March 24, 2016 12:14:17 am
Brazil is experiencing an upheaval unlike any in its 193-year history. Its systemic corruption has been laid bare, and is shaking the fabric of the country. The recent testimony by Delcídio do Amaral, a member of the ruling Workers Party (PT) arrested in November 2015, perhaps best illustrates how deep and wide corruption has permeated politics. Amaral’s testimony implicates members of the last six governments, including the PT, the catchall Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) and the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).
The anti-corruption movement has brought down many politicians and businesspersons, creating an atmosphere of fear. It does not matter if you are João Santana, the infamous campaign strategist dubbed “the maker of presidents”, or Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of Odebrecht, the largest construction company in Latin America. You can still be sentenced to 19 years in prison. This offensive against the highest rungs of society is unprecedented in Brazil. However, it would be naïve to assume that the people spearheading the crusade, including Judge Sérgio Moro, are driven purely by virtuous motives.
While the judiciary has led from the front, Brazilian citizens have played an important role. The protests began in mid-2013 in response to rising public transport costs, soon swelled into millions dissenting against the poor public health and education systems and high cost of living, and finally coalesced into a gigantic, multi-faceted movement. The protests were apolitical when they began. Now, everyone is showing their colours — by wearing red to support the PT and its allies, or green and yellow to oppose them.
Most observers are asking whether President Dilma Rousseff will survive the calls for her impeachment. This is important, especially since the speaker of the Lower House, Eduardo Cunha, has installed a congressional impeachment committee. Whether Rousseff survives till her term’s end is anyone’s guess. But to begin with, the case is weak. The call for impeachment isn’t related to the globally infamous “Lava Jato (car wash)” scandal or any of the 10 major scandals. The cases are against her government’s alleged fiscal irregularities as well as campaign finance irregularities from the 2014 election — the latter also implicate Vice President Michel Temer. More importantly, each individual in Rousseff’s line of succession, as well as main opposition leader Aécio Neves of the PSDB, faces serious corruption charges that make the allegations against Rousseff small in comparison. Temer, the first in line, is tied to a corruption case relating to illegal purchases of ethanol. Cunha is being investigated for receiving $40 million in bribes and maintaining numerous secret Swiss bank accounts. The Senate president, too, has allegedly received bribes, and Neves’ family maintains secret accounts in offshore tax havens. Even the impeachment committee is murky — more than half of its 65 members face serious corruption charges.
Thus, the impeachment motion isn’t a question of corruption but politics. If the allegations against Cunha reach a denouement, the case for impeachment would likely stall. Even if Cunha endures until both Houses pass an impeachment motion with a two-thirds majority, it’s unclear which party or individual would lead Brazil thereafter.
The old cleavages between right and left, liberal and conservative, are back in Brazil. This is unfortunate because Brazil took a middle path at the turn of the century, employing a mix of pro-poor and pro-business policies that lifted 40 million Brazilians out of poverty. The economy is also at stake. After contracting 3.8 per cent in 2015, the GDP may shrink another 3 per cent in 2016.
What next? Most observers would keep their eyes on Lula da Silva, the former president and Rousseff’s mentor, who left office with a 90 per cent approval rating, but is currently under investigation for alleged corruption in the Lava Jato case, involving majority state-owned oil giant Petrobras. Lula’s return and his recent speech has changed the dynamic of this game of chess. It’s difficult to tell what will transpire, and whether yet another elected leftwing regime will be ousted by questionable means. Yet, this may provide the opportunity Brazilians need to clean up their corrupt system, change the culture of impunity, enact political reform, and move on.
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