Among the opponents of Brazil’s embattled president, Dilma Rousseff, who is about to be driven from office, is an interest group thought to have lost political power over a century ago: slavers. The other day, an article in The New York Times documenting the many crimes of the politicians involved in the impeachment process said this about Beto Mansur, a congressman vocal in his opposition to Dilma’s Workers’ Party (in Portuguese, Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT): He is “charged with keeping 46 workers at his soybean farms in Goiás State in conditions so deplorable that investigators say the laborers were treated like modern-day slaves.”
Slavery, of course, isn’t the main axis of conflict between the PT government and its opponents. Others—including Mark Weisbrot, Glenn Greenwald, David Miranda, Andrew Fishman, Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Ben Norton, and Dave Zirin—have documented the many different class and status interests that have allied, using the cudgel of “anti-corruption,” to both deflect away from their own venality and begin the rollback of the mildly redistributionist policies of the PT, which has governed Brazil since 2003. When slavery is mentioned, it is usually as legacy. Brazil imported more enslaved Africans than any other American nation, and was the last country in the hemisphere to abolish the institution, in 1888. As is the case of nations historically founded on settler colonialism and slavery, the PT’s federal economic policy directed at alleviating poverty and lessening inequality is racialized. This was true in 1964, when an earlier mildly reformist government was overthrown in a coup (as my NYU colleague Barbara Weinstein writes in her wonderful new book, The Color of Modernity: São Paolo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil). And it is true today, 56 years later.