The trajectory of Brazilian politics has never been a smooth one, being largely characterized by the wheeling-and-dealing of diverse powerful factions in society within the parameters of an institutional bureaucracy that operates in a pervasive climate of corruption and ideological dishonesty in its many forms. In this respect at least it can only be said to mirror the propensity to error which is present in humanity itself, which manifest more intensely whenever people have a poor allocation of their priorities; blessed with a constitution that is in many ways impeccable, nevertheless the political machinery in Brazil more often than not falls prey to old vices of greed and pride.
The eruption that has taken place recently in the House of Deputies in Congress, the proceedings for the impeachment of Worker’s Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff, however points to many tragic failings, diverse motivations, and social realities which have not been immediately apparent in the media coverage, left or right, national or international. These are all aspects and dimensions of a political crisis that reflect, among many things, underlying dysfunctions in the public discourse, generally inaccurate accounts of the PT administration’s track record, as well as unresolved tensions in society that have now bubbled up to the surface.
The coup that wasn’t
The degree to which distortion has plagued the discussion around Rousseff’s impeachment can be said to be perfectly illustrated in the drastic contrast of the tone taken by, Sao Paulo-based conservative magazine Veja , and its left-wing counterpart Carta Capital.
The latter can only be described as a sort of Brazilian Pravda dedicated to closing ranks around the PT and liberally taking liberties with the facts, if only to defend any and every action of the Rousseff administration and demonize the “coup-mongers”- universally depicted in the well-rehearsed pantomime view of politics of the regressive left as “white middle-class racists and misogynists”. On the other hand, Veja has an established record of whitewashing recent history, in almost completely overlooking the misdeeds of previous PSDB (the historical opposition, now virtually replaced by the ideologically plastic PMDB) governments, and going along with any conspiracy theory that serves the purpose of undermining the PT- during the election year of 2014 they were even forced to publicly retract some slanderous claims about the party, after a judicial ruling.
As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes, which are continually reenacted elsewhere, even in international coverage, as seen on The Guardian’s latest hagiography of Rousseff as a socialist woman who fell victim to a conservative all-white all-male cabal .
There are many points which merit greater reflection in this crisis. First and foremost, it’s the case that the PT governments have presided over an impressive edifice of corruption- this isn’t a fabrication of the right. As Brazil-based left-wing commentator and Sao Paulo University Professor Sean Purdy has eloquently argued, despite rhetoric of house-cleaning and ethical politics that characterized the rise of the PT, “the party has engaged in the same appalling behavior as the country’s other capitalist parties. From phony contracts and mob connections in PT-ruled cities in the 1990s to bribes for votes at the federal level in the 2000s, the party has been transformed into a business-as-usual operation.”
Furthermore, as Purdy confirms, the degree of fear-mongering that the Brazilian left-wing intelligentsia has directed at the opposition is on every account, entirely hypocritical. For instance, there have been claims that a post-Rousseff government would roll back on social reforms, deal out police brutality to dissenters, neglect the interests of minority groups, and be implicated in corruption. As it turned out, the likes of Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, and other celebrity champagne socialists who parroted these claims must have been asleep when Rousseff herself came out with an austerity policy which made cuts to education, welfare, and raised the retirement age, among other unpopular and anti-poor measures.
Likewise, it was Rousseff who sent the police out to silence protests which threatened the 2014 World Cup from going ahead; it was Rousseff who has gone ahead with policies that postponed the demarcation of Indian lands so as to aid and abet deforestation and the reign of cattle-ranchers in the Amazon; it was Rousseff, and her party, which allied themselves with local political dynasties that thrived on nepotism and corruption. It was Lula, and other PT higher ups who very clearly enriched themselves through questionable means, throughout this whole period-Lula inexplicably for instance has gone from being a modest union leader in the 80s, to being a millionaire with family members living playboy lifestyles.
Then there is the strange disassociation between Michel Temer, the PMDB vice-President and Rousseff that has cropped up in the left-wing media, whereby even though Temer was elected on the same ticket as Rousseff, and was picked by her to be the running mate he is now seen as a Judas figure. All sorts of claims have been made against the new cabinet he has chosen, following Rousseff’s temporary departure from office by virtue of the impeachment proceedings, and how he is an illegitimate usurper- which if we are honest, if anything only reflect poorly on Rousseff herself, since she was the one who picked him in the first place, and who is in fact exercising a legitimate constitutional function as her successor, in the event of an impeachment.
All of this is as far as it can be from a “coup”, the accusation that so easily flows from die-hard PT supporters and the media outlets who buy into the selective narrative they’ve concocted.
The revolution that wasn’t
If the left-wing media has departed from reality in their defense of Rousseff, the same in some respects can be said of the opposition. The “operation car wash”, the criminal investigation of corruption in the state-owned Petrobras oil company initiated by local judge Sergio Moro, which opened the lid on the whole can of worms, has in fact named not only PT politicians in the scandal, but members of every other party too, including the opposition.
The failed Presidential contender in the 2014 elections, Aecio Neves (PSDB), himself now is being formally investigated, while impeachment protagonist Eduardo Cunha (PMDB) who until recently presided over the House of Deputies, has been stripped of his office and is now being investigated by the Supreme Court for bribery and other criminal offenses. Evidently it’s the case that the rebellion against Rousseff in Congress was indeed conducted in large measure by a gang of thieves who have just as many skeletons in the closet as anyone else.
In that sense there’s a tangible feeling that to some degree the whole operation, despite intrinsic merit, suggested a scapegoating element was at play, whereby some Congressmen hoped that in throwing Rousseff to the lions, to appease public anger, they would be spared the same fate.
It is also the case that in spite of the enthusiasm the public has at times shown for the impeachment protagonists, this wave of support has at times obscured the truly unsavory character of many of these people. After all, the groups in Congress who allied themselves to the cause have included the evangelical base, which is composed of largely fanatical and corrupt ‘pastor-politicans’, the agribusiness lobby, which consists of greedy and unscrupulous pawns of cattle-ranchers, and remnants of the military regime- such as congressman Jair Bolsonaro, whose speech during the impeachment vote sang the praises of a notorious torturer during the dictatorship, whom he cheerfully described as “Dilma’s terror”.
Similarly, it is true that Michel Temer, now acting President, is a suspect individual, being as he is a member of the PMDB party, which exists seemingly only as a vehicle for careerists with no ideological persuasion save for their own self-preservation. While the national and international left-wing media have focused their attacks on the man on the weak basis of identity politics, that his cabinet is all-male and all-white, and that Dilma is a woman, there’s a much more pertinent reason to be skeptical of his intentions.
Something that has received little attention has been the Wikileaks revelation that Michel Temer has in the past acted as a US informant back in 2006 , and that curiously, the current US ambassador to Brazil was the same one who served in Paraguay back in 2012 , and around the time that left-wing former President Lugo was impeached on very strange grounds (as I explained in detail in one article of mine, originally published at the time ). This is very troubling as it is suggestive that there’s a possibility that the US has played a role in these proceedings, given the similar pattern that has characterized the impeachment of left-wing figures in the continent, such as the attempts against Chavez in 2002, the successful ousting of Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009, and Lugo’s case in 2012.
Failed policies and righteous anger
In any case, the unusual elevation of unsavory political figures in the popular consciousness has not been accidental, or merely a position assumed by default. The Rousseff administration, and the PT, has had its role in radicalizing many Brazilians, notably by virtue of the perceptible trend in the advancement of unpopular, divisive and clearly ideologically-laced social policies. Of these, ones that come to mind are for example the many attempts at the introduction of ‘gender ideology’ in the school curriculum , the establishment of racialized affirmative action in universities , the Sao Paulo law by PT mayor Fernando Haddad that prescribed special benefits for transsexuals , and a particularly notorious misdirection of public funds- the ‘Rouanet law’- which became emblematic of these failed policies.
The Rouanet law was originally a policy designed to incentivize the cultural patrimony of the country, in advancing artistic ventures through tax deductions for public and private companies that chose to back them up. Such a benign-sounding initiative however has become a running gag in comedy circles and political commentary alike, as apparently under Rousseff, 3% of artistic projects swallowed up 50% of incentives, resulting in what Brazilian news outlet Spotnicks deemed a “scenario that contributed to the cultural concentration in the country, while leaving little incentive for minor projects” , adding that the policy spawned a string of bizarre productions.
These have included the funding of “the world’s most expensive blog” by an already famous singer, Maria Bethania, called “the world needs poetry”, that was allocated R$ 1,35 million, which the singer discontinued following backlash; the provision of R$ 4,1 million for a tour by Luan Santana, another already famous teenage pop country music singer; and strangest of all, theatrical productions of “Peppa Pig” were lavished with R$ 1,7 million in sponsorship.
All in all, it can be said that the situation in Brazil is very strange, to say the least- in a country where income inequality verges on the obscene, where hospitals have no funding, and social provisions are inadequate, to put it mildly, the Rousseff administration has chosen to pursue inexplicably unpopular projects alongside having presided over corruption. Meanwhile, the impeachment and the backlash against her administration simultaneously appears to be led by equally inept and sinister elements, albeit ones riding on the wave of righteous anger on the part of the populace. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Brazil.