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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)

An Historical Summary

The Brazilian Green Party

by Carla Rabelo, Brazilian Green Party

The Brazilian Green Party was formed in 1986 in Rio de Janeiro by ecologists, artists, intellectuals and activists, mainly from the antinuclear movement that had been developing campaigns against the Angra dos Reis nuke plants. Most of the members of the first leading group had been in exile during the military regime in the seventies and had been in contact with ecological and alternative mobilizations in Europe.

The return of the exiles through the 1979 amnesty was a strong boost to the Brazilian ecological movement but did not lead immediately to the organization of a Green political movement. At first, many thought that Green politics could be implemented inside different left-wing parties, which were then united in a broad front against military dictatorship. The end of the military regime in 1985 created a new political environment and thus stimulated the independent political organization of the Greens. The debate on forming a Green Party was a long and harsh one inside the ecological movements. Finally, in the beginning of 1986 a group led by writers, ecologists and ex-exiles Fernando Gabeira, Alfredo Sirkis, Herbert Daniel, professor and ex-exile Carlos Minc, maestro John Neschling, engineer Guido Gelli and famous actress Lucélia Santos, decided to assume the effort to start organizing the Green Party (Partido Verde-PV).

...for the first time in Brazilian politics ecological, alternative, feminist, anti-racist, gay civil rights, and drug legislation reform issues were publicly promoted on TV and on the streets.

Political conditions were quite positive. Brazilian society, particularly the middle class, lived in times of political euphoria with the end of military rule and the Cruzado economic plan that led to an ephemeral consumption boom. The influence of ecological and alternative ideas coming from Europe, especially from the West German Die Grünen, was quite strong in the so-called "new left." Although not yet legalized, the new Green Party took part in the November 1986 election in Rio de Janeiro in an informal coalition with the left-wing PT (Workers Party). Green leader Fernando Gabeira was the Red and Green PT/PV front candidate for governor of Rio de Janeiro. It was a massive and enthusiastic campaign because for the first time in Brazilian politics ecological, alternative, feminist, anti-racist, gay civil rights, and drug legislation reform issues were publicly promoted on TV and on the streets. Reaction was hard and Gabeira was strongly opposed by conservative media, especially on the marijuana decriminalization issue.

Greens functioned quite well as a movement with demonstrations, direct action…etc. But when it came to organizing…regular party structures, activities and democratic decision making processes, things looked much more difficult.

The campaign had its two most spectacular moments with the "Speak Up Woman" feminist demonstration (around 80,000 people) and the "Hug the Lake" human chain around the polluted Rodrigo de Freitas Lake (around 100,000 people). When it came to the ballot, Gabeira got 7.8%, coming in third place after the right-wing coalition and the social-democratic Democratic Labor Party candidates. Greens also elected their first state deputy, Carlos Minc. After the 1986 election the new Green Party started an organizing effort to build a party structure and spread to other regions. In 1987 the PV was formed in Säo Paulo, Minas Gerais, and started organizing its first groups in the northeast and the Amazon states. It also started to face internal problems. Greens functioned quite well as a movement with demonstrations, direct action with media impact, etc. But when it came to organizing stable, formal and regular party structures, activities and democratic decision making processes, things looked much more difficult.

The Death of Chico Mendes

One of the biggest problems was legalizing the party in the framework of Brazilian legislation inherited from the military dictatorship and unchanged since then-a bureaucratic marathon, strictly controlled by the highly conservative judges of the electoral courts. In the beginning of 1988 the PV obtained its provisional legal registration and took part in the November 1988 municipal elections. The PV elected 20 city deputies in different municipalities of the states of Rio de Janeiro, Säo Paulo, Santa Catarina and Paraiba. In Rio, candidate Alfredo Sirkis received the most votes among 1500 candidates from 22 different parties, with 43,000 votes, more than 2%.

The 1988 period was the best for the Brazilian Greens so far. The party expanded to other regions of the huge country, especially in the Amazon region where the Greens' main ally was rubber tapper leader Chico Mendes. Although formally a member of the PT, Mendes acted as an independent union and environmental leader and was very close to the Greens, who supported his struggle unconditionally. He took part as an observer in several Green gatherings and conventions, such as the Petropolis 1987 seminar. He was discussing the possibility of joining the PV and running for state deputy in Acre in 1990. In November, 1988 Chico Mendes took part in the "Save the Amazon" Green demonstration in Rio. He went back to Acre and was killed one month later by gunmen. The crime aroused world wide attention on Brazilian ecological problems and struggles. In Brazil, it ignited fierce polemics, confronting the ecologists with President Jose Sarney's administration and military gray eminences.

The '89 Presidential Election

In 1989 Brazilians voted for president for the first time since 1960. The PV faced an extremely difficult period of internal discussions, struggles and splits over what to do in the presidential two-term campaign. An erratic zig-zag policy reflected these internal conflicts. At first, a majority of delegates at the Angra dos Reis and Säo Paulo conventions decided in favor of a coalition campaign with the PT and smaller left-wing parties, with union leader Lula as candidate for President, and Fernando Gabeira as candidate for Vice President.

An erratic zig-zag policy reflected these internal conflicts.

Negotiations with the PT backfired as it changed position under the pressure of Stalinist and conservative left-wing parties and vetoed Gabeira as candidate for Vice President. In this situation the balance inside the PV changed and the position of a Green candidate for the first term won a majority. At first Greens set forward as a "symbolic" candidate Herbert Daniel, a homosexual civil rights activist suffering from AIDS. As expected. a strong media effect was attained, contributing to a change in the dominant mentality on the AIDS issue. But soon the Green rank and file started pressure for a more competitive candidate and Daniel himself resigned to give place to Fernando Gabeira.

The campaign started late, with only 15 seconds time in official TV (in 1988, the Sirkis campaign had 43 seconds). There was no financial support or propaganda infrastructure. Greens suffered a strong setback with less than 1% of the votes in the first term election. In the second term [runoff election between top two candidates], opposing candidates Fernando Collor and Lula, Greens joined the united left campaign, defeated by a narrow margin. Internally the conflicts and deceptions of this process led to the departure of an important Green leader, deputy Carlos Minc, who joined the PT. The Presidential campaign nevertheless publicized ecopolitics and led to the organization of the Greens in new regions, especially in the poor northeast of Brazil.

The Legal Problems

Perspectives for 1990 regional and parliamentary elections were quite positive and Greens expected to elect about 5 federal and about 10 state deputies. New people like black singer and composer Gilberto Gil joined the PV, broadening its black culture and anti-racist aspects. But in May 1990, the Greens suffered a perverse blow from the ultra-conservative judges of the Superior Electoral Court, which refused the Green application for a renewal of its provisional registration. Several other parties had obtained this kind of renewal before, as well as the Greens in 1989. But the judges decided otherwise and the Greens lost their legal existence. This blow prevented Greens from growing as they had expected on the parliamentary level. But it didn't significantly affect Green structures and initiatives. It was a severe lesson for party leaders, showing how effectively bureaucratic harassment can be used against alternative parties.

In 1990 parliamentary elections in Rio de Janeiro, the PV again joined an informal left-wing coalition, this time with the social democratic PDT (Democratic Labor Party). In the coalition the Greens negotiated their own 45 second-long TV program and campaigned for Sidney de Miguel for federal deputy with ecological, anti-racist, antinuclear and alternative themes. Miguel was elected with 33,000 votes and became the first Green Party deputy in the national congress.

The Rio '92 Impact: Greens in Local Power

After the election the Greens had their yearly convention in Salvador, Bahia, with representatives from 19 of Brazil's 24 states and elected a new 17 member national executive committee, in charge of re-legalizing the PV and preparing for the RIO-92 Conference and the October, 1992 municipal elections. This new committee elected Alfredo Sirkis as its president. During the UNCED RIO-92 Conference the Brazilian Green Party hosted the First Green Planetary Meeting. For the first time Greens from all over the world met to exchange experiences and started to organize worldwide coordination. The Green International Steering Committee formed in Rio met in January 1993 in Mexico City and created the first Global Green Network.

The Brazilian Greens were very active in the 1992 mass mobilizations against president Fernando Collor that led to his impeachment on severe corruption charges, leading to an important change in Brazilian institutions. These changes continued in 1993 with the investigation of corruption in the National Congress as well. In the October 1992 municipal elections Greens elected 54 city councilors in different states and mayors in three small towns in Säo Paulo state: Campina do Monte Alegre, Pederneiras and Macatuba. After the elections, members of the Green Party were invited to become environmental secretaries in about 100 municipalities, including such state capital cities as Rio de Janeiro (Alfredo Sirkis), Salvador (Juca Ferreira) and Natal (Eugenio Cunha). Other important cities, like Caxias, in Rio de Janeiro state and Bauru, in Säo Paulo, also have Green secretaries (Dalva Lazaroni and Leonel Gazzetta). A new generation of Green municipal executives has appeared as an interesting political development since the 1992 local elections. This Green participation in various municipal governments run by different parties is always based on local programs publicly announced and signed with the mayors, including important issues like the Green urban ecology programs. Public opinion has been favorable to this Green presence in local governments.

A new generation of Green municipal executives has appeared...

The Green mayor of Campina do Monte Alegre, Carlos Eduardo Ribeiro, had substantial media coverage in his quite revolutionary and original style of Green administration. He abolished all municipal bureaucracy and runs his municipality with five peoples' councils that directly mobilize most of the population of 7,000 inhabitants and decide how to spend the budget, and a multi-services cooperative that substitutes traditional municipal bureaucracy with great advantage for the taxpayer. Of course this experience is specific to a small community.

On the September 30, 1993, the Brazilian Green Party finally woke up from its long lasting legal and bureaucratic nightmare: the Superior Electoral Court, by unanimous decision, granted the Partido Verde-PV definitive registration status. But at the same time, Congress voted a very restrictive new electoral law forbidding parties with less than 15 federal deputies to have their own candidates for President, Governor or Senate.

Ten Years After

In the 1994 presidential elections the Green Party supported Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva, the PT candidate who was defeated. Green leader Fernando Gabeira (Rio de Janeiro) was elected federal deputy and so far is the sole Green member of Parliament. There are two state deputies: Tota Agra (Paraiba) and Wilson Trópia (Minas Gerais). Two others were elected in '94 in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, but left the Greens after the election.

In Congress Gabeira has been working in areas such as the defense of indigenous people, the denunciation of the SIVAM project (a very expensive US-controlled radar system in the Amazon) and civil rights issues like new drug legislation to de-criminalize soft drugs and avoid the imprisonment of drug users, and the right to marriage for people of the same gender.

In several city administrations Greens have succeeded in creating new environmental institutions. A good example is the SMAC (the Environment Department of the city of Rio) created by Green Secretary Alfredo Sirkis. The most important projects for the 93-96 period included the community reforestation of hillsides through the mobilization of favela (shanty towns), a project recognized by the U.N. Megacities Program as one of the 16 most relevant urban ecology projects-600 acres in 47 communities, employing 500 people, so far. The Bicycle Ways program, with the construction of 90 km of physically protected bicycle tracks in Rio, enhanced bike use for transportation purposes. Another important local power Green experience took place in Salvador with Green Secretary Juca Ferreira, who managed to relate urban ecology to the traditional religious cultures of Candomblé, through the Folhas Sagradas project.

In the October '96 municipal elections the Green Party elected 13 mayors in small cities or towns of the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Pernambuco, Mato Grosso do Sul and Minas Gerais, as well as 200 city councilors in 15 different states. Ten years old now, the Brazilian Green Party is active in all but one Brazilian state and functions very much like a federation. It is still a minority party, endangered by some new electoral laws and regulations that are being prepared in Congress by the mainstream political parties. There is talk about a "new political reform" that could adopt district majority voting and other mechanisms quite lethal to small parties. Nevertheless, Brazilian Greens have consolidated their presence on the national, and especially, the local scene. Some of the issues they have raised have gone far beyond Green constituencies into mainstream concerns. Their political and cultural influence reaches far beyond the small militant structure. After 10 years the Partido Verde still fights for consolidation, but has influenced the Brazilian national political agenda.

Partido Verdo Contacts

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