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Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil$

Kwame Dixon

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062617

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062617.001.0001

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Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

(p.125) 7 Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s
Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Kwame Dixon

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter seven offers a contextual view into the opaque world of Brazilian and Salvadorian politics. It analyzes the rise of Black electoral power in Brazil and Salvador from the 1980s to the present and provides an in-depth examination of the rise of formal Black politics and the entry of Black political candidates into the local politics.

Keywords:   Brazil, Black politics, Salvador

Black politics in Latin America as a subfield of political science is un-derappreciated and grossly under-researched. Regrettably there are few studies of Black formal politics in Brazil and Afro–Latin America; however, political scientists over the last two decades have started to make important inroads and to focus more on this under-researched and overlooked field. Political scientists like Michael Hanchard (1994), Ollie Johnson (1998, 2000, 2008, 2013), Bernd Reiter (2009), Bernd Reiter and Gladys Mitchell (2010), Cloves Luiz Oliveira (1997, 2010, 2013), Kwame Dixon (2008), Kwame Dixon and John Burdick (2012), Gladys L. Mitchell-Walthour (2009, 2010), and others have made important contributions to exploring and understanding Black politics in the Americas: their work has focused on examining and analyzing the following: Black consciousness, social mobilization, and grassroots movements; the exclusion and lack of representation of Blacks in political systems; the slow rise of Black candidates in congressional and senate races; Black voting habits in Latin America; the voting preferences of Black citizens; and more broadly the intersection of race and politics. This subfield is in urgent need of more studies that focus on racialized social hierarchies and forms of racial inequality that exclude and deny Afro-groups opportunities in political systems. Chapter 7 addresses this void by addressing Black politics in the region by exploring (p.126) and analyzing the rise of Black electoral power in Brazil and Salvador from the 1980s to the present.

Antiracism and the Return to Democracy in Brazil: The Case of Salvador

Brazil returned to democratic rule in 1985 even though some constitutional guarantees were established as early as 1978 (Green 2010; Johnson 2013). This new political opening offered a radical new landscape that allowed social movements and civil society to reinsert themselves into the political system. Afro–civil society understood the unique historical moment and immediately recognized that these changes offered critical new social spaces to articulate new demands. Afro–civil society and women’s groups were instrumental in getting antiracist and antisexist laws included into the new constitution of 1988. For example, Article 5 of the new constitution made racism a crime and subject to punishment, thus reforming the outdated Afonso Arinos law, which treated racism as a minor offense. With this new political space, Afro–civil society, while by no means monolithic, is represented by a broad cross-section, and the diverse expression of many different groups began to give rise to deeper and more layered discussions on racialization, racism, and gender issues. These conceptual categories were now analyzed more rigorously and linked to poverty, employment, housing, education, criminal justice issues, media representations, and a broad range of civil and human rights violations. Simultaneously Blacks were slowly entering the formal political arena and occupying prominent positions in the government, on one hand, and recognizing their “Blackness” and talking more and more about race and racial discrimination, on the other (Johnson 2013). In fact, as many entered the electoral arena they saw themselves as “Black politicians” and “not politicians who are Black,” representing a sea change in the politics of Brazil at this time.

Salvador and Bahia therefore offer a unique case study in the rise of Black politics in Brazil given their large and diverse Black population. Bahia is a state and Salvador is the largest municipality within the province of Bahia and is the third-largest city in Brazil. Salvador (p.127) plays an important role in national politics and is central to Brazil’s national identity. Despite Salvador being a majority-Black city and Bahia a mostly Black state, Afro-Brazilians there have not been well represented in the local (and state) political power structure, and to date, they have never elected a Black mayor of Salvador nor a Black governor of Bahia. Some in Brazil (and others beyond) find the relative lack of Black politicians in Salvador and Bahia symptoms of deeper, historically inscribed patterns of racial and social exclusion. Along these lines this chapter offers a gaze into the world of Salvadoran local politics, as it focuses mainly on modern-day Black electoral politics from roughly the early 1980s to the present—when Black candidates started getting elected to national, state, and municipal office. While not exhaustive, this chapter offers a thumbnail sketch of local politics and some understanding of how formal politics has unfolded in Salvador and Brazil over the past three decades.

Within the tangled complexity of racial hierarchies and the politics of exclusion in Brazil, the city of Salvador and the state of Bahia illustrate the sharp contradictions stemming from the historical reproduction of white political privilege and the ways in which historical patterns of racialized social inequality have worked to exclude Blacks from formal political and economic power. The case of Black electoral politics in the city of Salvador (and the state of Bahia) is a case in point. The fact that Blacks in Salvador are close to 80 percent of the population but have not been able to gain a modicum of political power within the city (and the state of Bahia) is confounding to many observers. Given the city’s status as the capital of Black cultural production (or the “Black Rome of the Americas”) and the center of strong Black consciousness movements, and known for its politically active Black population—many wonder out loud why Blacks in Bahia have not been more successful in getting elected to office at the municipal and state level. In other words, given Bahia’s and Salvador’s rich Black cultural formations and Black numerical strength, why has this not translated directly into tangible Black political and economic capital? Thus far Blacks in Salvador and Bahia have not been able to translate their cultural power into effective political and economic power. Even at the municipal level of government Blacks in Salvador and Bahia have had (p.128) tremendous difficulties getting elected (and appointed) to local and state office.

Despite being the “Black Rome of the Americas,” Salvador has never elected a Black mayor, although a Black man was appointed to the position back in the 1970s. This distinction is important, as it provides a frame with which to better understand the trajectory of local politics over the past thirty-five years. The story of how a Black man has served as mayor but was not elected is analogous to many Brazilian soap operas, because it offers many intriguing twists and turns. It unfolds as follows: Back in 1978, Mario Edvaldo de Brito Pereira was appointed by the military dictatorship (ARENA) to serve as the mayor of Salvador from 1978 to 1979. Given the brief nature of his appointment and the politics of the dictatorship, he was only a figurehead for the ARENA party. He served for only roughly a year and was eventually replaced with a candidate with long-standing ties to the dictatorship.

The Case of Edvaldo de Brito Pereira and Gilberto Gil

The cases of Edvaldo de Brito and megastar Gilberto Gil, both of whom launched campaigns for municipal office in Salvador in the mid-1980s, vividly illustrate some of the thorny problems Blacks faced as they entered the electoral arena in Salvador during this time. Starting in the 1980s, along with the blocos, a core group of Black activists attempted to make an impact on the electoral arena in Salvador. Working in tandem, the blocos and Black movement activists in MNU wanted to challenge and confront Salvador’s all-white local political and social elite, who had historically effectively excluded Blacks from local, state, and regional office. It is argued that the interlocking networks and complex layers of social power; the intricate rules of the political game; Blacks’ lack of capital, education, and training; a weak if not nonexistent Black intelligentsia; and the multiple and overlapping social constructions of Black identity are some of the key factors that have severely constrained Black political opportunities and crippled the few Black candidates who were able to enter the electoral arena for the first time in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the context of Black Salvador it is therefore crucial to underscore (p.129) that Black identity and politics traverse broad and diverse class, ideological, gender, religious, and regional spectrums—to name only a few. Blacks in Salvador are active in many different political parties, from the most conservative to the most progressive. In other words, Blacks in Salvador approach politics from varying political, class, gender, religious (Candomblé, Catholicism, and Protestantism) regional (rural and urban), and ideological angles. Therefore in order to understand electoral politics it is crucial to understand the following: first, the ways in which Afro-identity intersects and overlaps with these constructs (ideology, class, gender, and religion); second, how these various identity constructions play out in formal politics; and third, how such complex constructions complicate the formation of what is generally and loosely referred to as Black electoral politics and how such constructs may cause divisions within Black politics or within the Black movement. Against this backdrop the campaigns of some early candidates for office are highlighted in order to examine the rise of formal Black politics and tease out Black identity in modern Salvador.

The 1985 mayoral contest between Edvaldo de Brito, an Afro-Brazilian, and Mario Kertész, a Bahian with Jewish roots, neatly illustrates some of the knotty problems of racial politics in Salvador at this time (Conceição 2010). Remember Brito had briefly served as mayor of Salvador from 1978 to 1979, being appointed by the military. By 1985, with the transition to formal democracy, there was a new political opening in Brazil and Salvador. More and more Black candidates were seeking office across Brazil. By the middle of the 1980s, Brito had distanced himself from ARENA and decided to run as a centrist candidate on the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) platform. At the start of Brito’s promising campaign key sectors of the Black movement (groups such as Olodum and Ilê Aiyê and some from MNU) supported his candidacy, but his campaign ran into some serious problems and soon fizzled. Despite his being from Bahia, a lawyer, a former dean, and a relatively well-prepared candidate, Brito’s campaign was not able to galvanize or capture the imagination or support from Salvador’s largely Black population.

Brito as one of the first Black candidates to seek office in Salvador in the post-dictatorship era faced an uphill battle from the start: first, he never received the full support of his party due to internal squabbling, (p.130) and consequently his campaign never gained the traction and support it needed to win; second, because he was unable to secure and maintain the support of his own party, the Brazilian Labor Party, this raised a red flag with some sectors of the Black movement; third, by not gaining the support of his own party, he lost the support and confidence of key allies within the Black movement, mainly Olodum, although Ilê Aiyê continued their support. Without the full party support of the PTB, it was extremely difficult for Brito to defeat his well-financed opponent, Mario Kertész, who at the time had the full support of Salvador’s ruling oligarchy, including many of the leading newspapers and media outlets (Conceição 2010).

Although Brito had at first secured key support for his campaign from João Jorge Rodrigues, the leader of the popular bloco Olodum, Rodrigues later decided to withdraw his support of Brito for reasons that to this day are not very clear. Several other Black leaders soon followed suit and chose to support and campaign for Kertész. Additionally, some elements within the Black movement attacked Brito as being unprepared for leadership, for his past affiliation with ARENA, and for not being in line with their goals and ideas. The Brito campaign essentially collapsed. Moreover, it is also alleged that Kertész bought off some Black movement groups by promising second- and third-rate jobs in city government to those who supported his candidacy. Brito was soundly defeated by Mario Kertész, who received 54.6 percent of the vote, followed by Brito with almost 30 percent (Conceição 2010). Many believe the failure to elect Brito to be a cruel irony: first his party chose not to support him, and then key segments of the Black movement withdrew their support. The irony is that during this time in Salvador there was a blossoming Black cultural movement seeking ways to challenge Salvador’s historically white political system as well as increase Black representation. But even with strong Black cultural politics emerging at this time in Salvador, the city was not able (or willing) to elect Brito as its first Black mayor. Nevertheless his candidacy was historic, as he would be one of the first Blacks to run for mayor of Salvador, and others would soon follow.

Brito, reflecting back on thirty-five years of Salvador’s jagged historical landscape, believes that his appointment as mayor even by the (p.131)

Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Figure 7.1. Edvaldo de Brito was appointed mayor of Salvador in the late 1970s and was the first Black person to hold the position. To this day no other Black person has been in the mayor’s seat. Brito served as vice mayor from 2008 to 2012 and currently serves on the city council. July 2013.

Photo by author.

military dictatorship was a shift in the calculus of political relations in Salvador. The contradiction he points to is that even though he was appointed by the military dictatorship to be the mayor of a Black city, his own electoral campaign was unable to garner the support of important Black groups and key blocos a few years later. A largely Black electorate and key elements of the Black movement chose in his view a candidate of Jewish identity over a Black candidate from Bahia. He has not forgotten this and strongly believes it was the ultimate of betrayals by the Black movement and implies that the military regime was more forward-thinking than the Black movement during this time. However, Luiz Cloves Oliveira, a political scientist who studies Salvador politics, argues that it was Brito’s past relationship to ARENA (the political party of the military) that was problematic and his death knell (Oliveira 2013). Oliveira posits that in the post-dictatorial period many (p.132) wanted to move past the military regime and those associated with it were inherently suspect (Oliveira 2013).

Brito, however, accurately points out that in the 1970s and mid-1980s there was only ARENA, which was the official government party, and the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MBD), which the military had manufactured as the official opposition. In other words there were no other parties to belong to. The calculus of the Black movements’ decision to support or not support Brito must be seen through this lens. Moreover, while Brito is Black, he did not have a real or substantive relationship with the Black movement during this time; however, he did underscore his Black identity and his Bahian roots in the campaign. However, his past association with ARENA and the lack of support from his own party and the Black movement, on one hand, and a well-financed opposition who had the unwavering support of the local ruling oligarchy, on the other, doomed his candidacy and was simply too much to overcome.

Brito firmly believes that Blacks in Salvador at this time simply were not ready to elect a Black mayor due to low levels of consciousness and strong internalized anti-Black feelings. He points to the deep divisions within the Black movement, and the fact that many Blacks in Salvador simply “could not vote for a Black person” may partially explain his defeat. He recalls a Black woman domestic worker saying, “I can’t vote for him, because he is Black like me and knows nothing.” The irony of such a comment is that Brito, like that woman and so many Blacks in Salvador, came from a very poor family, and like that woman, he suffered many of the same daily indignities of social discrimination: he recalls having to escort his blind mother through the streets of Salvador in search of medical assistance, back in the early 1950s, and being called names (de Brito 2013). He eventually worked his way through law school, served as dean of a university, and has held several important positions in the government, but despite his record of public service, many Blacks in Salvador refused to support his candidacy for mayor in 1985.

Equally confounding are the razor-sharp contradictions informing the discourse around racialization and the mayoral campaign of 1985: the Black domestic worker stated that she could not vote for him (p.133)

Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Figure 7.2. From the campaigns of Edvaldo de Brito and his son, who both ran for congress in 2012. June 2012.

In possession of author.

because he was Black, while some in the Black movement said he was not Black enough. Brito was once referred to as a “Black man with a white soul.” According to Brito, this was one of the most serious insults anyone has leveled against him. Along with these bizarre complexities is another social layer: it remains a strange if not a twisted racial irony that Salvador’s only Black mayor was installed by the military dictatorship but rejected by the masses. Salvador to date has not elected (p.134) a Black mayor: Brito ran for the Brazilian senate in 2010; however, he was not successful (de Brito 2013). He is currently a distinguished elder statesman and continues in politics as he now serves on Salvador’s city council and was vice mayor from 2008 to 2012.

Another interesting political scenario is the case of megastar, writer, composer, singer, and activist Giberto Gil, who was jailed briefly by the military dictatorship and then exiled from Brazil but made his return back to the country in 1972. The reasons he was arrested and jailed are still not clear (Green 2010). Upon his return from exile, he began to work on various cultural projects, and by the 1980s had become more drawn to politics; with the restoration of democracy, he, like Brito, decided to run for mayor of Salvador. In 1988 he announced his intention to run and launched his campaign as candidate of the Partido Movimento Democratico Brasileiro (Party of the Democratic Movement); however, the local ruling political elite, through a series of backroom deals, strong-arm tactics, and intimidation, forced him to withdraw his candidacy. The reasons are still unclear why the Party of the Democratic Movement would not support his candidacy, but he renounced his bid for mayor and instead was “encouraged” to run for city council, where he successfully won a seat. And despite Gil’s stature, him being from Salvador, and his mega-fame as a singer, he was not able to compete, challenge, or maneuver against the local Salvadoran political machine during this period. However, his candidacy for city council was successful and he was elected in 1988. With his election he became one of the first Blacks on Salvador’s city council and one of the few Blacks in public office in Brazil in the late 1980s. So Gil, like Abdias do Nascimento and Benedita da Silva, became part of the first wave of Blacks elected to political office in Brazil in the post-dictatorship period. Both Gil and da Silva would go on to serve as ministers in Lula’s first presidential administration.

These cases serve to neatly illustrate that Black candidates for political office in Salvador needed more than modalities of Black identity to compete effectively within the complexity of local politics. It is of course crucial to note that the military dictatorship placed severe restrictions on who could participate in formal politics from 1964 to the middle of the 1980s, keeping Blacks and so many other groups locked (p.135) out of the structures of power and decision-making. By the middle of the 1980s, and with the return to democracy, many Black candidates simply did not have the training, contacts, or financing and were “new to the complex rules of the game,” according to Oliveira. Additionally, Oliveira believes that the legacy of racial discrimination and the lack of education and business opportunities left millions of Brazilians illiterate or semiliterate and thus prohibited from voting until the 1988 constitution. These are some of the deeper institutional issues at play, and within this contextual frame it is extremely important to understand the “structural silence of racism” (Bacelar 1999) and how it operates within social structures across Salvador, which is characterized by severe income inequality along racial lines, intrinsic segregation policies that govern the region, and a ruling oligarchy that has historically been white.

The Hegemony of Racial Silence: Blacks Know Their Place in Salvador

In Salvador the open secret has always been the starkly unequal forms of treatment and relationships between Blacks and whites as manifest in social inequality expressed with the cordiality “as long as Blacks know their place.” According to Jeferson Bacelar, a racialized behavior penetrates Salvador’s social institutions, and racist behavior is internalized by the overwhelming Black majority and white minority. A pact of silence thus emerges where despite the low standing of Blacks in all social structures (employment, education, health, housing, and politics) and other unequal forms of treatment, the contradictions between Blacks and whites remain unaddressed. Racial discrimination is normative and, therefore, remains socially cleansed from public discourse (Bacelar 1999, 88).

Within these hegemonic structures there is another social layer: not only are Blacks openly discriminated against, but raising the racial question or talking about it is seen as an affront, impolitic, and simply beyond the normative parameters of prevailing hegemonies. Any person or group attempting to do so was called a troublemaker or accused of using a U.S. racial lens to understand Brazil. This process of refusing (p.136) to address racism and racial inequality is referred to continuously in this book as the textural submersion of racialization. Therefore, in the middle of the 1980s, when Black candidates sought office, they did so within the prevailing hegemonies and among suggestions (by both Blacks and whites) that Black candidates were not prepared, did not have the requisite training, and thus were not worthy of high political office.

Scholars and activists who know Bahia have consistently commented on the curious position of Blacks in Salvador. While they are the clear majority, it is still difficult even today to find Blacks in positions of political and economic power such as in public office, in commerce and small business, or even as stock clerks or saleswomen/men in local malls (Dzidzienyo 1971; Mitchell 2003; Perry 2013). Blacks in Salvador historically and currently occupy a very low position in the political economy, and the base of the Black working and middle class is weak and deeply fragmented, and they do not necessarily view themselves individually or collectively through the prism of Blackness or Black identity. With the rise of Blacks seeking political office in Salvador in the 1980s, many Blacks were cognizant that they were “Black”; however, many were not necessarily conscious of the systemic reasons why they were so poor and marginalized. During this time the Black majority of Salvador did not necessarily see their low standing as a function of racialized social inequality, as these issues were structurally silent and deeply buried within Salvador’s hegemonic social structures. Moreover, the lack of an organized Black working and middle class and the absence of attendant modes of Black social consciousness in the context of the structural silence around racial inequality served to reduce and constrain the options available within a competitive political and economic arena. Thus the comment by the domestic worker regarding Brito must be viewed within this context and along these lines.

The pact or “hegemony” of racial silence serves to delink Black social consciousness, and other modes of Blackness, from Black oppression and social identity, and most importantly it disallows the articulation of a strategy to challenge racial inequality, causing a disjuncture between racist social oppression and the causes and consequences of that oppression. Therefore historically the use of Black identity and (p.137) specific forms of Blackness has not been useful in local politics in Salvador and Brazil. In other words, framing issues in racial terms was a nonstarter. Black candidates, regardless of issues of racialization, must come to the table with a broad repertoire of skills, financing, support, and, most of all, an agenda that is able to speak to an electorate that is unsophisticated, divided, and fragmented. Few Black candidates in Salvador have historically run on racial themes or racial justice or simply as Black candidates. Moreover Blacks across Salvador (and Brazil) belong to a broad array of different political parties ranging from very conservative religious parties to left-leaning socialist parties.

The late 1980s nevertheless represented an important historical marker in Salvador’s local politics as Blacks were entering more and more municipal races. Between 1988 and 1992 Afro-Brazilians in Salvador increased their representation on Salvador’s city council from roughly 11 percent to roughly 34 percent (Oliveira 2010). By the early 1990s more and more Blacks decided to enter into local politics; the case of Luiz Alberto (founding member of MNU and the Workers’ Party in Salvador) illustrates many of the problems progressive, left-leaning candidates faced—then and now—in Salvador. Alberto ran for city council in 1992, receiving support from MNU’s Black Political Project and blocos. As one of the most recognized figures from the Black movement and longtime member of the Workers’ Party, Alberto launched his campaign for Salvador’s city council with much promise and fairly deep support.

As a candidate from the Workers’ Party he ran a historic campaign, and his platform was “rejecting racial violence” (Covin 2006). His campaign underscored the history of Blacks as exploited workers and focused on constructing a more positive role for Blacks in Salvadoran society. However, despite the social and cultural logic of his campaign, which fused class and race analysis and spoke directly to the objective conditions of Salvador’s urban masses and had the visible support of the Workers’ Party, Olodum, and MNU, Alberto was still not elected. He was not, like Brito, associated with the right but rather with the left-leaning Black consciousness movement. And what is even more interesting is that during this time, while the PT was still in its infancy as a party, it was fairly strong, but despite this he still lost; and while (p.138) Alberto was not successful there were four other Blacks elected to Salvador’s city council in 1992. However, Luiz Alberto later ran for the national congress and was elected as federal deputy in the Cãmara dos Diputados (the Brazil National Congress), where he currently serves.

The Structure of Local Government and Political Landscape

The current mayor of Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city, is Antonio Carlos Magalhães, but he is known as ACM Neto; he was elected in October of 2012 for a four-year term starting in January of 2013 at the ripe age of thirty-three. Neto is from the center-right liberal party known as the Democratas (Democratic) and he is a scion of a powerful and prominent political family from Bahia. His grandfather Antonio Carlos Magalhães was the mayor from 1967 to 1970 and governor from 1971 to 1975, from 1979 to 1983, and from 1991 to 1994. Neto chose as his running mate Célia Sacramento, a Black woman from the Partido Verde (Green Party), who currently serves as the vice mayor. As vice mayor Célia Sacramento is one of the highest-ranking Blacks in local government. Neto has twelve cabinet secretaries—eleven whites and one Black woman, Yvete Sacramento, who is head of the Secretaria Municipal da Reparacão (Municipal Secretariat for Reparations).

Over the past two election cycles, from 2008 to 2012 and from 2012 to 2016, Blacks have occupied the position of vice mayor of Salvador. Edvaldo de Brito Pereira, who ran for mayor in 1985 unsuccessfully, as previously discussed, served as the first Black appointed mayor in 1979 and served as vice mayor from 2008 until 2012. And now the post is currently held by Célia Sacramento, a lawyer and accountant by training. According to Sacramento, while Blacks have made gradual but important gains in local politics, the fact that the last two vice mayors have been Black suggests that Blacks may be within striking range and perhaps able to elect a Black mayor by the end of the decade (Sacramento 2014). The position of vice mayor as a part of Salvador’s municipal governing structure is largely symbolic and ceremonial and comes with no real power. Sacramento, however, believes the symbolism is both tactical and strategic: she argues that given the low status of Blacks and the structural racism in Salvador, it is still important to (p.139) have Black people and Black women representing the city of Salvador. The imagery, she opines, is both powerful and relational but not enactive. She argues this symbolic Black cultural power in Salvador interrupts how whites have traditionally seen Blacks in Salvador. According to Sacramento, “I am not the washerwoman or domestic. I am the Vice Mayor of Salvador who came from a working class family” (Sacramento 2014). In Salvador, these are important words. Moreover, she posits, her position and the message is important given how Blacks are constructed and how the political system has locked Blacks out of power. Sacramento believes her role as vice mayor reflects the slow, gradual changes occurring in local Black politics and that she is part of the transformation. Sacramento believes that it is time for the people of Salvador to elect a Black mayor and that Neto will be Salvador’s last white mayor. According to Sacramento, there is now a line of qualified Black leaders as well as a more sophisticated Black electorate who will support and elect a Black mayor (Sacramento 2014).

Sacramento’s views must be placed within the logic of the currents and crosscurrents on the ground in Salvador. Neto’s selection of Sacramento in an act of bold racial calculus was spot on. First, it allowed him to cloak his candidacy as well as his mayoral image in the idea of racial democracy, and second, Sacramento served as the perfect mirage for the symbolic manipulation of race, gender, and Black cultural capital, as the decision fits perfectly within the logic of Salvador’s racial democracy. She is a Black woman from Salvador who grew up poor, one of twelve children, who worked hard and became vice mayor of Salvador. This pro-hegemonic symbolism fits well in the Salvadoran ruling elites’ discourse and of course works on many levels: first, Blacks (and Black women) are extremely proud of her; second, the local white male ruling oligarchy is able to continue to rule without having made any significant or strategic concessions to the poor Black majority; and at the same time, the ruling oligarchy can pride itself on its progressive racial paternalism; it is the logic of racial democracy at its best but in the context of Salvador’s tangled racial politics. These forces are at play as Blacks attempt to break the historical grip of the ruling oligarchy even as they (the oligarchy) look to find new ways of maintaining power. Neto has therefore proven to be smart, skilled, and an (p.140) extremely astute politician. His decision to select Célia Sacramento as his running mate was seen as a bold choice, as it helped to solidify on some level the Black vote (which is nevertheless not monolithic) and Black women’s votes while simultaneously providing some superficial ideological, gender, and racial diversity to his campaign. On the national level, the Democrats are generally viewed as a right-leaning party so his choice of a Black woman from the Green Party with social movement credentials was seen as shrewd if not good politics.

Neto so far has received praise from diverse sectors of Salvador’s political communities and has proven adept at navigating the Cãmara Municipal de Salvador (the Salvador city council) as he now can count on roughly thirty-three of the forty-one members for their support. He has increased taxes and plans to use the revenue to modernize Salvador’s urban areas by upgrading the infrastructure—improving roads and highways and building more parks, hospitals, and health services. Across the city there are a vast number of long-overdue infrastructural projects under way aimed at neighborhoods, roads, parks, bus terminals, and highways that had been in disrepair but are now being upgraded. He has received good marks for streamlined social services and is largely credited with making them very effective and efficient as well as addressing some of the long-standing urban transportation issues. But the issues of transportation will need more attention. Salvador with a burgeoning population of roughly three million inhabitants does not have a rail or urban train system, so navigating the city is a bit difficult as one is obliged to depend on unreliable buses or to drive, which leads to bottleneck traffic congestion, overcrowded roads, and thick plumes of smog and pollution. As the city’s population has grown over the past twenty-five years, no improved or efficient mode of urban transportation has been implemented to meet these new pressures.

The centerpiece of Neto’s urban plan is to modernize Salvador, and his renovation strategy is to build a new mega–shopping center, Novo Aero Club e Parque Altantîco, which will be located on the northern end of Salvador toward the airport and near the ocean. The new shopping center will include condominiums, theaters, restaurants, fancy shops, playgrounds, and open-air parks. Built with local, state, and private money, it is estimated to cost around R$300 million, or (p.141) US$150 million. The project is being led by La Guardia Enterprises out of Austin, Texas, and it is estimated that it will create three thousand new jobs (Sacramento 2014). This urban strategy is intended to update Salvador’s crumbling urban infrastructure by revitalizing its image and to attract more national and international tourism. Such urban development plans are of course not new. Since the 1990s, when Neto’s grandfather was mayor and later governor, Salvador spent millions on revitalization projects, such as the restoration of old historic buildings, roads, neighborhoods, and the airport. Across the city and state, “tourism” projects—that is, projects aimed at making the city more amenable to both Brazilians and foreigners—are central to the city’s image and ability to attract visitors.

The idea of upgrading the infrastructure and making Salvador more amenable to tourism has been part of development strategies since the 1990s. According to Keisha-Khan Perry, the situation in Salvador is characterized by the global urban construction practices so common across Brazil as well as in cities such as New York and Paris. Such plans are premised on modern urban visions, which include aesthetic repositioning of “ugly, dirty and mistreated” sites into what is clean and pure (Perry 2013, 150). Such plans for urban revitalization are coded and have deeper underlying meanings, as they sometimes require the removal of poor urban communities. Moreover, as with any plans for development there are calls by poorer constituencies to spend more money on social services like schools, health care, parks, and urban transportation. Neto’s urban plans thus far on some level reflect the logic of neoliberal governments—that is, they focus on efficiently delivering basic social services, improved infrastructures, and increased spending on projects aimed at increasing investment, which in the case of Salvador means promoting tourism.

The Secretaria Municipal da Reparacão

One the most interesting if not altogether overlooked units of the local government in Salvador is the mayor’s Secretaria Municipal da Reparacão (Municipal Secretariat for Reparations), which is one of twelve official cabinet positions of the mayor’s office. Given the political (p.142) connotation of the word some might find it interesting that Salvador—one of the oldest and Blackest spaces in the Americas, where slavery was legal for centuries—has such a high-ranking secretariat of reparations. The mayor’s office and city council both have an office of reparations, but they operate independently of each other. The office of the Secretariat of Reparations is the direct result of Black social movement demands and was created roughly ten years ago by then-mayor Antonio Ibassahy (Lumumba 2013). Reparations generally speaking seek to recognize and address the harms suffered by the victims of systematic human rights violations, according to the International Center for Transnational Justice (International Center for Human Rights). However, in stark contrast to what the term reparations actually means this is not what it denotes in the context of local Salvadoran politics. In this scenario the Secretariat of Reparations does not provide any financial compensation or any type of material assistance to any community or individual claiming historical injustices, nor is it configured to investigate, hear, or adjudicate legal claims, nor does it issue any kind of legal rulings pertaining to past or present social injustices. Therefore, the secretariat’s name, however powerful, is a misnomer.

The office, which is mainly symbolic, serves as a unique mechanism to channel Black demands directly to the mayor. Groups like MNU, Ilê Aiyê, Olodum, the Center for the Defense of Black Communities, and the Black Youth Movement—and others—had long demanded that local government create a special secretariat to deal with Black issues. According to Valdo Lumumba, executive assistant to Yvete Sacramento, who works at the secretariat, the creation of the Secretaria Municipal da Reparacão stems from demands of the Black movement and is one of the concrete benefits of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 (Lumumba 2013). After the conference, the Brazilian government (both national and local), in response to pressure from Black social movements, sought ways to address the history of social exclusion and racial discrimination.

The secretariat is currently headed by Yvete Sacramento, who brings some impeccable and airtight credentials to this post. She was one of the first woman and Black deans in Brazil. She was elected dean (p.143) at the State University of Bahia in 1998, and while serving as dean she was an early affirmative action pioneer, as she was one of the first to implement these programs for students at the state level in Bahia. She opened the State University of Bahia to more students as well as created new ways to administer the vestibular. Given her experience in education as dean, and with her innovative approach to affirmative action, she was also an early advisor to former president Cardoso’s initiatives regarding affirmative action and played a key role in the preparation for the World Conference against Racism. While on some level innovative, the Secretariat of Reparation has a very small budget and no legislative or investigative powers, and it is not able to issue reports on issues pertaining to racial discrimination or social exclusion. It is composed of several important bodies, including the Local Council of Black Communities, the Special Racial Observatory, and a Black Youth Commission that has a special educational program to combat racial discrimination. These bodies may make recommendations to the secretary, and she is responsible for keeping the mayor updated on the needs and status of various Black constituencies across Salvador (Lumumba 2013).

However, the inability to issue reports or conduct investigation limits the overall scope of its works. Moreover, the commission’s work is often obscure, and given its low budget, it is difficult to project its image. As a largely symbolic and powerless agency, its overall work is only tangential to the larger needs of Salvador’s urban poor. Nevertheless the work of the commission is important as it gives the sitting mayor political cover and at least in theory the ability to understand, respond to, and prepare legislative initiatives aimed at addressing the concerns raised by Black constituencies. It remains to be seen how Neto will respond to the specific needs of Salvador’s poor Black majority. In his inaugural address there was no mention of social inequality, racial discrimination, or social exclusion, nor did he speak about the work of the commission.

(p.144) The Cãmara Municipal de Salvador

Currently the Cãmara Municipal de Salvador (Salvador city council) is composed of forty-one city council seats, and currently Blacks hold eleven seats. The period between 1988 and 1992 was important in the history of Salvador as more and more Blacks were elected to the Salvador city council. The city council is composed of a diverse set of individuals and political parties, from the right to the center to the far left. The majority of Blacks elected to Salvador’s city council hail from working-class backgrounds compared to its white members, who usually come from middle- to upper-class backgrounds (Mitchell 2009). But Afro-Brazilians in general and Blacks in Salvador tend to be affiliated with the Workers’ Party (Johnson 2006; Mitchell 2009) more than with any other party. Tia Eron, a Black woman with strong ties to the evangelical movement, received the most votes in the 2012 election and was easily reelected to her fourth term to Salvador’s city council. First elected in 2000, Eron became one of the first Black women to win a city council seat in Salvador. Eron has deep support across Salvador, is a member of the right-leaning evangelical Partido Republicano Brasileiro, and is part of the Black Evangelical Movement. Eron articulates a strong Black rights discourse and gender consciousness; she fights for the rights of the poor, Blacks, and women and is involved in educational projects across the city.

She argues that she is “breaking the paradigm” of what it means to be Black in Salvador. “I don’t wear a dashiki, nor do I wear dreadlocks, and I do not practice Candomblé, nor am I a lesbian, nor was I ever part of the Black movement,” Eron says. She goes one step further and adds, “I am not a stereotypical Black from Salvador.” She then framed her argument using Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. as examples. She argues that they both connected their social identity to politics and religion, one as a southern Black preacher and the other as a Black Muslim. “So, why can’t I use my religion?” (Eron 2013). Moreover, she argues that, like King, she is also a Protestant. Eron believes that religion in Salvador is mainly used to divide Black people, and one of her key projects is to connect with different faiths—Candomblé included. (p.145)

Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Figure 7.3. Tia Eron was elected to the Salvador city council in 2000, becoming one of the first Black women to do so. She is part of the evangelical movement and in 2015 was elected to the National Congress of Brazil as a federal deputy (thus she is no longer part of the city council). July 2013.

Photo by author.

It is important to ask several questions: First, what does Eron mean by “I am not a stereotypical Black from Salvador”? Second, how is her consciousness informed by said stereotype? Her ideas are rooted in the notion that Black “evangelicals” are somehow less Black than those who practice Candomblé or who wear dreadlocks. Eron’s views spotlight and serve as an example of the ways Black identity in Salvador has been constructed, portrayed, and marketed in Salvador and across the Diaspora. Her positionality underscores the structural nature of Black identity and consciousness. The axis of her social identities revolves around the following: race (Blackness), gender (female), class (working-class, grew up poor), religion (Protestant/evangelical), and politics (right-leaning). She thus on some level openly contests and challenges (at least in her mind) what it means to be Black in Salvador while at the same time she is “labeling” and stereotyping other Blacks based on prevailing social constructions.

Additionally, Eron is waging another fight, and it is within her party; she believes it does not understand (or care about) issues of race, (p.146) which in her views are central to addressing the problems of Blacks in Salvador and Brazil. According to the Partido Republicano Brasileiro, Black people don’t exist—only people. She argues that the party needs a critique of race and gender and must develop a plan to address racial discrimination (Eron 2013). She is extremely popular across Salvador and many wonder out loud whether she will run for mayor; and if she does run, some believe that she could become the first Black elected mayor of Salvador. In 2015, Eron was elected to the National Congress of Brazil as a federal deputy and is no longer a member of the Salvador city council.

Burdick (1993, 1998a, 1998b) and Selka (2007) have written extensively on the positionality of Black Pentecostals and their uneasy relationship with, and the perception of them within, Black social movements in Brazil. First, they have drawn our attention to the growing popularity of Pentecostalism; second, they have argued that these movements and forms of consciousness must be taken more seriously by Afro-Brazilian social movement leaders, politicians, and researchers; and third, they have suggested that Black identity in Brazil is interwoven in complex ways with African identity in other parts of the Diaspora. And like other scholars they have underscored how Black Pentecostals in Brazil are constructed as less political, more conservative, politically unsophisticated despite evidence to the contrary (Cleary and Stewart-Gambino 1997; Selka 2007), and for the most part underrepresented in major Black consciousness organizations; in stark contrast practitioners of Candomblé are constructed as “closer to Africa” and therefore more conscious and theoretically more politically active.

But despite the problems with such constructions Burdick and Selka have pointed out that the growing Pentecostal movement should be a point of deep reflection for Black social movements in Brazil and Salvador. Given their social and political potential as allies in the overall fight to dismantle racism and promote Black rights, Burdick and Selka suggest that evangelicals be taken more seriously and not written off. Burdick posits that perhaps evangelicals’ identity, while generally hostile to racial identity, might foster other forms of antiracism through its discourse of human equality. And Selka, writing about evangelicals (p.147)

Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Figure 7.4. An ad from Salvador’s Secretariat of Reparations reminding citizens to denounce racism and violence against women during carnival. 2012.

In possession of author.


Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Figure 7.5. Closing session of the Salvador city council, June 2013.

Photo by author.

in Salvador, suggests that initiatives such as the Movimento Evangélico Progessista (Progressive Evangelical Movement, or MEP) could offer possible points of articulation between evangelical Christianity and the Black movement. Moreover, their (evangelicals’) emphasis on electoral politics and their grassroots mobilization capacity, if harnessed properly, could positively impact the broader struggle against racism and social justice in Salvador and Brazil (Selka 2007, 96). These multiple and competing social constructions of identity regarding the modalities of Black consciousness operate within several hegemonic spheres in Salvador: these hegemonies are reproduced via the media, marketing campaigns, carnival, the tourism-industrial complex, Black cultural producers (blocos), and the state.

In sharp contrast to Eron, on the other side of the political spectrum is Sílvio Humberto, who was also elected to Salvador’s city council in 2012. His election (with the Partido Socialista [PS]/Socialist Party) was viewed as a historical event and important victory for Black (p.149) progressives across the city of Salvador. Holding a PhD in economics, Humberto is one of the founding members of the Steve Biko Cultural Institute and was until recently its executive director. Given the difficulty that Black progressives have had getting elected to local government, Humberto’s election was viewed as a milestone in Black radical electoral politics in Salvador, as he is one of the first from the Black progressive movement to be elected to Salvador’s city council. Building a grassroots movement from below, he ran a campaign that underscored “Educacão, Igualdade e Respeito” (education, equality, and respect) as the basis of citizenship for all of Salvador’s citizens. His campaign drew support from students, blocos, and labor and religious groups (African, Catholic, and Protestant), as it highlighted the status of the urban poor, violence against youth, a failed public educational system, and the lack of governmental transparency (Humberto 2014).

Humberto’s mandate is to work with local government, teachers, and students to address the poor quality of education and police violence. Currently he serves on three permanent committees on the city council: he is the president of the Comissão de Educacão, Esporte, Cultura e Lazer (Commission on Education, Sports, and Culture) and the Comissão de Reparacão (Commission on Reparations), which is separate from the Secretariat for Reparations, and he also serves as a member of the Comissão de Finanças, Orçamento e Fiscalização (Finance and Planning Committee). One of his first tasks as president of the Commission on Education, Sports, and Culture was to conduct a survey and visit some of Salvador’s public schools in order to better understand the needs of teachers and students. On a visit to one school, A Escola Municipal Parque São Cristovão, Humberto learned that the school had gone one month without any running water. In many other schools the infrastructure was compromised, there was no running water, and classrooms lacked teachers and basic materials. Humberto said he was shocked at the dilapidated state of some schools (Humberto 2014).

Humberto is also addressing one of the most disturbing issues faced by Black youth in Salvador: the harsh, punitive, overwhelming, and sometimes lethal police violence used disproportionately against Black youths, who are the main victims of state aggression in Salvador. (p.150)

Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Figure 7.6. A poster from Salvador’s Secretariat of Reparations’ Racial Observatory Committee: “The Eyes of the World are here.” No date available.

In possession of author.

Unilateral police violence against Black youths on one hand and intergang and individual violence on the other are probably the most urgent issues facing the citizens of Salvador if not Brazil as a whole. Humberto, given his long history as a movement activist, has witnessed the day-to-day police brutality facing Salvador’s youth. As Humberto asks, “How can one say there do not exist harsh measures as one sees the genocide of Black youth? We have to understand that our Black youth are being exterminated” (Humberto 2013).

Humberto, unlike most candidates from mainstream political (p.151)

Black Electoral Politics in Salvador from the 1970s to the 2000s

Figure 7.7. Informational bulletin from the office of Sílvio Humberto to his constituents featuring his campaign motto, “Education, Equality, and Respect.” 2013.

In possession of author.

(p.152) parties, has chosen to shed light on police violence and social cleansing as urgent issues to be addressed by the mayor, the city council, and civil society. On some level his presence on the local city council brings a fresh and radical perspective rooted in the idea that police violence is a political issue as well as a human rights issue. His election and his new role on the city council created a radical new political space to address issues historically downplayed. Long denied a voice in local politics, Humberto is now able to put issues on the table that were heretofore taboo. He articulates a Black radical democratic vision long absent in local politics in Salvador. According to Humberto, Salvador, as a site of Black political power, culture, and identity, must challenge the hold the Salvador ruling elite have on political power. He wants to deconstruct political and economic hierarchies that have kept Black people out of power and at the very bottom of the social pyramid. In a recent interview Humberto asked, what type of city do the citizens of Salvador want? He says that they must want more than the efficient delivery of social services. He believes that—along with social services—issues of education, equality, police violence, free expression, practice of all religions, and peace and security are critical to address.

This snapshot serves to illustrate the ideological and social complexity, diversity, and density of local politics in this city of 2.5 million people. Despite the rise of blocos, the Black consciousness movements, strong Afro-referenced identities, the bold articulation of a new Black politics (cultural and formal), the new historic opportunities for Blacks in Brazil starting in the 1980s, and the fact that Salvador is an important site of transnational Diasporic Black identity, Blacks in Salvador and the state of Bahia have not been able to make significant gains at the municipal and state levels of Bahian politics despite their demographic and numerical strength. They are in fact still grossly underrepresented in local politics in Salvador and Bahia. Many Blacks in Bahia, to some extent, attribute the underrepresentation of Blacks in government to racism (Mitchell 2009), but this is a double-edged sword given that, as Gladys Mitchell points out in her survey research, Black candidates rarely focus on racism or racial inequality in their political campaigns. However, Sílvio Humberto’s 2012 campaign for city (p.153) council to some extent addressed racial discrimination even though his main platform focused on education.

Some are extremely pessimistic about the prospect of Blacks gaining a major foothold in Salvadoran politics and its economic structure, while some believe that Blacks are making slow, gradual, and important gains in the electoral arena. In short the cultural power of Blacks thus far has not led to a better socioeconomic situation for the urban masses of Salvador. The reasons for this are not altogether clear but some include the historical disenfranchisement and exclusion of Blacks from the political system until recently (1980s); the intricate structure of local party politics and the complexity of the hierarchies of power; the fact that negros não votom em negros” (Blacks don’t vote for Blacks); and the tight grip of the white Bahian business elite, which they continue to use to control, rule, and manipulate local and state politics. To date, Salvador has not elected a Black mayor, and few Black candidates have sought the office. (p.154)