We, the undersigned students, alumni, staff, and faculty members of The New School, are writing to express our profound disapproval with the event “Institution-building, Governance and Compliance in Brazil: Politics, Policy and Business” co-hosted by Columbia University and The New School on February 6 and 7, 2017.
The event remarkably embodies a one-sided set of views that is unrepresentative of and insensitive to the complexity of recent Brazilian politics. By presenting the Operação Lava Jato (Car Wash Operation) as paradigmatic of “institutional-building, governance and compliance” in Brazil the event implicitly embraces a narrative that contributed to the impeachment. Contrary to what is attempted by the event the Operação Lava Jato cannot be dissociated from the impeachment of the democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 and its consequences. Rousseff’s ousting, considered by many to be an institutional coup, remains a highly controversial and divisive issue, and it has inaugurated a profound democratic crisis with no solution in sight. Furthermore, the event fails to address the subsequent rise to power of a government which has been systematically undermining civil and social rights, putting in place an unprecedented rigid austerity agenda, and whose members were cited in plea bargains and are accused of trying to stop corruption investigations.
This event uncritically and controversially invites protagonists from the ongoing democratic crises in Brazil. Above all, the event naively assumes that representatives of the Brazilian Judiciary, embroiled in highly partisan disputes, are speaking from an uncontested and neutral perspective. Some of the speakers have been prominent agents in the selective prosecution of center-left politicians for corrupt practices that are actually widespread across the Brazilian political spectrum.
For these reasons, members of The New School community raised these concerns to the event organizers, urging that changes be made to the program to reflect the actual complexity of the situation. It was exhaustively emphasized that anyone familiar with recent events in Brazilian politics would be unable to ignore, in flagrant contrast to its purported scholarly neutrality, the blatant partisanship of the event.
With the support from members of The New School community and of the New School sponsors of the event, we presented a number of requests to the organizers on February 3, 2017. Our most basic request was denied: the organizers emphatically rejected the possibility of adding a statement acknowledging that the topic is controversial and that not all voices are represented in the event. This denial happened, additionally and surprisingly, in spite of the fact that similar concerns were brought to the organizers’ attention from within Columbia University and elsewhere.
Beyond the implications of misinforming an academic audience about the current political situation in Brazil, the structuring of this event diverges from important core values embraced by The New School such as the struggle for democracy and social justice, the need for critical thinking at all times, and the necessity of representative — even, especially, dissenting — voices to be heard.
Democracy everywhere is delicately at stake around the world, and our mission, especially in these tempestuous global-political times, is to protect it in all places. Any attempt to undermine these values shall not go unchallenged here.
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