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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Running for Liberty in Brazil

Lawrence Reed talks with Kim Kataguiri, Marcel van Hattem, and Priscila Chammas—candidates for National Congress.

Mr. Reed wishes to thank Rafael Ribeiro of Salvador, Brazil, for his assistance with this interview. Rafael Ribeiro is a Brazilian pro-liberty activist and Fulbright alumnus. While at the University of Georgia, he had a year experience with the liberty movement in the U.S. with organizations such as Turning Point USA and Young Americans for Liberty and published an article about Roberto Campos on Rafael has translated this interview into Portuguese, which you can read here.

In very important October 2018 elections, Brazilians will choose a new President and legislature (known as the National Congress and divided between two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate). To be decided are all 513 seats in the lower house and 2/3 of the 81-seat upper house.

Reed recently interviewed van Hattem, Chammas, and Kataguiri.

Three candidates for seats in the National Congress are especially interesting: Marcel van Hattem, currently an elected member of the assembly in his state of Rio Grande do Sul; Priscila Chammas, running in the state of Bahia; and Kim Kataguiri, a candidate from São Paulo. They are young, articulate, and passionate about liberty. (See short bios at page bottom).

Brazil is the number 1 country in the world, after the U.S., for translations and postings of FEE literature, reflecting a significant and growing interest in free-market economics in that nation of nearly 210 million people. Amazingly, FEE president Lawrence Reed has almost 30,000 fans from Brazil on his personal Facebook page. Reed recently interviewed van Hattem, Chammas, and Kataguiri, the text of which we are pleased to share here:

Reed: Thank you, Marcel, Priscila, and Kim, for taking the time to answer my questions. I know that you’re all running because you want to reduce the burdens of government and strengthen private entrepreneurship and economic opportunity. Our readers would like to know, briefly from each of you, what first “turned you on” to these ideas?

Reading the works of Ludwig von Mises and many articles from the FEE website convinced me that freedom and free markets were the keys to Brazil’s future.

Kim Kataguiri: Hi, Larry! It’s my pleasure to talk to you and the FEE readers. After 13 years of Workers’ Party administrations and especially because of the social and economic chaos caused by former President Dilma Rousseff, I realized that the solution to the problems brought about by big government was less Marx and more Mises. As you wrote in an article about me three years ago, I was very involved in organizing mass demonstrations that ultimately led to Rousseff’s impeachment and removal from office. Reading the works of Ludwig von Mises and many articles from the FEE website convinced me that freedom and free markets were the keys to Brazil’s future.

Marcel van Hattem: Nice to talk to you, Larry! I was born into a family of small business owners and witnessed all the problems my father had with the government jeopardizing their business. Another important factor was the beginning of the Workers’ Party administration precisely in the years in which I was forming my political views, which have since been critical of left-wing ideology. Although my state is known to have launched various socialist figures into national politics, I remained firm in my convictions and the daily struggle with the left has reinforced the certainty that only the ideas of liberty deliver the best economic and social results.

Priscila Chammas: Hi, Larry! I thank you for the opportunity to speak to such an important think tank for the ideas of liberty in the world. As a matter of fact, I was always a libertarian without realizing it. I had lived in environments totally dominated by the left for a long time (I am a journalist and I graduated from a public university), and I found myself a little lonely in my ideas. From that point onwards, I began to self-study economics, I learned about the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index, its leading countries, the policies that worked around the world, and found out that I was right about my ideas all along. This gave me the motivation to move forward and defend with even more conviction the ideas of liberty.

Reed: Socialists have been in charge of government policy in Brazil for years. Do you think Brazilians might be more likely to embrace capitalism now and if so, why? What’s changed?

Yes, Brazilians are more likely to embrace capitalism now, but it’s still not a ticket that most people easily buy.

Kim Kataguiri: The Brazilian population has seen what having the left in power means: Corruption, privileges for the high caste of public officials, inflation, and economic crisis. Now, they look for an alternative. Both conservatives and libertarians have a duty to demonstrate that classical liberalism/libertarianism is the best alternative to the crisis we have been facing. The left is no longer hegemonic in academia, the press, and social networks. There is debate and, due to the monumental failure of the Workers’ Party administrations, our narrative is winning.

Priscila Chammas: Yes, Brazilians are more likely to embrace capitalism now, but it’s still not a ticket that most people easily buy. Nonetheless, if we compare the mentality of today with that of ten years ago, I have no doubt that we have made great progress! FEE’s website, the many Portuguese translations of your work, and your personal appearances in Brazil have been important contributions to this progress.

Reed: Why did so many Brazilians support socialists in the first place, starting decades ago?

Kim Kataguiri: Brazilians have a very strong patrimonial mindset, which is a heritage from colonial times. This heritage is very well described by Gilberto Freyre in his masterpiece “The Masters and the Slaves.” The collective imagination of Brazilians always expects a savior, a father, someone who will take care of the people. In contemporary politics the ideology that is closest to patrimonialism is socialism, hence the sympathy of Brazilians for that side of the political spectrum.

Marcel van Hattem: Patrimonialism and the cronyist practice of politics traditional in Brazil were perfectly matched with the illusions sold by socialists. On one side, you have the “Masters of Power,” as described by Raymundo Faoro—politicians who throughout history appropriate most of what is public for themselves and give back a very small portion to the people. On the other side, socialists say that they will attack social inequalities by fighting the old political oligarchies and helping the poor when in fact they end up joining forces with former enemies to keep themselves in power, transforming themselves into a new oligarchy that enslaves the poor through social policies that produce dependency. Because of this sum of factors, socialist and populist parties and candidates continue to have a significant share of electoral preference.

People are seeing what really happens when socialism is implemented.

Reed: Is the failure of socialism in neighboring Venezuela a factor in today’s thinking in Brazil?

Priscila Chammas: Certainly! People are seeing what really happens when socialism is implemented. This is just another case of socialism’s failure, but the fact that it is happening close to us and the Venezuelans are fleeing to Brazil, which is no world power, makes this example more impressive. But I regret the fact that there are still people trying to argue that this is not true socialism, or that the shortage in Venezuela is to be blamed on capitalist companies that “do not think about the people.” And I am even more sorry that my fellow journalists do not name it. Rarely does a journalist in the mainstream media cite the true cause of poverty and collapse in Venezuela, which is undeniably socialism.

Reed: Are there sufficient numbers of pro-liberty candidates likely to win in October to make any difference in the Congress? And what about the Senate and the Presidency? What are the prospects for liberty in those races?

Kim Kataguiri: There are still just a few conservative/libertarian candidates running for Senate. The Brazilian Senate is composed of experienced politicians, usually former governors or former mayors of capitals. We do not have sufficient visibility and experience to fill this gap yet in that body of the Congress. Things are looking better for us in the lower house.

We have never had so many pro-liberty candidates in Brazil running for Congress.

Marcel van Hattem: The self-proclaimed pro-liberty candidates running for the Presidency are scarce. I would highlight two names who openly support free-markets: João Amoêdo, my party’s candidate (NOVO), who strongly defends privatizations, reduction of privileges, pension reform, tax cuts, and deregulation. The other name is Jair Bolsonaro, who is presently leading in the polls. Bolsonaro counts on Paulo Guedes, an authentic pro-market economist and a University of Chicago alumnus, as his main economic advisor. One thing is sure: Regardless of who wins, pro-liberty ideas will be strongly present during the electoral campaign in the proposals of practically all the candidates, and once in power, none should be able to escape from the necessary reforms that will rejuvenate the Brazilian economy.

Priscila Chammas: We have never had so many pro-liberty candidates in Brazil running for Congress. Practically in all Brazilian states, there is at least one such option. I have never seen such a thing before in my lifetime. Moreover, our ideas are becoming popular, and even politicians who have never been pro-liberty are seeing an advantage in defending freedom. This is good because it makes the wrong people do the right thing. But you have to be very careful with the candidates who use a discourse to attract the segment and once elected, start to defend more taxes and regulations, forgetting the campaign promises.

Reed: What specific policy changes would you most like to see accomplished for the Brazilian economy?

The largest bottleneck of public money is social security.

Kim Kataguiri: The largest bottleneck of public money is social security. Only by reforming our social security system can we cut and simplify taxes, dramatically reduce the size of government, and pave the way for development.

Marcel van Hattem: I would add the dire need for government to focus on what is most essential: Public insecurity. Unfortunately, more people get killed in Brazil than in countries that today are at war. The number of homicides a year in the country, somewhere between 60 and 70 thousand deaths, is higher than in Syria. Without a serious fight against impunity through the rule of law, a reform of the prison system in partnership with the private sector and the valorization of security forces, the attraction of investments and, most important, the preservation of lives will be increasingly difficult.

Priscila Chammas: Reduction and simplification of taxes; privatization of state-run companies; change of incentives for tax collectors, who are today encouraged to fine entrepreneurs, as they depend on this to get bonuses, etc.

Reed: What drove you to run for a seat in the National Congress instead of the state assembly this year?

Kim Kataguiri: The next legislature will be decisive for the future of the country. Either will we have a reformist president, who will continue the job done by the current government’s economic team, or we will have a radically nationalist president, who will make Brazil look more and more like Venezuela. As the leader of MBL (Free Brazil Movement), I cannot be a bystander in this important clash. It is a historic opportunity to implement the right ideas in our country.

The National Congress is where change must happen, reducing centralized power and sending it back to local governments and the people.

Marcel van Hattem: I was already a Councilman in my hometown, Dois Irmãos, and then I ran three times for State Deputy in Rio Grande do Sul until I was elected in 2014 at the age of 28. It was a very important experience and it made me better understand how politics works. However, I agree with Kim: Refreshing the politicians in the Federal Congress is absolutely urgent. Therefore, I decided to run for Congressman because I want to participate in a team of new Congressmen in Brasilia that works together to defend the ideas that brought prosperity wherever implemented. We will fight the greed and obscurantism of socialists.

Priscila Chammas: The Brazilian federal pact is a big factor in my case. It is in the National Congress that the main changes occur because states here have almost no autonomy to decide important matters, different from what happens in the United States, for example. The National Congress is where change must happen so it can strengthen the federal system, reducing centralized power and sending it back to local governments and the people.

Reed: Are American policies or politicians factors in Brazilian politics? For example, is trade with the U.S. an issue, or do Brazilian voters have strong opinions about the Trump administration?

I do not want to live in another country; I want to live in another Brazil!

Kim Kataguiri: The average voter does not care about American politics, nor does he even know who Donald Trump is. However, targeted voters for libertarian candidates like me—the ones most likely to vote—do follow and do care. More trade with the U.S. and less partnership with African and Latin American dictatorships is a strong and frequent demand.

Marcel van Hattem: Many Brazilians, especially in recent years, have seen the United States as a gateway to the problems they face here in Brazil. Despite the prejudice widespread by the left against a supposed “Yankee imperialism” it is clear to the ordinary citizen that the more prosperous nations have a reason to do so. This reason is directly linked to the institutions they possess and to the reward of effort, merit, and free enterprise. I always say though: I do not want to live in another country; I want to live in another Brazil! And this other Brazil is only possible with more freedom and less government.

Reed: To the extent any generalization is even possible, do you think young people in Brazil are more or less friendly to capitalism than older generations?

The internet broke the oligopoly of the press, and as a consequence, young people began to have access to the ideas of liberty through websites and social networks.

Kim Kataguiri: Young people are more receptive, undoubtedly. Most of the MBL (Free Brazil Movement) audience, which is 40 million people, for example, is made up of people aged 17-35. The internet broke the oligopoly of the press, and as a consequence, younger people like me began to have access to the ideas of liberty through websites and social networks.

Priscila Chammas: Since they have more time available, young people study more through libertarian think tanks such as Mises Brasil and FEE, which have done an excellent job demystifying certain concepts. As for the older generations, they have never read about it, nor do they accept solutions that seem very radical, but they see in practice, in their daily lives, how government jeopardizes the lives businesses and the development of the country, besides old people have witnessed the failure of socialism in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Reed: Why do you think FEE has such a large following in Brazil?

Marcel van Hattem: First of all, for the quality of its content, obviously. Brazilians are looking for quality content and the Internet has been an essential means to propagate such content. FEE has been exemplary with its website, its newsletters I also receive, as well as other channels of communication. In the Brazilian case, in particular, I would also add that it was very important to establish institutes that propagated the ideas of liberty for some time, and that have been great partners of FEE: Liberal Institute of Rio and Freedom of Rio Grande do Sul; Millennium Institute in Rio de Janeiro; Mises Brasil in São Paulo; the training institutes for entrepreneurial leadership in Santa Catarina, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, and Vitória; more recently, Students for Liberty; and of course, in my specific case because I am from Porto Alegre, the Institute of Business Studies, which for 30 years has been promoting its Liberty Forum, where I personally met several thinkers linked to FEE and where I also had the privilege of meeting you, Larry, in April 2017.

Reed: Thanks, Marcel. I might also add that there are some great, pro-liberty people at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo, where I lectured last November. They have a Center for Economic Freedom there, run by my friend Vladimir Fernandes. What authors have most inspired you to defend the ideas of liberty in Brazil?

Kim Kataguiri: Milton Friedman is my main influence. He was simple, direct, didactic, and pragmatic. Friedman does not only theorize about classical liberalism but also gives concrete examples of how economic freedom and free market-based public policies improve people’s lives. In lectures, I always cite the four ways to spend money used by him, and that makes many indecisive or seemingly socialist people become fond of classical liberalism in less than two minutes. It’s impressive! You explained them yourself in your “Seven Principles of Sound Policy,” which many Brazilians are familiar with.

I could list several books here, but for sure who inspired me the most was Ayn Rand and her Atlas Shrugged.

Marcel van Hattem: Three books I always cite in my lectures as fundamental for those who want to open their minds and understand more about liberty are Ludwig von Mises’s The Six Lessons; Bastiat’s The Law; and The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek. However, the most relevant reading for me was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, because of her message of persistence.

Priscila Chammas: I could list several books here, but for sure who inspired me the most was Ayn Rand and her Atlas Shrugged. She managed to put on paper things I always wanted to say and did not know how. The book is the portrait of what happened in Venezuela and what would happen to Brazil if Dilma had not been impeached. I think every Brazilian politician should read this book.

Reed: Thanks so much to each of you—Kim, Marcel, and Priscila—for taking time for this engaging interview! I look forward to seeing you on my future visits to Brazil. I will be speaking in Santa Maria this November for Clube Farroupilha at its Simpósio Interdisciplinar Farroupilha (Farroupilha Interdisciplinary Symposium), and then next March in Florianopolis for the Instituto de Formação de Líderes de Santa Catarina.

Could you provide your contact information for those who would like to follow you on social media and get to know more about your ideas?

Kim Kataguiri: Absolutely!
Facebook Page: Kim Kataguiri
Instagram: @kimkataguiri
Twitter: @kimpkat

Marcel van Hattem: Sure!
Facebook: @marcelvh
Maiden speech of 2015 on Facebook (with English subtitles)
Instagram: @marcelvanhattem
YouTube: /marcelvanhattemoficial

Priscila Chammas: Of course!
Facebook: @priscilachammas
Instagram: @priscilachammas_oficial

More About the Candidates

Kim Kataguiri, 22, is a libertarian activist and co-founder of Movimento Brasil Livre. In 2015 and 2016, he led large street protests that culminated in the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff. Kim is running for Federal Deputy for the state of São Paulo.

Marcel van Hattem, 32, is a political scientist and former Councilman and former State Deputy in Rio Grande do Sul. Holding classical liberal/conservative views, van Hattem is running for Federal Deputy for his state.

Priscila Chammas, 34, is a journalist and pro-liberty activist. In 2016, in her debut in politics, she had a surprising turnout in the ballots that almost made her Councilwoman in her hometown Salvador. This year, Chammas is running for Federal Deputy for the state of Bahia.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is