By Carina Minami Uchida a 1st year International Relations student from Brazil and Japan. She is interested in corruption and civil conflict of developing nations.
This week the Brazilian lower house has overwhelmingly voted in favor of processing the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff to the senate, with 367 in favor, 137 against and 7 absentees. The process was long and tensions were high for all 42 hours with speeches alluding to the dictatorship, communism and even fascism. 17th of April 2016 will forever remain in Brazil’s history books. The question now stands, what happens now? To our crippling political stability, the ever failing economy and most of all, to the Brazilian people who are supposedly finally experiencing the revolution they so craved for decades.
In Brazil, since the military dictatorship came to an end in 1985, corruption has echoed through the streets of its people, a constant underlying commonality that thrived in national politics and governmental leaders. People complain about their politicians during happy hour, at the gym and at every social gathering because it has become so common, normal and almost adequate. It seemed that those powerful in Brazil were untouchable, despite how blatantly they cheated their way through politics and the economy, running the nation into the deepest recession since 1901 whilst embezzling millions to offshore accounts in Switzerland. And so through the widening social gap, unattended environmental crisis and general untrustworthiness in democracy, Brazil had had enough by June 2013.
All it took was a 10-cent raise on bus fares to inflame the sparks of a revolution that spread quickly like wildfire. Millions of people, from all social upbringings, race and backgrounds took it to the streets in protest against the injustice of the Brazilian government, specifically the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) which President Dilma Rousseff leads with.
Fast-forward to December 2nd 2015 when Dilma’s impeachment process was accepted by the senate and Brazil once again emerged in the masses. She has been accused of administrative misconduct and disregarding the federal budget, as well as suspected corruption in Petrobras, a state-owned oil company where numerous executives accepted bribes in return for rewarding contracts to construction firms at inflated prices. Although there is yet no concrete evidence regarding her specifically, she was the head of the board for Petrobras when most of the transactions have allegedly taken place, so 1 + 1 = 2?
With the congress voting in favor of impeachment, it is now for the senate to vote for formal dismissal of Rousseff from her presidential role for up to 180 days whilst investigations occur. According to major polls, majority of the senate seem to be pro-impeachment, which leaves Dilma’s probability of political survival close to nil. With her vacancy, vice president Michel Temer, leader of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democratico Brasileiro – PMDB), takes on as president until the general elections in 2018. After the 180 days, the senate shall vote again and require a two third majority (54 out of 81) for a permanent impeachment to ensue. Dilma’s downfall so far seems to be rather picturesque, the story of the triumph of the judicial system over decades of backroom corruption and how the people’s voices have finally been heard through the cracks of political shadiness. However, nothing is perfect and this is not a Steven Spielberg movie. Although it symbolizes that for once, the judicial system is foregoing action against corruption which has been silenced for decades, the unglamorous reality is that the political game of oppositional parties is currently thriving for power and using justice as an excuse. They are succeeding in overthrowing a democratically elected leader who although currently tremendously unpopular, has not been proven to break the law but that does not seem to matter anymore. No wonder she is even turning to the United Nations to cry for help and naming the impeachment a coup.
Rousseff’s impeachment and the major corruption investigation called Operation Car Wash (Operação Lava Jato) involving over R$10 billion Brazilian reais (around £2 billion) moved through money laundering has been the centre of attention throughout the media and the Brazilian people. The impeachment seems to be the tip of the corruption iceberg, through Operation Car Wash, the judicial system has opened over 150 corruption cases involving approximately 500 firms and individuals. Just recently, Odebrecht, a conglomerate of businesses involved in the corruption scandal was forced to release their documents citing over 200 politicians involved in money laundering and embezzlement (yes you read that right, 2 double 0). Just because Madame President is taken away from her role, hundreds of corrupt governmental leaders, policy makers and powerful executives are still leading the country or even worse, being the ones rooting and scolding Dilma for her inadequacies.
The plot twist is that alongside the presidential impeachment, the Superior Electoral Tribunal Court has four cases submitted by the PT opposing Brazilian Social Democratic Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira – PSDB) accusing the entire presidential winning ticket of the last election of electoral corruption. This would signify that both Temer and Rousseff would have to step down and new elections would be called in 90 days and probably voted upon sometime next year. The next in line after vice president Temer is Eduardo Cunha, president of the senate who initially approved the impeachment process back in December 2015. He is also currently being investigated by Operation Car Wash and the House Ethics Commission for corruption schemes with Petrobras, and there is evidence that he obtains various offshore bank accounts in Switzerland. In case he does become the interim president, it becomes exponentially harder to investigate his corruption allegations due to increased parliamentary immunity. In a government where the corrupt are attempting to reveal others of their own corruption for individual gains, in Cunha’s case to save himself from jail, the hypocrisy is very real indeed.
The problem of corruption will not perish so easily as ousting the president because political deception and fraud is so deeply rooted within the Brazilian government. Through data discovered through Operation Car Wash, it has become clear that all parties across the political spectrum are somehow involved in money laundering and backroom transactions. One prime example is Aecio Neves, president of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and until recently, the strongest candidate for presidency in 2018 as he lost in 2014 to Rouseff by only 3%. He is now being investigated by Operation Car Wash for allegedly receiving bribes through a scheme involving Furnas, a subsidiary of state-run power utility Eletrobras. If there is a new election, there seems to be no viable candidate or party that will establish the economical and political turnaround that the nation so desperately needs. Recent polls have shown that if an election was to be held on the present day, candidates would only score up to 20% of votes, not nearly enough to cast a majority and become president. Not to mention that until election day sometime next year, there will be “more than enough time for the complete meltdown of the country, leaving little hope for stabilisation” (Costa 2016). No wonder The Guardian has stated that Brazil is going through an “identity crisis” (Brum 2016).
To make this even more chaotic, ex-president Lula da Silva (PT), who led the country into miraculous economic growth during which Brazil became one of the fastest developing nations in the world early 2000s, is highly considering running for office once more in 2018. However ex-president Lula is also being thoroughly investigated by Operation Car Wash, being taken into custody last month and questioned. As President of Petrobras when most of the embezzlement occurred, investigators believe he accepted political favors from companies and also over £5.5 million in donations disguised as charity for his Institute Lula non-profit. Between being investigated by the Supreme Court and officials uncovering his vault filled with over 130 pieces of rare jewellery and art (including sculptures that went missing from parliament when he left office), no wonder he is desperate. Lula has taken up rather ludicrous measures in fear of being arrested, such as asking for asylum in Italy. Most recently, he has pushed for new elections to occur by this year, in hopes of getting elected before arrest or being unable to run for office depending what investigations uncover.
If not even Dilma’s closest ally Lula is on her side, the pro-impeachment opposition is acting with full force to get her out of office. Right-wing parties during the congressional speeches did not hesitate to acknowledge their “yes” votes to family members, the church and even anti-abortion movements. Speeches completely ignored the accounts that Rousseff has been charged with for impeachment which ironically does not include personal money laundering as opposed to those shouting in the chambers. One notable speech was by homophobic deputy Jair Bolsonaro who dedicated his vote to military officials who tortured Rousseff during the dictatorship in the 1970s, the word insensitive for the congressional voting is indeed an understatement. Moreover, numerous deputies supposedly allying with the Rousseff government “backstabbed” and voted “yes” after receiving promises from opposition parties for future governmental endeavors. At this point it has become clear that rather than an impeachment of a leader who has broken the law, it is a political game where the opposition parties are doing it all to coup Dilma Rousseff from presidency and delegitimize her political party.
Perhaps now is a great time to include democracy in the chaos. Although throughout Rousseff’s leadership the nation has reached the worst economic crisis in 25 years and the dollar has risen exponentially, she was still elected democratically in 2010 and 2014. On the other hand, if Michel Temer becomes the interim president until 2018, not only is he also undergoing corruption scandals but he has not been chosen by the Brazilian people to lead a nation about to crumble into pieces. Polls have shown that around 2%- 3% of Brazilians would vote for him for office, a stark realization that the impeachment will mostly lead to general domestic dissatisfaction and increasing chaos within the international sphere. Yes, the dollar has gone down since the impeachment process and stock markets are gradually improving but it is not through political turnovers that a nation recovers. Political stability is key if Brazil is to climb over the heaps of chaos. Perhaps allowing democracy to play its course and in 2018 allow the people to choose wouldn’t be so bad after all?
It is undeniable that Rousseff’s impeachment is a symbol that for once, the justice system cares about corruption and that finally action is being taken through the voices on the streets. However this is not the story of the triumph of justice, but a story of the triumph of change. The question now stands, are the Brazilian people willing to accept this change and sacrifice the cores of fair democracy for it? It is not about justice but about individual gains in the political ladder, and the game is full of dirty players. Chaos rings loud throughout politics, the economy and amongst the entire nation. Instead of focusing on political reforms with aims of eradicating corruption and ensuring stability, politicians and policymakers are too busy pointing fingers to deviate from their own scandals. Instead of closing the social gap, instituting better education and avoiding economical meltdown, bills have been barred from the Senate until impeachment proceedings are over. So before we pop the champagne and call this a day, remember that corruption lives on and that the country is still going to be led by hypocritical, homophobic and sexist individuals. Social inequality reigns, the rich and powerful will continue to get their way through well, anything.
Brazil’s current situation certainly feels like a House of Cards episode. With such national disorder, who even has the time to think about the Olympics?
http://revistapiaui.estadao.com.br/lupa/2016/04/11/marina-silva-muda-de-posicao-sobre-impeachment/ (Marina changing policy position)
http://g1.globo.com/politica/operacao-lava-jato/noticia/2015/10/veja-acusacoes-contra-eduardo-cunha.html (Eduardo Cunha Lava Jato)
http://josiasdesouza.blogosfera.uol.com.br/2015/11/19/se-nao-tivesse-imunidade-cunha-estaria-preso/ (Cunha imunidade parliamentar)
https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexandreorrico/proximos-passos-do-impeachment#.doPxNW73b6 (o que acontece agora)
http://time.com/4261712/lula-brazil-petrobras-scandal/ (lula petrobras)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-35831833 (Brasil House of Cards)