Brazil’s Self-Inflicted Wound, Colltalers
There was a moment of utter amusement, amid the long, chaotic and distorted process that culminated with Brazilian parliamentarians voting to impeach President Dilma Rousseff: it was last Monday, when the impeachment was annulled.
And just as swift, the moment evaporated, and the process to put an 180-day break in Rousseff’s 18-month second term, one that started with over 54 million votes in October 2014, was back on track. In the meantime, there’s a self-appointed government in place.
More that in a minute, but first a recap of Brazil’s current political woes. For instance, the author of the unexpected act, Waldir Maranhão, is a virtually unknown deputy who only became lower house’s speaker because its titular, and Rousseff’s executioner, the infamous Eduardo Cunha, had been himself impeached. In case you’re wondering, yes, Maranhão is also accused of corruption.
(Apparently, Russian dolls-like model is another thing Brazil shares with Russia, besides being part of the BRICS trade bloc.)
Let’s quickly summarize what the international press has been reporting, often with gross generalizations, about Brazil’s turmoil: Rousseff is being impeached for alleged manipulation of fiscal numbers, and other decisions, to make the economy look a bit better just in time for her reelection. The fact that none are impeachable crimes hasn’t prevented her opposition from building its case.
About that opposition: 60% of the 594 Congressmen (including few of PT’s 57 block) are accused of bribery, kidnapping, and murder, but are shield by laws some of them helped write. No one seems to do time for illegal enrichment, i.e., secret Swiss banking accounts, the most common charge. Cunha is but a poster boy for a widespread habit of politicians all over, and Brazilians in particular.
Ironically, despite headline-grabbing huge corruption schemes plaguing government and elected officials, such as kickbacks linked to the privatization of public companies in the 1990s,
and the Mensalão after the Workers’ Party (PT) came into power, in 2003, it was that party’s rule what finally ignited a string of serious probes that did land some big corporate and political big wings in jail.
None among those who voted for Rousseff’s impeachment, however, are likely to follow suit. A who-is-who of Brazilian dark stars of political corruption, they include among others current and four-time Senate President, Renan Calheiros, an éminence grise from a party that’s been the definition of what means to be an éminence grise in Brazilian politics for over 40 years, PMDB.
Founded when a military dictatorship was still in control of Brazil, in the 1960s, the then called MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement in loose translation) more than a party, was a congregation of opponents to the authoritarian regime. In the era of the ‘for us or against us,’ it was the sole party to shelter a dizzying array of libertarian ideas, under the ‘fighting to restore democracy’ umbrella.
But even before the militaries returned to the barracks, in 1985, it’d already drowned into an undistinguished ideological mud. In place of clear ideological principles, it had become the unavoidable stop to every coalition on its way to power, in Brazil, with a growing constituency of king makers and political warlords to match. The PT had to enlist the PMDB to get elected, which it did.
It’s now Brazil’s biggest party to never having elected a president, and doesn’t even offer contenders to the position. But enough of boring behind-the-scenes machinations, the power behind the power in Brazil, that animates only those personally invested into it.
No one is mourning the death of idealism at the core of the PMDB, the party of interim Brazilian President, Michel Temer, who pushed the rug under Rousseff by withdrawing its support from her coalition and, you’ve guessed, is also accused of corruption (and of being U.S. informer, no less).
One word about Brazil’s judiciary, led by Supremo Federal Tribunal, which has had a less than stellar role in the impeachment process that has paralyzed the nation for almost two years now. It has been startling hesitant, and frightening agreeable with the blatant flaws of the entire movement to remove Rousseff from power. And now, in the push to incriminate her sponsor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Still possessing a respectable mandate among a majority of Brazilians, not in little part from his accomplishments as a two-term president, Lula has faced a relentless barrage of accusations since his first term, that only now are beginning to take their toll.
To PT’s opposition, it was always clear that the way to get to the Palácio da Alvorada, site of Brazil’s government in Brasília, was to defeat Lula. But that was never an option at the polls in four consecutive elections; the contention was only close in 2014.
Thus, according to some, the campaign mocking his lack of college education and humble origins (the first president from the impoverished Northeast). But despite allegations that he owns multimillion-dollar farms and properties, his vacation croft in São Paulo state is estimated to have cost less that a hundred thousand reais, to make it habitable, well within his presidential wages.
But if that, and other assets under his name or one of his kids, are but a fraction of the $40+ million Cunha is believed to hold in Switzerland, it was enough for the public prosecutor to order the federal police to publicly arrest and parade Lula in March.
An ongoing investigation into state-run Petrobras involves Rousseff and prominent politicians of PSDB, PT’s biggest opponent, and party of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Since its creation, in the 1940s, the oil giant has been a cash cow to the government, used as a convenient flush fund. The two-year old current probe, though, is not exactly about that. Enough said.
As for the PSDB, Cardoso, and other would-be presidents with invested interest in demoting the status quo, they all witnessed with dismay the opportunity to return to Brasilia being snatched away by the old foxes of PMDB. But don’t cry for them just yet.
When Maranhão stunned his own party, announcing the annulment of Rousseff’s impeachment based on a procedural rationale, he caught not just the president by surprise, but even jurists who have found fatal flaws in the process, and denounced its political character. None had been enlisted for his support, and Maranhão’s motion fell through under its own phony gravitas.
Needless to say, he’s done for the near future, but one never knows: in Brazilian politics, it’s been open season to the bizarre and the unpredictable. To have a pale idea, one of Rousseff’s few supporters is former president Fernando Collor de Mello, who was also impeached in the 1990s, but by proven evidence that he embezzled and broke the law while in office. He’s again facing inquiries.
This past week, Brazilians already had a glimpse of what a Temer administration will look like. His all-white, all-male ministry took the oath of office, while measures to cut down government jobs and a profound retooling of the economy were announced.
That means that, beside the immediate end to diversity in the upper echelons of government, something else more sinister may be apace. Even while declaring that PT’s groundbreaking social programs, which lifted millions from extreme poverty and enlarged the country’s middle class, won’t suffer budget cuts, the beast will be starved by not having enough public servers to manage the system.
Soon enough, cuts may be all but inevitable. And since declining global commodity prices and a faltering trade balance don’t show signs of relenting, the same ills that strangled Rousseff’s economic strategy may force the country towards a sharp austerity turn.
In others words, is not hard to imagine that Brazil will soon be knocking on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s doors, which it hasn’t done since the 1990s. That is, for all senses and purposes, it’ll be the 1990s again in Brazil, as inflation is already there.
But such a somber prospect doesn’t have to come into fruition. Rousseff may as well be done, but a new generation of Brazilians, who grew up with PT’s liberal policies, anti-discrimination laws, the affirmative action that allowed an unprecedented number of blacks and minorities into higher education, is coming to age now, and may push to keep what it helped the country to achieve.
Ultimately, it’ll be up to them, along with progressive segments of society, to make this er interruption be just that, a momentary lapse of reason. And two years from now vote again to chose who they want to lead the nation back to the future. Have a great one. WC