Inspired by the separatist vote in Catalonia, secessionists in three wealthy southern Brazilian states are redoubling their efforts to break away from the crisis-battered nation.
Residents of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana states are being called to vote in an informal plebiscite on Oct. 7 on whether they want independence. Organizers are also urging residents of the three states to sign a legislative proposal for each of their regional assemblies that would call for a formal, binding referendum. The non-profit group “The South is My Country” aims to mobilize a million voters in 900 out of the region’s 1,191 cities.
Brazil’s wealthy southern states
Whiter and richer than the rest of Brazil, these southern states with cooler weather have long nursed separatist ambitions. Rio Grande do Sul even briefly claimed independence 180 years ago. Few Brazilians expect the current movement to succeed any time soon, not least because it is prohibited by the Constitution. But the country’s deepest recession on record and a massive corruption scandal have exacerbated the region’s longstanding resentment towards the federal government in Brasilia. With just one year to go until general elections, the rekindling of separatist sentiment in the south is another indicator of the unsettled state of Brazilian politics.
Celso Deucher, the leader of The South is My Country, says the region contributes four times as much tax as it receives and suffers from a below-average level of political representation. He argues that such an unjust situation outweighs any legal concerns.
“Whenever the subject of separatism comes up, they ban it because the federal Constitution does not allow it,” he said. “But the law is not immutable.”
The vote is clearly ruffling some feathers. A city councilor in Parana has asked the local electoral authorities to stop the vote. A ruling is expected on Thursday.
Apathy, however, may prove as much of an obstacle to the movement’s ambitions as the law. In an informal vote in the region last year, an overwhelming 96 percent voted for independence, but on a turnout of just under 3 percent.
The wealth of the South is also not what it once was. While real wages are above the national average, the area now ranks just third out of the five Brazilian regions in terms of GDP per capita, though it is richer than the north and the north-east by a considerable margin.