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Political Science

The “h” of Bahianity

Contrary to common sense, Antonio Carlos Magalhães would represent the elite's conservative zeal to modernize the State of Bahia

Answer quickly: when you see the senator from the state of Bahia, Antonio Carlos Magalhães (ACM) vociferating on the senate dais and you remember the story Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon (all right, it could well be the TV soap opera), by the writer Jorge Amado, which character would appear to better represent the politician nicknamed for his adversaries as “Malicious Little Tony”: the fearsome colonel Ramiro Bastos, autocrat of the cocoa plantations, or Mundinho Falcão, the highly successful political rival from the Itabuna quartermaster, the engineer who has just brought modernity and progress to the region” One can for sure guess that you would choose the common sense answer, however, you would be wrong – according to the political scientist Paulo Fábio Dantas Neto, from the Federal University of Bahia. “It’s political sterility to treat ‘Carlism’ (followers of ACM) as phantasmagoric persistence of Colonelism when speaking of a personality who had always been on the opposite side of the colonel, this is to say, as the incarnation of the State that, more and more, held the cards and subordinated, to its designs, traditional oligarchic descendents.” Dantas is the author of the doctorate thesis (defended in 2005 and now published in book form by Editora UFMG) entitled Tradição, autocracia e carisma: a política de ACM na modernização da Bahia, [Tradition, autocracy and charisma: the ACM policy for the modernization of Bahia] supervised by professor Werneck Vianna.

For sure, the methods used by ACM can even remind the ones of Ramiro Bastos, but the intention, amazingly, was really to be a Mundinho Falcão, even if, at the beginning, controlled by the elite. “The so-called Carlism was never a mere work of political talent or of the personal appetite for power by ACM, but the political expression of interests, values and attitudes of the national elites and the elites from Bahia who were wagering on authoritarian pluralism suppression in order to siege, from above, a modernization that would preserve their fingers and rings”, observes the researcher in his study. Shortly afterwards, a spokesman for vindications, as noted researcher Dantas, endogens, of the local elite, who had demanded a mix of continuity and changes, or that is to say, simultaneous commitments with the national modernizing agendas of 1930 and 1964 and with regional political modulations of liberalism and populism. “It would be this four dimensional picture that ACM and his group were going to embody, therein bringing together autocracy and tradition, as the third explicative element of his success, the charisma of the dynamic administrator and the despotic politician”, the researcher evaluates.

Therefore, observes the researcher, do not be fooled again into using common sense: it would not be the victory of the PT candidate Jacques Wagner for the governorship of Bahia that would represent the “dismounting of Carlism”, as some had dreamed. The roots of the “ACM enigma” do not lie with the irascible senator, but in another direction, before him: the “Bahia enigma”, the designation given by the Bahia elite on the incapacity of the State to modernize and industrialize, emphasized by a comparison with the success of neighboring states, especially that of Pernambuco. The despondency of this elite arising from what they had believed to be an -industrial retrogression within Bahia-, considering that, during the last century the state had been able to count upon an industry of diversified transformation, but between the decades of the 1940s and 1950s there was notable stagnation. “The Revolution of the 30’s brought perverse logic to Bahia: the previous power had privileged regional interests, such as coffee and cattle raising of Minas Gerais, but had not excluded the mercantile middle class from the benefits of economic policy”, analyzed Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Magalhães, from UFBA, in his book entitled, Formação e crise da hegemonia burguesa na Bahia [Formation and crisis of the hegemonic middle class in Bahia.

In his opinion, from the 1930’s on there began the privileging of branches and activities that were out of the universe of bourgeois Bahia, who weakened in the face of southern factions and the cocoa plantation owners, whose power would be shaken with the founding of the Bahia Cocoa Institute, which removed the commercialization of the cocoa from local hands and placed it in the hands of the state. “The financing and mercantile bourgeois then became aware of the process of capital concentration”, notes Magalhães. “Towards the ‘retrogression’ of the Bahia enigma, between 1947 and 1954 the state governors responded with modernizing initiatives of liberal stamp, with which they intended to make progress in the flowering of agro-mercantile dynamics and banking capital”, completes Dantas. The arrival of the company Petrobras to the region of Salvador made the Bahia elite change their plans once and for all, since it had been made clear that the idea of a local solution could no longer go ahead. “From the middle of 1955 and during the following decade a consensus of opinion among the various branches of the Bahia lite was created: local modernization would not be carried out, not in spite of and much less against, the priorities and interests of the national state. The problem was to know how to pull from the political center the decisions and resources in order to make a new alternative possible.”

The president Goulart government was not favorable towards this idea and the military takeover of 1964 was seen as a blessing from Our Lady of Bonfim. Political scientist Dantas points out that the military dictatorship exchanged the Bahia political support for the desired economic expansion, with spaces of national influence conceded to its political and technical leadership. This was the Bahia version of modernization from the top, a “passive revolution” that expressed itself by way of modern conservatism. The takeover, observes the researcher, removed obstacles that, in the national plan, had hindered that elite’s project, and opened up the opportunity for the modernizing interests of the regional political groups spokespersons to take the lead. Only lacking was the appearance of a Mundinho on the scene, necessary, inclusive, in order to make the others leave. “At that moment, in the name of economic modernization with social tranquility, the exit from the scene of supposed enemies was advocated, in order to open the way for an unaccented democracy, without ‘union irrationality’ and ‘exotic ideologies'”, analyzes Dantas. There was even an apologetic speech ready: that of Bahianity (still with the aristocratic ‘h’) that proclaimed the idea of a single and cordial Bahia, without undesirable social conflicts.

Born in 1927, the son of a doctor, a professor at the Medical School of Bahia, ACM followed in his father’s footsteps and became an assistant to the chair of hygiene at the same school. He joined, also via paternal empathy, the Udenist ( the liberal-conservative of the period between 1945-1964) followers of Juraci Magalhães, one of the main Bahia political leaders from the time of the Revolution of 1930. In 1954 he was elected as a State deputy and, in 1962, actively participated in planning for the forthcoming military overthrow. His reward, the investiture, via an indication from the military regime, was to become mayor of Salvador in 1967, during which time was born the first Carlism and which called the attention of the Bahia elite to ACM as they saw in him the executor of the modernist changes in a (for) Bahiano way. From 1967 until 1974, Carlism strengthened itself as the main force of the Arena political party ( the political arm of the military regime) in Bahia, but the scope of the group was as yet only within the state. As the Governor, ACM changed the logic of administration, introducing young technicians, strangers to the traditions of the local political groups. “There was a hint of the trait that would mark Carlism: simultaneous action in institutional politics, in the public administrative structure and in the interface of both with the world of market forces, which intended to dismount the values and polyarchic institutions and support the construction of a national and internationally connected capitalist market, even without the local basis, and of an authoritarian State, capable of gearing it up.”

But the “Prince” did not manage to pass on a successor to the government in 1975. The strategy needed to be renewed so that Carlism would continue to be the alternative to the Bahia enigma. “The need to elevate Carlism to the condition of a Bahia-national player was shown, without which no supremacy would be obtained in the state of Bahia. The jump was taken, during that year, with the indication of ACM to the presidency of the Eletrobrás (the national power utility which belonged to the federal government).” There he could create alliances with national entrepreneurs and, in this manner, “nationalize” the state political movement. In this dialectic between the national and the local, the group’s praxis sprung up: adherence, in the state plan, to a political environment marked by the maintenance of parochial logic and opposite to political pluralism, and administrative ethics adjusted to modernization. “Under these circumstances, Carlism defined itself as a Bahia and national political institution, part constituted and constructed of a peculiar regional arrangement of Brazilian political elements from the previous half century and, at the same time, the national projection of this regional political ‘synthesis’, carried out within an authoritative political context and of weak ideological polarization.”

The democratization of the country obliged Carlism to revolve around Bahia yet again. “Giving itself, without canceling the dichotomy, a tactical inflection, in tune with neo-liberal times that had consolidated themselves, in which the deputy Luis Eduardo Magalhães, ACM’s son, discharged a relevant role.” Dantas underlines that this did not contradict, but emphasized the Bahiana-national tendency, leaving to Bahia a legacy of “singular thinking”: to affirm the modern whilst truncating political pluralism. “Carlism springs up as the Demiurge of a ‘new’ Bahia, of strengthened image, during the decade of the 1990’s, through the national prestige of the group and by media performance of the theme of Baianity, now without the aristocratic ‘h’.” This new Baianity would be the ideological cement that would supposedly connect the elite and the people, maintaining social inequalities, but avoiding any contestation. “The myopia of its adversaries facilitated the success of Carlism in co-opting political frameworks, intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs and community leaders, convinced through pragmatic arguments to make up the acclaiming environment of a political hegemony practiced in a more modern Bahia.”

This would explain, more than just the regional prejudice (which was seen as a Ramiro Bastos), the support for ACM by segments of the Baiano entertainment market, which, notes Dantas, are the focus of an instrumental rational absorbent derived from a cult to the market. The same error was committed by the anti-Carlists who insisted on treating it as a colonel like phenomenon. While this was going on, ACM enjoyed the blessings of the media, especially through his friendship with the media magnate Roberto Marinho. As well as this, as the senator from Bahia, he also gained forums from religious rationality. “It was an ideology that legitimized changes without losing the links with the past where inequality and political despotism, realities that modernization preserves and produces, are fixed in its roots.” What the opposition had not managed to do, destiny sealed: the death of Luís Eduardo disorientated and chewed up Carlism, which began to erode. Gaining enemies on all fronts, ACM was losing his magic that had made him the “king of the Ba(h)ianos”: direct access to national power, capable of attending to state complaints. Carlism ended up inventing its very own antidote: “The city believed so much that its destiny depended not on well endowed political leadership, but in a politically endowed government ‘from the top’ that Carlism proved its poison and watched Lula decide the election in Salvador”.

The death of his son also marked, notes Dantas, the foundation of post-Carlist Carlism, in which the national element of the arrangement showed itself to be more porous, conducting defensive strategies in order to maintain the cohesion of local power. Without having the “Gods” protection any more, ACM saw himself surrounded by scandals: the case of the US$10 million that disappeared from a World Bank loan during his government; the boasting of the dossiers against politicians and even against the Central Bank, which he never showed; recurring accusations of illicit enrichment; the frauds that linked him to the construction company Odebrecht with the right to ghost accounts and under the table money for political campaigns; of influential lobbying in favor of a North American company during the implantation of the Sivam project; of receiving illegal campaign donations from companies; and, among others, the case of the “pushing” of the voting buttons of colleagues absent from the Senate, in embarrassing photos that caught him in the act. But, one has to separate fact from fiction.

For Dantas, to understand the symbiosis between the politician and “modernized” Bahia is to “see him connected to the capital and planted in tradition, one eye on the priest and the other on the mass, the actor and the work of conservative modernization that had for Bahia the analogous role of the Revolution of 1930 for São Paulo State”. ACM, observes the researcher, is a reflection of this late revolution that, starting from the decade of the 1950’s, archived the incipient project of liberal modernization (to) which showed its signs at the end of the Dutra and Octavio Mangabeira governments, with the return of president Vargas to power through the popular vote at the voting booths.

The senator was now confronting, more and more, the erosion of his personal prestige. “Deprived of this mythological shield, the group remained at the mercy of the pure logic of interests.” Losing his “men” in the federal power, still bitter about the limitation of Rede Globo, the political use of its branch in Bahia, the property of the Magalhães family (a policy that grew with the death of Roberto Marinho), the loss of control of the Regional Electoral Court the state’s judiciary bosses. If today his “prestige” can be seen to have been elevated a little thanks to scandals that involved president Lula da Silva and that gave him a platform as a ferocious critic of the current government, there are also internal threats. “Such as federal deputy Aleluia. Today ACM still leads the political bench, but until when will this last? One needs to take into consideration that all will think a lot before destroying the base from where they came, even if post-Carlist Carlism does not now come back to the grammar of universalism, perfecting a liberal discussion in order to force entry into the politically large environments, even putting in second place the theme of Bahianity.”

For Dantas, post-Carlist Carlism does not consist in the cancellation of inheritance or even of the present leadership by ACM, nor of the effect of Carlism as an integrated political group, but in the overcoming of the structure founded in a personality for an anchored dynamism in a political institutional competition, bipolar, where the PFL ( ACM’s party) and PT ( Workers Party) political parties tend to dispute, more and more, the role of the protagonist. The victory of Jacques Wagner reveals, observes the researcher, the maturing of the Bahia PT party, which went beyond a mere anti-Carlist position. “This doesn’t mean that the electorate authorized governor Wagner to destroy what was positively built in the State during Carlism. I believe that what is expected of him is the substitution, with care, of the mortar equipped for a democratic and republican cement, which has technical lucidity, administrative seriousness, political pluralism and a compromise towards greater social equality.” Neither did researcher Dantas see the victory of the PT candidate as a mere defeat for the PFL candidate. “The figure of ACM, in political decline for more than half a decade, was not defeated, but it was the policy of ‘renovation from within’. The Bahia electorate opted for a shock in political renovation, instead of having confidence in a passive renovation.” Thus, governor Wagner, states Dantas, “did not defeat a moribund adversary. On the contrary: starting from last year, with the eruption of the national political crisis that placed the PT party on the defensive, Carlism gained new wind and retook and expansive move forward, promising self-renovation and co-opting areas of its adversary’s field, which led to the almost total departure of the Bahia PSDB party to the candidature of Paulo Souto”. Carlism still has a lot of palm oil to burn.

“The group stopped being the obligatory intermediary of contests. The federal factor was fundamental in this, since the PT and governor Wagner have gone on to substitute this. One needs to consider the role that the loss entailed, for Carlism, its positions in the federal government and the consequent archiving of its role of obligatory political procurator of municipal leaderships in the search to attend to the contests of its communities. We must now wait to see how Carlism behaves itself in opposition, if there will be the maintenance of cohesion of the group under these new circumstances in which the post-Carlist Carlism was itself defeated.” Whether governor Wagner is going to be effective in pulling down the Carlist building is another question. “He made intelligent opposition, a position that is wide ranging and not ‘centered’ on the figure of the senator. But the Bahia government has been by the same group for 16 years and this demands caution from the newcomers. There’s a ‘mist’ that calls for the use of ‘lowered headlights’. One can’t get to the basis of a trodden land, and perhaps it’s necessary to have the cooperation of the Carlists, in making the consolidated processes and the new living together.”

In order to change as much as he promised, governor Wagner will need the support of the federal government, which, by the current centralized federal system could be difficult to execute no matter how much good will president Lula da Silva might have. “No one knows how the process will pan out, but there will be tension between pushing away Carlism and its cooptation. This doesn’t just depend on the new government, but a series of external questions.” There is no point in celebrating the ‘death of Carlism’ before its time. In the end, it is not the first time that Carlism has had reverses (ACM had previously lost to Roberto Santos and Waldir Pires). The difference is that for the first time there is not, as in the past, compensation in the national sphere for this breakage of state monopoly power.

“This shows the error of seeing Carlism as a localized and personalized episode. The group’s longevity is due more to national connections of the senator than alliances with local elites. ACM is more of an exemplary case of political strategy of the Brazilian elite, than an exotic phenomenon from Bahia.” For the researcher, taking into consideration the due proportions, Carlism was the ‘FIESP’ of Bahia and ACM is not a political aberration but an agent of national formula of conservative modernization. “If Luís Eduardo had not died, the Magalhães family would have made a total political turnabout of Brazilian political history, from Vargas to the neo-liberalism of FHC, without pain, a dynastic succession.” As well as losing a son, during the second FHC government PSDB party members forced his exit as being like ‘a stone in their shoes’, when, in reality, ACM and Luís Eduardo had been fundamental in order to make possible the neo-liberal policy of that government, the researcher recalls.

“One can’t speak of the senator as a politician of one note only, since he had always known how to articulate with precision on what had been happening in the sphere of the national State. Some years have passed since he ‘got off the track’ (as in the case of the quarrel with the then senator Jader Barbalho).” Would it be possible to think about another Bahia without the presence of ACM? “He was a political framework that came to fill a vacuum. The Bahia elite of the decade of the 1950s, pragmatic, opted, without any problem, to renounce the leadership of the modernization process, leaving it in the hands of the federal government”, he analyzes. ACM was only an agent of the State together with the elite groups, but went beyond the role destined to him, becoming a powerful single minded person.

Indeed, for the researcher to throw stones at the person in decline for at least six years, as if the future of Bahia depended on the destiny of a single person, is a degrading act and one that does not help the ‘democratization’ of Bahia. “On top of resentments and ruins one will not erect a better Bahia. The State’s political modernization does not require personal revenge, but a democratic attitude. There is both past and present violence and omission to be overcome, but also the conquering of a new world social Bahia, which germinated on rough ground and must be recognized so that the policy doesn’t convert itself into an autopsy.” Non-existent in the book by Jorge Amado, there is, in the soap opera by Rede Globo, an exemplary scene on this theme: shortly after the death of colonel Ramiro, Mundinho, the modernist, is filmed in the streets of Itabuna town, receiving the same kiss on the hand as his defeated autocrat. Thus the ‘h’ of Bahianity.