maia speaks for many who have criticized Collor, but hope for results in his remaining four years.
"Important changes are being felt in the willingness to negotiate, the willingness to face up to structural causes of the current crisis," Mr. Maia writes.
"The government is still in debt as far as credibility goes, although less so in recent weeks. Seeing is believing. But watching is worth it."