Brazil had an opportunity to be a leading, democratic, Latin American country but lost its sense of direction. The political system designed to assist emerging countries grow and prosper does not work there. Instead of growing, as so many predicted it would, over the last seven years the country has fallen apart.
During the last term of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration, there were jobs, people had money, credit was flowing, new social programs were uplifting the poor and indigent out of poverty, colleges and universities were springing up all over the country, and millions moved into the middle class – Brazilians were happy. Now, the economy of Brazil has collapsed, the government is in turmoil and the society is in decline. Moreover, since the impeachment of ex-president Dilma Rouseff, the country is fractious. One of the most convoluted aspects of the impeachment is how the members of the lower house accused of corruption in the Petrobras scandal facilitated Rouseff’s demise. Almost two thirds of the Congress of Brazil are under investigation for corruption (352 out of 594). These are some of the same politicians accused of bribery, money laundering, and influence peddling in the Petrobras scandal. And to make matters worse, her successor, Michel Temer was accused of corruption and fined. The next in line, the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros was investigated for accepting bribes as part of the Petrobras scandal. And the previous speaker of the house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha was impeached and is currently serving time in prison. All of these men suspected of corruption. As Glenn Greenwald put it:
“How can anyone who is minimally rational believe this is about “corruption” when they’re about to install as President someone far more implicated in corruption than the person they’re removing?…”
DAY OF THE IMPEACHMENT
The day of impeachment by the Congress was on a Sunday. In Brazil, people usually reserve Sundays for staying home and watching futebol (soccer) and cheering on their favorite teams. One can hear people yelling, screaming, firecrackers going off and the sound of “goal” echoing through the streets. This Sunday was different. It seemed the whole country was silent, everyone sitting home watching the proceedings to impeach the President, Dilma Rouseff. Every now and then, one could hear someone voicing his or her displeasure with the whole thing. However, for the most part, it was a solemn Sunday. While watching the television, demonstrators in cities across the nation were wearing their colors, (the green and yellow were for impeachment, and the red and white were against impeachment), one could get the sense there were more people in the streets for impeachment than against it. Although the people against impeachment made a good showing, it was a smaller crowd.
When I asked people what they thought about the proceedings, most thought it was a sham – a perversion of democracy at work. Most of them had the same criticism – how is it possible that a congress full of corrupt politicians who steal taxpayer’s money could have the nerve to attempt to impeach the president for what they are guilty of doing? This controversy sent every day, regular citizens to the streets protesting, fighting, and almost inciting rebellion. The tensions between supporters of the different parties was so intense that fistfights were breaking out in the streets, in bars, and even in the halls of the Congress.
Now this brings us to the lawless element that was taking over the society. Due more to economic pressures than political ones, crime was exploding. No one wanted to talk about the side effects that the economic downturn had on the poor and low-income people (because no one likes to talk about the poor and low-income in general). Yet, bandits were roaming the streets in broad daylight like lions ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey searching for people to victimize by robbing and killing them (sometimes even after they gave up all their possessions). And not just killing them, but “over” killing them leaving them with bullet-riddled bodies bleeding out in the streets with people looking on in awe but no one daring to raise a finger to help for fear they might get killed as well. Middle and upper-middle class people were hiding behind walled enclaves called “closed condominiums” or condomímios fechado with security guards. Most of them were afraid to walk the streets but since they could afford brand new, imported cars they drove through the misery and acted like it did not exist. That is, until they get stopped in a traffic jam and a bandit rides up on a motorbike and robs them inside their cars or even shots them. In Salvador, when a bandit takes the time to rob you, if you do not have anything worth stealing, sometimes they would shoot you anyway.
Unfortunately, many people were acting as though nothing was happening. Many were saying that Brazil had been through so many different periods of turmoil, this was just another one and it would soon pass. But, when they went to the supermarkets each month and saw the price of goods continuing to skyrocket due to inflation they did not like it. When they saw their friends and neighbors losing their condominiums, or the interest rates of their new car loans and mortgages continued to rise making payments difficult, they felt the pinch.
The effects of the economic downturn on the population especially the so-called “new middle class” or income dependent class had started to show. People were losing their jobs, their condominiums, cars and comfortable lifestyles due to the unprecedented number of Brazilian companies filing for bankruptcy. Retired civil service and state workers were not receiving their pension checks. Entire states were behind in paying recipients or not paying them at all. Hundreds of thousands of retirees and pensioners (those getting paid) were receiving only 25% of their pensions while those above a certain threshold were not receiving anything. Of course, these people were not able to sustain themselves on only 25% of their pensions because of their lifestyle and the burden of huge revolving credit card debt.
Reports coming out of Brazilian media (especially mainstream media), were not really trustworthy. In 2012, there were reports in the media about a considerable amount of foreigners leaving Brazil – British, Canadians, and Germans. Why all of a sudden were all these people returning to their countries? Some of them could recognize the warning signs. Brazil was heading toward a catastrophe and all the turmoil that accompanies such an event. When we consider that the economy had already been in a downturn since 2010, it made sense that people wanted to get out of the way of the madness that was soon to follow. This was especially true for people that had no national obligation to a country that had “shot itself in the foot.”
If there were anything certain about all of this, it would seem evident that Brazil has lost its good leadership and its sense of direction. The old order is corrupt and greedy, and none of Brazil’s new leaders knows how to find a better way. Many people in Brazil believe that regardless of the political party (PMDB, PSDB, PT, etc.) it is just a changing of chairs yet a continuance of the same existing power structure. In other words, it does not matter which party is in control (Brazil has twenty-seven different political parties), they all are guilty of corruption – they all practice influence peddling and money laundering. Many people believe that Brazil is not a real democracy and attempts to form one were subverted by authoritarian elements from the old dictatorship. These elements infiltrated the newly developing democratic structure and worked from within. As a result, many people believe that democracy does not work in Brazil and at least a portion of the population have started calling for the return of a dictatorship.
It is also important to mention that many Brazilians do not like Lula but are not able to deny his accomplishments as a president. Nor can they deny the good he has done for Latin America in general. Although in some instances, a distinguished leader may appear in Brazil, it is only afterwards in the height of their career that fortune may or may not reject them. And, until another leader comes along that establishes new laws and new approaches that are well founded and dignified, Brazil will have difficulty trying to function as a model for Latin America. It should seem obvious that no political party can win and keep the trust of a people by stealing from them to the point that it causes bitter poverty and suffering. For this reason, the right wing, authoritarian political class of Brazil will not be able to sustain a stable government. While the left-wing socialist parties may improve the quality of life for its people, they will constantly be under attack from their opponents. Brazil is in a critical place. It has to make fundamental decisions about getting rid of corruption, restoring investor confidence, attracting private investment, and the government has to prove to the world that it is serious. The country and people really have their own destiny in their hands. They have to decide if they are going to be a model Latin-American nation for transformation or not. Currently, they are still trying to have it both ways. As a Brazilian woman so adequately put it, “everyone is concerned with how much corruption is in the system but what they fail to realize is that corruption is the system in Brazil.”
Brainard, L., Martinez-Diaz, Leonardo, (2009). Brazil as a Economic Superpower: Understanding Brazil’s Changing Role in the Global Economy. Washington DC, Brookings Institute; Diaz-Alejandro., Cooper, R.N. and Dornbusch, Rudiger. (1983). Some Aspects of the 1982-83 Brazilian Payment Crisis. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Vol. 1983(2), 515-552; Almeida, J.T., (2008). Brazil: economics, politics and sociology. New York, Nova Science Publishers; Schineller, Lisa, (2012). es.com/sites/kBrazil’s economic success is based on more than the demand for natural resources. America’s Quarterly;http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/3811; Rapoza, K. (2016) Latest Brazil Study on Impeachment Unlikely to Save Dilma. http://www.forbenrapoza/2016/06/27/latest-brazil-study-on-impeachment-unlikely-to-save-dilma/#67d7b0a44b9a/span>