On August 12, Brazil’s largest news program, Jornal Nacional, interviewed presidential candidate Eduardo Campos. Of his 15 minutes replying to questions, he spent at least 10 of them touting the presence of his family in the state apparatus. He filled the remaining time with banalities such as “we can’t give Brazil up.” The following morning, Campos’s private jet crashed in Santos, a coastal city in the state of Sao Paulo, killing the candidate, his advisers and the two pilots.
Due to the crash’s violence, it took a week to transport Campos’s remains back to Recife, Pernambuco, the state he governed for eight years. His funeral was televised as an all-day Sunday spectacle. His pitiful performance in Tuesday’s interview was all but forgotten, his malformed thoughts elevated to slogans. “We can’t give Brazil up!” is shared and exploited as a catchphrase, while Recife’s people take the streets to sing “Eduardo/warrior/of the Brazilian people!” during the funeral.
Perhaps the exploitation of a famous politician’s death by the army of individuals who salivate for a piece of his memory is natural. Campos has been described as a “promising leadership,” a “negotiator,” a “statesman” who “transcended party lines.” All of these are lies. And that’s why it’s even more necessary to set the record straight on what Campos was and represented. He was an old school politician, inserted in the old system by the old elite, who protected our old crony capitalism; a personalistic politician firmly entrenched in the old habits of the Brazilian northeast’s elites.
Powerful institutions tend to perpetuate themselves and fluster attempts by outsiders to enact change. But Eduardo Campos wasn’t an outsider. He lived his life comfortably positioned inside in the power ranks, where he was placed by his grandfather, former Pernambuco governor Miguel Arraes. Campos wasn’t trying to subvert structures, but to put them to his service.
The state government employs “at least a dozen” of his or his wife’s relatives. Having supported the allied base of the federal government for many years, Campos successfully campaigned for the appointment of his mother to the Federal Court of Accounts and placed two of his relatives in the state Court of Accounts, a branch of government responsible for overseeing his own actions. Recife’s mayor is one of his trusted men, an unknown before the election, but leveraged by Campos’s name. Eduardo Campos justified the omnipresence of his relatives in the state as a result of their “abilities.” A prodigious family indeed.
Eduardo Campos has been described by the international press as “amicable” to markets and the Sao Paulo stock exchange reacted poorly to his death. That’s unsurprising: Tax exemptions and direct subsidies signs are displayed in front of virtually every industrial plant in Pernambuco. The Pernambuco Military Police, under the direct control of Eduardo Campos, repeatedly acted to protect the interests of the construction companies from the Novo Recife project — consisting of the privatization of very well located land in the Pernambuco capital to benefit contractors — beating up protesters and, later on, stating they wanted to talk. Marina Silva, his vice-presidential candidate, then hypocritically said she was against police violence and that several people in the movement against Novo Recife were members of her party.
On other occasions, Campos had no problem in giving building companies the land they demanded, such as when they wanted to build Riomar Mall over a swamp area, displacing hundreds of people from their stilt houses. These people had similar fates to the thousands of families who were expropriated and forcefully evicted for the construction of the Arena Pernambuco for the World Cup. It’s not by chance that construction companies, formerly lukewarm toward Campos’s party, made generous donations this year to the Socialist Party of Brazil. And it’s not by chance that large banks, industries and agribusiness companies lamented the loss of such a trustworthy ally.
His mellifluous narrative of favoring the poor hid a policy of control, suppression and infiltration of social movements. Campos’s political choices were always obfuscated by the convenient lie of “efficiency” in public management. In a recent interview, he said that abortion should not be legalized, reaffirmed his support for the war on drugs, recycled the tired idea that crack cocaine is a vicious drug that enslaves people, and stated he wanted to put “drug dealers” behind bars.
The more than 100,000 people who cry on streets because Eduardo Campos is dead remember only his most cynical side: The “modern” politician, who wanted to rid the country of “cronyism” and “favoring,” someone who was willing to “build alliances,” promote “sustainable growth,” “think about the poor,” and to defend “more humane politics.”
Someone like that really would have a lot of problems in the political system. Eduardo Campos didn’t have many.
He died, but his ideals live on — unfortunately.