Brazilian Secessionism: Sao Paulo Against the Northeast

After the reelection of Workers’ Party Dilma Rousseff, we see the same pattern that has repeated itself since 2006: Several manifestations, many of them offensive or xenophobic, from people in the Southeast and South of Brazil, especially in Sao Paulo, against people from the poorer Northeast, who voted massively in favor of the incumbent.

And since the presidential election was decided on a very slight margin, and considering too that the Sao Paulo electorate cast their votes mostly for opposition candidate Aecio Neves, secessionist voices have gained a little more momentum.

However, Sao Paulo secessionism is not tied specifically to the 12 years that the Workers’ Party has been in power. It is an older idea, upheld for various reasons and pretexts, from the Northeast migration to the taxes from Sao Paulo that are redistributed to other Brazilian states. Despite being one of the richest states in the nation, the argument goes that Sao Paulo is being held back by being part of Brazil.

There is, though, a far lesser known secessionist movement: the Independent Northeast Movement, which stands in sharp contrast to the arguments offered by their Sao Paulo counterparts. In the article “Neocolonialismo Interno Brasileiro e a Questao Nordestina” (“Brazilian Internal Neocolonialism and the Northeast Issue”), Jacques Ribemboim shows that the economical exploitation of Sao Paulo is a myth. Ribemboim argues that the logic of Brazilian federation is the logic of internal neocolonialism:

“In the current scenario, the Southeast imports labor and raw materials under depressed prices (cheaper) and export to the Northeast manufactured products under high and protected prices. That way, the Northeasterner is compelled to pay more for an automobile or any other consumption item in the internal market as opposed to a free choice in the world market. In other words, she pays an additional labor value to the Paulista to prop up the Sao Paulo industry.”

This Northeastern dependence on the Southeast has occurred because of a historical process in which the central government, in its developmentalist hysteria, has come to protect the existing national industry against any kind of competition. The economy is closed off to the benefit of an industry that has been elected to represent the whole country of Brazil, even though it is actually concentrated mostly in a small swath of the Southeast. The national manufacturing has always been mainly Sao Paulo manufacturing.

It would make sense, for instance, that the Amazonian states should engage in trade with the Andean countries, given their geographical proximity, but that is not possible because according to Brasilia, the Mercosur is sacred.

Thus, the Northeast and the Amazon have been harmed by subsidies in favor of Sao Paulo. These poorer regions have had to buy more expensive products to finance the supposed public good of national development which, in fact, amounts to corporate welfare to the Southeast industry.

Sao Paulo secessionism sweeps under the rug subsidies and protectionism that Northeast secessionism denounces.

Translated by Erick Vasconcelos.

Translations of this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory