The King of the Northeast Is Dead

Eduardo Campos's death has left Brazil's presidential election up for grabs and the country's poorest region without a clear champion. 

When Eduardo Campos died in the fiery wreck of a tiny airplane on Aug. 13, Brazil lost a rising young political star and one of three candidates in a tightly contested Oct. 5 presidential election. A wife lost a husband and five children lost a father. Many people lost a colleague, mentor, and friend. And the people of Brazil's northeast lost one of their most promising political voices in a decade.

Campos, 49, led the PSB, Brazil's Socialist Party. In recent polls, he trailed in third place in the presidential election, behind the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, and her more conservative challenger, Aécio Neves. He died, along with six others, including photographers and press managers, when their small campaign plane crashed in the drizzle of the São Paulo winter. After the plane smashed into the orange, clay-tiled roofs of the port city of Santos, it left behind plumes of smoke and burning questions about Brazil's political future.

No one wants to think of next steps in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy; the other presidential candidates suspended their campaigns for several days in mourning for Campos. But with the Oct. 5 ballot looming, electioneering will soon begin again.

In the northeast, where Brazil was founded and where the country's 17th-century sugar industry boomed, many are mourning a promising young leader. The region, particularly the state of Bahia, has strong African roots and is famous for its distinct culture. It is also unmistakably poor. While the northeast represents 28 percent of the country's population, it only accounts for 14 percent of GDP. The region also features staggering illiteracy rates: One in five adults are illiterate, double the national rate.

Voting is mandatory in Brazil, giving power to the poor and socially marginalized; these disadvantaged voters may determine the future in what is now a tightening race.

For many people in the northeast, Campos represented the best option for the future: one in which social welfare policies were balanced with business development. Campos was a native son from an old northeastern political family and had promised to prioritize the region's development if elected. He had publicly criticized Rousseff's government, saying in May, "The current government was elected mainly with northeastern votes and it doesn't even look at us."

Some believe that in the vacuum left by Campos, his supporters will throw their votes behind the current president, Rousseff, whose party the northeast has supported since 2002. In polling earlier this month, the party received 51 percent of support in the region. Others believe his absence will leave more business-minded votes to Neves, Rousseff's main rival.

Those calculations may all change, though, now that the PSB, Campos's party, has agreed to allow his vice-presidential candidate, Marina Silva, to run in his place. Silva's entry could divide the vote, drawing away support from Rousseff and forcing the election to a runoff between the two leading candidates.

Polls released since Silva took the PSB's nomination show an even more intriguing result: Silva winning it all. Datafolha published results of a survey of nearly 3,000 Brazilians in the immediate aftermath of Campos's death -- even before Silva was selected to carry forward the PSB ticket. The news is rocking Brazil: According to Datafolha's survey, Rousseff would take 36 percent of the Oct. 5 vote, while Silva would win 21 percent, and Neves 20 percent.

The poll found that in the case of a second-round runoff between Silva and Rousseff, Silva would win with 47 percent of the vote to Rousseff's 43 percent. Prior to Campos's death, the PSB was a third-party ticket, winning just 9 percent of the vote in most polls. Silva's own base of support, combined with the PSB's base, could combine to make her a leading candidate.

Of course, this is only one poll -- and one conducted in the wake of tragic events -- but it makes clear the extent to which Campos's death has shaken the electoral landscape.

Silva is the daughter of a rubber-tapper in the Amazon and is of Afro-Brazilian and Portuguese descent. She paid her way through school by working as a maid. A longtime environmentalist, she ran as the Green Party's presidential candidate in 2010 and garnered an impressive 19 percent of the vote. She is also a member of the evangelical church, as are almost a quarter of Brazilians and she could potentially grab chunks of that important bloc.

The latest polls indicate that she may have picked up votes from dissatisfied or undecided voters. The number of voters who had previously indicated they would cast a "null" vote -- actively choosing none of the candidates -- or a "white" vote, a vote of no preference, dropped from 13 percent to 8 percent. The number of undecided voters fell from 14 percent to 9 percent.

Like many young people, Eudes Raony, a professor at the Federal Institute of Paraíba, had planned to vote for Campos simply due to his alliance with Silva. "I liked Silva for her life history, for her non-negotiable standards, and principally in regard to environmental and urban issues," Raony says. "Her thinking is the most contemporary and progressive of all the candidates. She is the only one that I trust could do real reform in our political system."

* * *

The northeastern region spans the gap between the Amazon and the south of the country, where most Brazilians live. The northeast's major cities include Fortaleza, Recife, and Salvador, but on the whole, the region is more sparsely populated than the southeast, which is anchored by the sprawl of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. And yet more than 54 million people make their home in the nine states of the northeast region.

The northeast is perhaps best known for its climate, where a merciless heat bakes the region during the summer months, making its turquoise waters all the more appealing, but also exacerbating a century-long drought in the interior, where 22 million live, and where farmers and ranchers have suffered dramatically.

Since the founding of the country in 1822, the northeast has held many of the cards of Brazil's future up its sleeves.

Campos hailed from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, where his grandfather was once governor. Trained as an economist, Campos also became governor of the state in 2006. According to Adriano Oliveira, a professor of politics at the Federal University of Pernambuco, "Campos's government had three characteristics: the use of modern tools of development, work ethic, and thirdly, Eduardismo, that is, the charisma with which he was capable -- is capable -- of influencing the voters."

Although popular among Pernambucanos -- he was reelected in 2010 with nearly 83 percent of the vote ­-- his term as governor was not without controversy. An ongoing project to develop twelve 40-floor skyscrapers along a stretch of coastal public space near the center of Recife, for example, has drawn criticism from locals who feel the plan is heavy-handed and would only benefit the rich.

But criticism softened when, ahead of the campaign season, Campos aligned himself with Silva, the country's premier environmentalist. The two offered a mixed ticket of unlikely allies, and in this way presented perhaps the most moderate option to Brazilian voters, by blending federal social assistance programs with pro-business policies.

Silva was originally scheduled to take the same flight as Campos, but at the last minute changed her plans.

Tens of thousands of Brazilians attended Campos's funeral in Recife on Sunday, Aug. 17. Silva was among them. She stood beside his family at his casket, paying her respects to the fallen leader. The day before, news broke that the PSB had signed an agreement with Silva to run in Campos's place, but out of respect for Campos, the party will only make the official announcement on Aug. 20.

The PSB now will choose the vice-presidential candidate. Beto Albuquerque, a PSB Senate candidate from the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is deemed the most probable choice. That decision is also expected to be announced Aug. 20. The decision to let Silva run was not necessarily obvious, as the PSB could have preferred a party faithful, though Silva appeared to offer the most natural path forward.

Neves, the former governor of Minas Gerais state and the candidate of the Social Democrat Party (PSDB), has focused his campaign on "small government," pro-business policies. Rousseff and her Workers' Party (PT), on the other hand, promise to continue the path of her leftist predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, pushing forward social welfare programs. Campos was originally a PT member before splitting to lead the PSB. Reports out on Friday show that the PT is now scrambling to firm up alliances with friendly PSB leaders.

* * *

If Campos's death determines the outcome of the race, it will not be the first time a politician from the northeast has shaken Brazilian politics. In 1930, João Pessoa, then governor of the northeastern state of Paraíba, was assassinated shortly after he refused to support his party's national candidate, Júlio Prestes, in the presidential election. Prestes won the election, but was never able to take office. The assassination turned Pessoa into a martyr, and helped spark the Revolution of 1930, a clash that ruptured the long-standing political alliance system in Brazil. In the wake of the uprising, Getúlio Vargas became president -- and the country's first dictator. He ruled for 15 uninterrupted years.

More recently, the region played a crucial role in electing Lula, the most influential president Brazil has had in half a century. A native of the northeast, he won the presidency in 2002 with ease, his Workers' Party sweeping the country on a platform of poverty-reduction policies. In 2006, facing stiffer competition from the governor of São Paulo state, Lula won reelection only thanks to the northeastern region, where anti-poverty policies proved wildly popular. Many in the south, however, resented the Lula's government's wealth transfer policies. The divide between the PT and PSDB grew.

Prior to the 2006 election, the cover of the right-leaning news magazine Veja showed a young woman with a caption describing her as "northeastern, 27 years old, high school education, 450 reais per month." The headline read: "She Could Decide the Election." The magazine was criticized for its perceived prejudice and condescension toward northeasterners, but it was also right: The northeast proved critical in winning Lula re-election.

"It was really amazing when Lula won his second term," said Raissa Monteiro, a resident of João Pessoa, a coastal city in the northeastern state of Paraíba. "You could see exactly how divided the country was. The top half, the north and northeast, voted Lula. The rest was blue."

That map, red on top, blue on bottom, has not changed much over the last 10 years.

It was the northeast that likewise swept Rousseff into office in 2010. The map following that election showed the same diagonal line dividing the country. A clear rift was visible between the north and the south -- as stark as the red-blue electoral map of present-day United States.

Campos presented an opportunity to break that polarization, to change that map, for some red states to turn a new color, releasing the pressure in the stalemate between the PT and PSDB parties.

Days before Campos's death, polls showed that 12 percent of northeastern voters favored Campos, higher than his 9 percent support nationally. Now voters will reassess. Silva is viewed as the champion of the country's discontent, as manifested in protests last summer. Those protests were just as widespread in the northeast as in the rest of the country. Her religious background may bolster her support, as well. In 2010, many perceived Silva as the "candidate of God." The evangelical church is rapidly growing in Pernambuco.

Most of Campos's support came from Pernambuco and he presented himself as the modern nordestino, the man to get the northeast up to speed, not only with the continuation of PT federal assistance programs, such as the popular financial aid package known as Bolsa Familia -- or family allowance, which benefits 36 million Brazilians -- but also with a greater focus on business development. He seems to have succeeded in that mission: Pernambuco's GDP growth rate is now among the fastest in Brazil.

"He represented a young energy not just for Pernambuco but for all of Brazil," said Oliveira. "Now, he will become a myth, a legend, as one of the greatest politicians in the history of Pernambuco and Brazil."

With Silva now carrying his torch, the power of the northeast may yet again determine it all.




Damn Yanquis

Why is President Obama still allowing covert operations in Cuba? It's just one failed disaster after another.

The idea of "democracy promotion" sells well in Washington -- it's practically untouchable. But yet another investigation into the covert action programs targeted against Cuba, published on Aug. 4 by the Associated Press, shows in vivid detail how amateur and feckless they are. Despite public statements about seeking a "new beginning" with Havana, U.S. President Barack Obama has continued -- even ramped up -- the clandestine activities on the island started by his predecessor, bringing the total resources wasted on the Cuba programs to well above a couple of hundred million dollars.

The effort has also cost us valuable prestige on the island and throughout Latin America, and Fidel Castro must have cracked a smile at it all as he celebrated his 88th birthday last week. It's time to stop these absurd programs and implement policies that will promote democracy, as they have in many countries.

The operations undertaken by former President George W. Bush and Obama have been both clandestine and covert, according to AP reports and the investigations the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) conducted when I was on its staff in 2010 to 2011. In fact, the State Department and USAID obsessively concealed the U.S. hand behind them, keeping that information from most of the people involved. Rather than "promoting democracy," their focus has been on regime change, and their objective has been to persuade Cubans to confront the Castro government to achieve it -- as if we knew better how they should build their future. This approach has created entrepreneurial dissidents eager for cash disbursements, and undercut the legitimate activists who see it as merely a continuation of a failed policy of embargoes, diplomatic isolation, and covert actions for the past five decades.

This new generation of covert operators does not hail from intelligence agencies, and they are not subject to the scrutiny imposed on real spooks. Nor do congressional oversight committees receive briefings of these operations necessary for appropriate oversight. When I was a senior advisor to SFRC chairman Sen. John Kerry, the State Department and USAID told us during a meeting that was supposed to be a briefing that neither we (nor the chairman) were cleared to know what they were doing in Cuba. "People would die" was their excuse. The operations are planned, executed, and self-evaluated by the State Department, USAID, and their "partners" -- the corporations and government-subsidized NGOs receiving millions of taxpayer dollars a year.

In response to an AP report about the programs in April, Obama spokesmen claimed that they were not secret but merely "discreet," and not intended to incite political action in Cuba. (USAID defended itself with a list of eight facts about the program.) The information that inside sources have detailed for the AP and to the SFRC, however, make a mockery of such statements. USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who's been in a Cuban hospital-prison for four years, was deploying sensitive government-controlled technology to create a secret communications system. He told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer that his task was to set it up and "test to see if it works," apparently for future unspecified political operations. The administration claims still that Gross was merely helping the Jewish community across Cuba get Internet access, but Gross's remark to Blitzer and comments he's made to visitors in prison indicate that expanding Internet access was essentially an afterthought. Neither the supposed Jewish beneficiaries of his program, nor the "mules" -- as USAID called them in its emails -- smuggling gear to him in Cuba were aware of his real objective.

The AP revealed that the program, called Project ZunZuneo, linked unwitting Cubans -- unaware of the U.S. funding and objectives -- through cellphone networks with the purpose of encouraging them to engage in flash-mob protests and other anti-regime activities to "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society," according to project documents. Other operations adopted a health care cover -- such as AIDS prevention -- to organize unsuspecting Cubans to undertake politically motivated activities. The White House spokesman who responded to the AP report in April apparently was never briefed on these operations.

More revelations are forthcoming, as people associated with the programs share their stories with news outlets. On the SFRC staff, we heard from professionals from USAID and the State Department -- privately, out of a fear of retribution -- about concerns over their agencies' embrace of the clandestine operations. Their stories were serious enough that Kerry, already leery of the initiatives that had resulted in Gross's arrest, put a hold on the programs for some months, allowing them to resume only after receiving a promise that they'd received a rigorous review. The State Department reneged on the promise, and the leaks have slowly been coming. Among the stories that whistleblowers shared confidentially with us back in 2010 were USAID's false-flag operations in Central America -- recently reported by the AP based on its own sources -- to recruit individuals, all unaware of the U.S. funding and regime-change objectives, to travel to Cuba to teach their counterparts how to organize politically. They were taught how to communicate through code and pass police interrogation.

We also learned from insiders that, under the rubric of "democracy promotion," some of USAID's "partners" were simply paying people $50 cash -- a lot of money in Cuba -- to join anti-government protests, without knowing they were funded by the U.S. government. Others were distributing "informational products," including attacks on the Cuban Catholic Church, that were inconsistent with U.S. policy and values. And in 2011, a USAID grantee offered congressional staff bottles of fancy rum after a session boasting about how, in attempting to influence host governments' policies toward Cuba, he coordinated protests in Europe using U.S. tax dollars (without, incidentally, the knowledge of U.S. embassies in those countries).

The spy-vs.-spy tenor multiplies the harm that the operations represent to all involved. The secrecy of Gross's activity and his encrypted communications systems looked like an intelligence operation, making his defense many times harder and his Cuban prison term longer. Cash subsidies for political activities undermine participants' credibility and subject them to more hostile government treatment. Governments friendly to Washington feel betrayed when they are targeted by the political influence operations afoot in their capitals. 

It's hard to judge how the Cuban people really feel about all this. According to sources within the human rights community, those who take our cash love it, and those who don't, don't. But most Cubans aren't as easily manipulated as our policy assumes they are, and a large number of them have got to resent that Cuban counterintelligence scores win after win against Washington. Cuban TV has shown videos, including a series that ran from March to April of 2011, of the State Department and USAID's agents doing their work, with voiceover commentary mocking the yanquis' arrogance in assuming they were undetected.

Cubans indeed want change, but it's clearer than ever that they want it to be evolutionary -- as seems to be happening now -- rather than revolutionary, destabilizing, and destructive. Raúl Castro's cautious opening of the economy has been tortuous, but paring back state enterprises and allowing space for certain private business is indeed changing Cubans' relationship with the government in a way that they welcome. Many Cubans obviously wish they had the wealth of their brothers in Miami, but much of the rhetoric coming out of Miami for decades has also made them risk-averse. The regime-change programs, like the 60-year trade embargo, have not only failed to achieve their stated purposes; their approach -- heating the pressure-cooker to the point of exploding -- does not enjoy support beyond those directly benefiting from them.

If Obama wants to argue that covert operations to effect change in Cuba will work and are in the U.S. national interest, then he should make that case. And he should run the programs under a presidential finding -- as required by law -- and through the intelligence community, rather than policy agencies and their profit-making partners. 

But democratic transitions in many countries show that there are vastly more effective ways of facilitating change -- through trade, tourism, and an array of social and cultural interactions. Before President George W. Bush shut them down in favor of his "Initiative for a New Cuba" in 2002 and his measures "hastening the end of the Cuban dictatorship" in 2004, the United States did a lot in Cuba that arguably helped people feel a sense of ownership of their future. Book exchanges, cultural and academic outreach, and visitor programs showed Cubans that we are more than an imperial ogre pushing just one, self-serving vision of their future. People-to-people contacts are a lot more effective than any covert action at getting information and resources to Cubans seeking a better life. 

If President Obama's goal is to help Cubans have a better future, then he should stop the silliness, pull back the spies, get the U.S. government out of the way, and let the American people -- in business, academia, culture, even tourists -- take the lead.