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Brazil: On the meaning of “Minorities with a majority complex”

"Speak up Sarney: I can explain all the dirty tricks, I mean, charges". By Paulo Barbosa.

Speak up Sarney: "I can explain all the dirty tricks, I mean, charges". By Paulo Barbosa.

Brazilian politicians, discredited as they are, occasionally deliver the most fascinating sayings that, although they cannot absolve them of their political negligence and abuses of power, make their mark by provoking the public and allowing the Brazilian people understand them a little better.

Last week, it was Senator Renan Calheiros’ turn to deliver a real gem. In 2007 he had to step down from the Presidency of the Senate amid accusations by his ex-lover, the mother of his illegitimate child, who posed for Playboy Magazine soon after the scandal. He has earned himself a place in history with a phrase that has made the current political crisis in the Senate, triggered by accusations of corruption against the current Senate President José Sarney, more riveting than the evening soap opera. In a fierce discussion with the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) Senator Tasso Jereissati, many accusations were made, some of which offer an acute reflection of the present state of the Brazilian Senate.

The blogger Leandro Prudêncio [pt] made a good selection of the highlights of the discussions from a transcript available at Estadão Online, the web version of one of the main Brazilian newspapers, which puts Renan's gem into context:

Renan Calheiros: “A respeito da manifestação do senador Tasso Jereissati. Essas crises acontecem por isso, porque é a minoria com complexo de maioria…”

Tasso Jereissati: Que me desculpe senador Renan. Senador Renan, não aponte esse dedo sujo pra cima de mim! Não aponte esse dedo sujo pra cima de mim! Estou cansado de suas ameaças”

Renan:“Esse dedo sujo infelizmente é o de Vossa Excelência. São os dedos dos jatinhos que o Senado pagou”

Tasso: “Pelo menos era com meu dinheiro. O jato é meu, não é dos seus empreiteiros.

Renan: “O dinheiro é seu?”

Tasso: “É meu, é meu, é meu, é meu! Eu tenho pra falar, tá?

(Fora do microfone) Renan: Coronel…

Tasso: Eu, coronel? Cangaceiro, cangaceiro de terceira categoria…”.

Renan: “O senhor é coronel!” – Baixa o microfone e diz: “Seu merda” (relato dos senadores próximos a Renan)

Renan: “Você é minoria com complexo de maioria. Me respeite”

Renan Calheiros: “About Senator Tasso Jereissati's speech. These crises happen because there’s a minority with a majority complex…”

Tasso Jereissati: “I beg your pardon, Senator Renan. Senator Renan, don’t point your dirty finger at me! Don’t point your dirty finger at me! I’m tired of your threats!”

Renan: “You’re the one with dirty fingers, Your Excellency. They’re the fingers of someone who had a private jet paid for by the Senate.”

Tasso: “At least it was with my own money. The jet belongs to me, not your contractors.”

Renan: “So the money’s yours?”

Tasso: “It's mine, mine, mine, mine. Let me speak, okay?”

(Away from the microphone) Renan: “Colonel…”

Tasso: “Me, a colonel? You bandit, you third-rate bandit…”

Renan: “You are a colonel, sir!” – Lowers the microphone and says: “You shit head” (according to the senators sitting next to Renan)

Renan: “You are a minority with a majority complex. Show some respect.”

Follow this link to check out the scene.

Senatores Tasso and Renan exchanging charges.  Photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr

Photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr

“Minority with a majority complex” was the phrase which echoed around offices and bars all over the country, as well as in the blogosphere, becoming an instantly popular saying. But what, exactly, does it mean and why was it so successful?

In the strict sense in which it was said, Renan being one of the leaders of the government base which supports José Sarney’s continued presence in the Senate (something already discussed by GVO), the intention was to diminish the opposition's importance.

Bloggers who interpreted the phrase in this sense were fairly critical of it. The blog O Que Estamos Fazendo? [pt] asked:

O que gerou a manifestação de Renan? A divergência. E olha que a oposição no Brasil é quase inexistente. Se sofre de algum complexo, é de inferioridade. Vive escondida, com medo de cumprir seu papel de… oposição, como fazia o PT quando era minoria…

Então, se mesmo com uma oposição omissa o senador Calheiros disse o que disse, qual é o seu desejo? Se divergir, se exercer o papel de oposição significa ter “complexo de maioria”, o que deseja Calheiros?

Algumas hipóteses:

- Deseja que os congressistas da “minoria” recebam seus salários, mas não apareçam no congresso para encher o saco. Que fiquem em suas casas, em verdadeiras licenças remuneradas, como um bom funcionário fantasma nomeado por ato secreto;

- Deseja que os congressistas da “minoria” mudem de lado e migrem para a “maioria”, dando uma banana para seus eleitores tão logo assumam seus cargos;

- Deseja que os políticos da “minoria” sejam declarados inelegíveis, uma vez que somente a “maioria” deve possuir representação política na democracia de Renan.

What caused Renan's outburst? Divergence. Look at the way the opposition in Brazil is almost non-existent. If it suffers from any complex, it is that of inferiority. It lives hidden away, scared of fulfilling its role as [...] the opposition, as the PT (Worker's Party) used to do when it was in a minority…

So, even if Senator Calheiros aimed what he said at a silent opposition, what point was he trying to make? If being the voice of dissent and fulfilling the role of the opposition means having a “majority complex”, what does Calheiros want?

Some hypotheses:

- He wishes that congressmen from the “minority” would accept their salaries, but wouldn’t show up at Congress to bother him. They should stay at home instead, on paid leave, like good old “fake public servants”, appointed by secret ballot;

- He wishes that “minority” congressmen would change sides and migrate to the “majority”, sticking two fingers up at those who elected them as soon as they take up their posts.

- He wishes that the “minority” politicians could be declared ineligible, since only a “majority” would have political representation in Renan's democracy.

The blogger PlunkPlakZum [pt] raised the same issue, drawing attention to the challenges that the Brazilian democracy is currently facing:

Contudo, é fundamental considerar que o pensamento democrático brasileiro pode, por caminhos próprios, por vida própria, nem sempre estar em tudo representado pela maioria. Isso porque as relações político-partidárias necessariamente não representam por si só as idéias, ideologias e posições do povo. Tanto é que há até divergência entre partidos ou grupos de partidos. Também por isso é que se busca apoio político. Existe, sim, uma minoria que, por casualidade, pode representar a maioria sem voz que espera, do lado de fora do Senado, as deliberações dos senadores.

Portanto, antes de enxotar essa minoria de dentro do Senado como se fosse cão pequeno, examine-se se ela não faz coro com a vontade de uma maioria atenta que, do lado de fora do Senado, são brasileiros de voz e vez, ao menos em época de eleição.

We must, however, bear in mind that Brazilian democratic thinking might, on an official level, not always be represented by the majority. This is because political parties do not necessarily represent the ideas, ideologies and positions of the people; so much so, that there is even divergence amongst parties or groups of parties. This is also why people are looking for real political support. There is indeed a minority that, by default, represents a voiceless majority outside the Senate, awaiting the deliberations of the senators.

Therefore, before turfing this minority out of the Senate as if it were a stray dog, ask yourself whether it does not echo the will of a majority that is watching from the sidelines, made up of Brazilians who really matter, at least at election time.”

Nevertheless, Renan's phrase had wider implications, which were seized upon by many bloggers.

An article written by the now-independent journalist Paulo Henrique Amorim [pt], who once worked for some of the main media outlets in Brazil, made a real splash, and has been replicated in many blogs, including one devoted to Dilma Roussef, the all-powerful Brazilian Chief of Staff. Paulo Henrique Amorim sought to answer the question: ‘Why is the PSDB, according to Renan Calheiros, a “minority with a majority complex”?’ with the following argument:

Porque os tucanos – em que o peso de São Paulo é predominante – pensam que são melhores que os outros.

Porque os tucanos – e subsidiariamente sua linha auxiliar, os Demos – são mais ricos.

E terceiro, porque os Demo-tucanos controlam o PiG (*).

Isso deu a eles a sensação de maioria, especialmente porque o Presidente da República foi um metalúrgico – e é nordestino!

A percepção de que controlar o PiG (*) resolvia o problema começa a se esfacelar.
E não só porque a Internet e os blogs adquiriram a relevância que tem no Brasil.
Em boa parte por causa da falencia do PiG (*). Mas, também , porque houve uma super-utilização do poder do PiG (*).

Pig: Partido da Imprensa Golpista.

Because the PSDB – whose members are predominantly from São Paulo State – think that they are better than everyone else.

Because the PSDB – and their staff, the Devilish Demos (from the DEM party) – are richer.

And thirdly, because the Demo-PSDB control the PiG (*).

This gives them a sense of being the majority, especially since the President of Brazil is a former factory worker, and is from the Northeast of the country.

The idea that controlling the PiG (*) will solve all their problems is beginning to falter, not only because the Internet and blogs have become important in Brazil, but principally because of the PiG's (*) bankruptcy, and because its power has gone too far.

*PiG: an acronym for what Amorim has dubbed the ‘Partido da Imprensa Golpista’, meaning ‘the party of the coup-plotting mass media’.

What comes out from this blog post is that Renan's phrase had such wide appeal because it joked about “São Paulo’s white elite”, blamed for all the evils faced by the country. Amorim goes as far as to refer to PSDB politicians as the devil!

There is a long history of prejudice against São Paulo State, which was illustrated in the blog Bueno Muy Bueno [pt] after Fernando Henrique Cardoso, originally from Rio de Janeiro, ex-president of Brazil and a PSDB leader, declared that São Paulo was under-represented in Brasília:

Divergência número 2: São Paulo não está sub-representado em nada.
São Paulo está sobre-representado na Federação.
E é por isso que deveria haver uma re-pactuação da Federação brasileira.
Os presidentes da República saem de São Paulo.
Os Ministros da Fazenda saem de São Paulo.
Os Ministros da Indústria saem de São Paulo.
Os tributos são feitos de forma a aprofundar a hegemonia de São Paulo.
Os Ministros da Agricultura saem de São Paulo.
O Ministro da Educação é de São Paulo.
O Ministro da Defesa é gaúcho, mas seus parceiros políticos estratégicos? José Serra e Fernando Henrique Cardoso ? São de São Paulo.
Dos três únicos jornais brasileiros, dois são de São Paulo…Em São Paulo estão todas as revistas semanais de informação.
O Ibope é medido só em São Paulo e as redes de televisão trabalham para São Paulo.
Os dois principais partidos do país ? PSDB e PT ? são de São Paulo.
As lutas internas do PT e do PSDB conduzem a política brasileira.
O candidato do PSDB à presidência da República é de São Paulo: José Serra,na verdade, já eleito de ante-mão, como se sabe.
A elite branca do grande governador Cláudio Lembo é de São Paulo.
A elite branca de São Paulo, se pudesse, faria como os amigos do Berlusconi do Norte da Itália e mandava o resto do Brasil, do Rio (inclusive) para cima, para a África.
Em São Paulo fica o templo da elite branca, a Daslu.
O movimento Cansei é uma obra-prima da criatividade paulista.
O jornalismo esportivo brasileiro só trata do Corinthians.

Fallacy number 2: São Paulo is not under-represented in anything.
São Paulo is over-represented in the Federation.
And that is why there should be a reshuffle in the Brazilian Federation.
All the Brazilian Presidents come from São Paulo.
The Ministers of Finance come from São Paulo.
The Ministers of Industry come from São Paulo.
The tax system is designed to further the São Paulo hegemony.
The Minister of Education is from São Paulo.
The Minister of Defense is from Rio Grande do Sul State, but his strategic partners [...] are from São Paulo.
Of the three Brazilian newspapers, two are from São Paulo. São Paulo has all of the weekly news magazines.
The TV networks aim their programs at a São Paulo audience.
The two main political parties, PSDB and PT, are from São Paulo.
Brazilian sports journalists only cover the Corinthians (São Paulo football team).

This kind of resentment is strange, to say the least, because despite the fact that the State of São Paulo has the biggest GDP and population in Brazil, and the most multiethnic and ‘transbrazilian’ metropolis in the country, only a small number of Presidents of Brazil have come from São Paulo. Besides President Lula, from the State of Pernambuco, who has been in power for almost eight years, ever since direct elections were resumed in Brazil all the presidents have come from other states, including for a period of eight years when the Rio de Janeiro-born Fernando Henrique Cardoso was in power. Tancredo Neves was from Minas Gerais; José Sarney is from Maranhão; Fernando Collor de Melo is from Alagoas; Itamar Franco is from Minas Gerais. That is to say, the origin of the various Brazilian Presidents is at least sufficiently diverse. The Senate in Brasília has an even spread of members per State.

It is equally curious that the “São Paulo issue” came up in a discussion between Renan Calheiros and Tasso Jereissati, because both of them are from the Northeast of Brazil: Renan from Alagoas and Tasso from Ceará. Could it be that Tasso’s appearance (white and chubby) and dress sense (well-cut suits) made him seem like a São Paulo man?

The blog Perereca da Vizinha [pt] seems to interpret things this way:

Nem quando está fora do poder, consegue descer do salto, para buscar, enfim, aquilo que lhe faz mais falta: o apoio da sociedade civil organizada.

O autismo de que padece o partido o impede de ver que as casas parlamentares são, apenas, uma frente de batalha. Aquela em que se pode, é verdade, andar enfatiotado.

Nas baixadas, nas periferias repletas de lama e poeira, onde inexiste o mínimo para a sobrevivência digna de um cidadão.

Falta aos preparadíssimos técnicos e intelectuais tucanos a necessária humildade para ir ao encontro do povo onde o povo está.

Even when they’re not in power they can't bear to get down from their thrones and try to earn what they sorely need: the support of organized civil society.

The short-sightedness from which the party suffers prevents them from realizing that the houses of parliament are just a battle front, albeit one where you can strut around dressed up to the nines.

The poor regions, neighborhoods dirty with mud and dust, lack even the basic conditions for the citizens to live a dignified life, but the highly qualified technical staff and intellectuals from the PSDB lack the humility to go to the people.

Also, upon a closer look at the language used in the quarrel between Renan and Tasso, we can see that it was couched in essentially Northeastern terms. At the height of the exchange, Renan accused Tasso of being a “shitty colonel” and Tasso, fighting back, accused Renan of being a “third-rate bandit.” (He used the expression “cangaceiro”, meaning a specific type of bandit leader operating in the drylands of the Northeast of Brazil).

Clearly, for both, the ideal thing would be to be a GREAT COLONEL, that is, the antithesis of what they were accusing each other of being. Perhaps they both dream of being like José Sarney himself, the pivot of this whole political crisis, known as the “owner of Maranhão State” despite there being blogs such as A Velha Debaixo da Cama [pt] dedicated to quashing this idea:

Como tenho dito aqui, os maranhenses estão carecas de saber do que eles são capazes, afinal, eles se dizem donos do Maranhão, não é? Mas o povo não aceita mais esse título, pelo menos os que conheço e escuto.

As I've been saying here, the people of Maranhão know full well what they are capable of; after all, they’re claiming to be the owners of Maranhão, aren’t they? But the people no longer accept this title, or at least no-one I know of does.

“Being a minority” in Senator Renan Calheiros’ view, it seems, more than being someone from São Paulo State, was used to mean someone who wants to imagine a Senate and a Brazil beyond the corruption that is devastating the Brazilian Senate at present. Any pretension of being “better than the others” greatly bothers Renan Calheiros because, as a representative of the politicians who have escaped punishment for their crimes by having their colleagues keep their dirty secrets, the ideal situation would be for everyone to be the same; that is, corrupt like the majority.

Will it End Up in Pizza? A local slang for "will it go anywhere?" by Sandra Carvalho

Will it End Up in Pizza? Local slang for "will it go anywhere?" by Sandra Carvalho

It’s no secret that prejudices, whether based on class, appearance or nationality, are always at the service of hidden interests. Some prejudiced verbal attacks find an echo amongst the population because they simplify and generalize important and complex issues. It is always easier to have a good laugh than to have to analyze a situation in detail and unveil its true meaning. Perhaps if the Brazilian electorate learned how to vote with their heads and not with emotion, often contaminated with prejudice, we would not have such a decadent Senate and such a discredited political class.

This article was edited by Diego Casaes and proofread by Maisie Fitzpatrick.

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