By Paulo Moreira Leite (English translation by Rebel Girl)
PauloMoreiraLeite.com (em português)
September 2, 2014
At 75, Leonardo Boff has the rare biography of religious leader, respected intellectual and activist in the causes of the people. In 1959, at 24, he entered the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans. With a degree in theology and philosophy from the University of Munich, Germany, he was a pioneer in the development of liberation theology, which sought to combine outrage in the face of poverty and exclusion in Latin America with Christian faith. In 1985, when the Vatican was dominated by conservative ideas, Boff was sentenced to a year of "obsequious silence" by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Holy Office that in the late Middle Ages organized the courts of the Inquisition.
Although he managed to resume some of his activities, aided by formidable pressure and support, when he was threatened with further punishment in 1992, Boff decided to promote himself to lay status. The following year he was approved, through a bid, for the chair of Philosophy of Religion, Ethics and Ecology at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, UERJ. Author of over 60 books on Theology, Anthropology, Spirituality and Mysticism, among other subjects, today Boff also gives lectures for students, for the Movimento Sem-Terra ["Landless Movement"] and Church communities. Last week, Leonardo Boff gave the following interview to Brazil 247:
QUESTION: You have contact with a great variety of people in Brazil. I would like you to tell me how these citizens view the 2014 elections. Are there major changes relative to 2010, 2006, 2002?
LEONARDO BOFF: There's general malaise in the world as Freud noted in the 1930s. Everyone has a feeling that the world can't go on as it is. There have to be changes. It's an effect of the crisis of our civilization that no longer has the proper resources to cope with its own internal crisis. Einstein put it well: "The thinking that created the crisis can't be the same one that gets us out of it." We should think differently and act differently. In Brazil, the June 2013 demonstrations basically meant that "we no longer want a Brazil of business arrangements and shady deals. We want a Brazil of citizens who participate." There is also a new factor -- the public policies of the PT [Partido dos Trabalhadores - Workers' Party] that brought 36 million out of poverty were incorporated as a natural thing, a right of citizenship. Now, citizens aren't just hungry for bread, housing, electric lights. They have other hungers: for education, culture, decent transportation, affordable health care, leisure. The lack of such things is causing widespread dissatisfaction that will make the 2014 election different from the previous ones and harder for the PT. But among the parties that can make changes along the lines of the people I only see the PT, since it has consolidated what it's doing and is moving forward and expanding the new changes to meet the demands on the street. Dilma is still the best one for the Brazilian people.
BOFF: The facts speak for themselves. Until today no government has made public policies that focused on the marginalized people, the invisible ones deemed to be spent fuel and economic zeros. Lula and Dilma introduced republican policies, that is, they focus on the vast majority. It's important to solidify these advances: Bolsa Familia ["family social welfare"], Luz para todos ["light for all"], Minha casa minha vida ["my house, my life"], payroll loans, more technical schools and more universities, and fixing salaries at 70% of inflation, decreasing social inequality by 17%. Those who did this successfully should be able to continue to do so in a deeper and more comprehensive manner. Dilma is still the best option for this messianic task.
QUESTION: You knew Marina Silva in Acre, where she was your student. You also supported her 2014 campaign as presidential candidate for the PSB [Partido Socialista Brasileiro - Brazilian Socialist Party]. What changed?
BOFF: First, she changed religion. From a liberation Christianity linked to the forest peoples and the poor, she moved to a pietistic, fundamentalist Christianity that has tossed away strong engagement and is satisfied with prayer and literal interpretations of the Bible. That changed Marina into a fundamentalist with a mentality like some Muslim leaders -- not reading God's will in history and in the people but in the pages of the Bible written 3-4 thousand years ago. This has hardened her mind and made her naive in the face of political reality. Now, as a candidate for the PSB, she represents a return to old and regressive politics, linked to the banks and the financial system. Her sustainability arguments have become just rhetoric. She hasn't found the essence of true ecology: a new relationship with the Earth and nature -- respecting their rights and organizing a mode of production that respects natural rhythms. For me, she's a sort of Jânio [Jânio Quadros] in a skirt.
QUESTION: Marina participated in the people's struggle against the entrepreneurs and ranchers who tried to destroy the Amazon. She was also at the side of Chico Mendes until his assassination in 1988. How is it that today she can say that Chico Mendes was part of the same elite that one of the heiresses of the largest private bank in the country belongs to, for example?
BOFF: This view of Marina's shows how theoretically weak she is and reveals how she has been contaminated by her allies and advisers, all neoliberals and submissive to market logic which isn't cooperative at all but strictly competitive. She isn't building on the construction site of the people, of the poor and marginalized, but is carrying bricks, cement and water to the building site of the affluent, conservative elites of our country.
QUESTION: How might this dogmatic fundamentalist religious view affect the stance of a person who intends to rule a country where a complex and diverse society like the Brazilian one exists?
BOFF: The consequences are bad. She will live permanently in a crisis of conscience between the logic of reality and religious logic, based on an old-fashioned, erroneous and unhistorical interpretation of the Bible. The Bible isn't a problem-solving amulet, but a source of inspiration for us to find solutions appropriate for the present time. Fundamentalists aren't fit to govern because they continuously create conflict. The ruler should be someone who can synthesize, who knows the conflicts and different positions and has the ability to lead to some win-win convergence. Marina doesn't have that ability. If she wins, let's hope she doesn't have the same political fate as Collor de Mello.
QUESTION: In the last presidential debate, Marina refused to reveal who paid for lectures that earned her more than R$50,000 [approximately US $22,000] per month. She said it was a requirement of the clients. How do you analyze that?
BOFF: I think that, as a citizen and ecological activist, she can and should accept lectures on ecology topics because the ecological illiteracy is great, especially among businessmen. I thought the question to her wasn't relevant because it invades the private sphere improperly. It would have been a different thing if she, as a candidate, were charging for her talks. There, a tacit commitment to the company that invited her could arise, creating a political problem because the company could use this fact to get illegal advantages.
QUESTION: In Brazil today, unemployment is low. Wages are rising more than inflation. Even so, there is great pessimism. How come?
BOFF: Much of the pessimism is induced by those who want at all costs and by any means to remove the PT from power. Here it's a fierce class struggle. Our elites, that Darcy Riberiro considered the most reactionary in the world and of which Ermirio Antonio de Morais often said that "the elites only think about themselves", along with the mainstream media have promoted this pessimism. But the people down there know that their life has improved and hope it will improve even more. They see in the PT proof that this feasible dream can come true. Basically, the elites think differently -- that place there in the Planalto is ours and not the workers'. Lula might be in the Planalto but as a servant and janitor. What happened is that the most peaceful and democratic revolution in our history took place -- a different power player, someone who had survived great tribulation, came there and took the country in a different direction towards the people and social inclusion -- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, followed by Dilma Rousseff.
QUESTION: One common explanation for Aécio Neves' difficulties is the historical failure of the PSDB [Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira -- Brazilian Social Democracy Party] to offer a prospect of improvement for the majority of the population. That's why its candidate seems to be heading for a fourth defeat in four presidential elections. Do you agree?
BOFF: The PSDB doesn't have a popular base nor is it organically linked to the social movements. It was born with the mentality of European social democracy, made up largely by the middle class. The problem here is how to solve the atavistic problems of the people -- their hunger, their lack of schools, health care and housing. The PSDB didn't put that at the center of its agenda, but economic development, aligning itself with the current of speculative and ferocious capitalist macroeconomics. So there's a natural affinity between that party and those who are "well-off in society." It happens that the challenge is to tend to those who are "not well-off." They didn't do that very much. They don't even know how to do it because it requires a Paulo Freire type of pedagogy in which the poor enter as agents to overcome their poverty.
QUESTION: How do you evaluate the role of the media in 2014?
BOFF: I believe the mainstream media, whether newspapers, radio or television, has clearly showed its class nature. Many of these media were given (we forget that they aren't owners, but concessionaires) to a few affluent families. They use their power to shape Brazilians' minds. TV Globo shapes Brazilians' minds along the lines of the prevailing capitalist and consumerist system more than all the schools and universities together. This is anti-democratic and not at the level of other more civilized countries, a shame. By what right can the Marinho family stake this claim? In fact, today, with the weak opposition, they constitute the major opposition to the PT government. The PT's mistake was not building an alternative media to air opinions and offer an alternative interpretation of reality to the people. The most manipulative and even deceitful opinion magazine in this country is undoubtedly VEJA.