Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Brazilian Circus Maximus

The attempted impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has succeeded in bringing the country’s past to life but leaves questions about the future hanging, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The decision by the interim speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian parliament, Waldir Maranhao, to annul the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff seemed like part of a Hollywood blockbuster, making the proceedings perhaps the most curious of the crises that have hit Latin America since the days of Columbus.

Maranhao stated that there had been “irregularities” during the lower house’s session in which its members had overwhelmingly voted in favour of the impeachment process going ahead, making this the flip side of a story that has become familiar to millions of Brazilians, a country torn apart by racial and class feuds.

The white population of the country had reluctantly accepted the choice of the majority of the country’s people of colour in electing Roussef, head of the Workers’ Party, as president. The present political drama means that Vice-President Michel Temer, himself under investigation, is no longer poised to take on the presidency of Brazil. Even more confusingly, it is not clear whether Maranhao’s decision can be overruled.

It is not known for sure the hoops Maranhao had to jump through in making his decision. What is clear is that the leftist-leaning majority of the Brazilian population has clout. Rousseff’s allies had earlier secured 137 votes against the impeachment, but her opponents had managed to secure 367 votes in the lower house. The Brazilian senate was scheduled to vote on whether to start an impeachment trial on Wednesday. 

The will of the masses of the seventh-largest economy in the world matters, though the role of money in Brazilian politics is also alarming. The Brazilian elite on this occasion, stubbornly unconvinced by Maranhao’s action, has had to allow that merit has come before any other considerations and that social justice is the crux of the country’s democracy.

Brazil’s compradore class was not convinced by the policy prescriptions of Roussef and her Party. But Brazil’s Supreme Court had earlier voted unanimously to suspend the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, while he was being investigated for alleged corruption, intimidation of lawmakers, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

Cunha represents the power of the past, the monopoly of the rich over the Brazilian political and economic system. Rousseff represents the poor, the disadvantaged, and the underdog. Her impeachment would have marked an end to 13 years of the rule of the Worker’s Party.

Brazilian Supreme Court justice Teori Zavascki had accepted that Cunha should be suspended because he had used his position to try to influence investigations into his alleged crimes. Cunha will be stripped of his parliamentary rights. Rousseff was scathing about this man who had earlier emerged as her nemesis and who had escaped prosecution on corruption charges, despite being implicated in case after case.

The fact that Maranhao, presumably a Cunha ally, is also under investigation by prosecutors is classic Braziliana. Cunha, the holder of 11 illegal accounts in Switzerland and listed in the Panama Papers, has now been removed from the running by the country’s Supreme Court.

President of Brazil since 2011, Rousseff acknowledges that rampant corruption and the growing gap between the rich and the poor, as well as abuses of power by officials, have sullied the political scene in the country. But she insists that she herself is not corrupt, even though she was interrogated for almost four hours in connection with a billion-dollar corruption scandal involving the giant state oil company Petrobras.

The lumpen-proletariat and not the workers per se are the greatest advocates of the Worker’s Party in Brazil. Temer, earlier expected to form a new administration next week, has also been barred from running for office for the next eight years because he violated campaign finance rules during the 2014 election.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known simply as Lula, served as president of the country from January 2003 to January 2011, and his successor maintained majority approval ratings throughout her first term.

In the 2011 Latin American postmodern fantasy novel United States of Banana by novelist Giannina Braschi, Lula leads Latin American politicians Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Fidel Castro, Rafael Correa and Christina Kirchner on a quest to liberate the people of Puerto Rico from the United States. Some suspect that Washington also had a hand in the current turbulence, as Washington wants to have its Latin American backyard back. 

Brazilians know that if Lula runs again in 2018, he will almost certainly win despite Rousseff’s considerable social impact in Brazil. Almost 50 million Brazilians, a quarter of the population, have benefited from the Bolsa Família programme, a policy she advocated. Her presidency has also seen concerted efforts to complete a number of hydro-electric projects in the Amazon Basin, though there have been concerns about environmental degradation in Brazil.

Why do some people want Rousseff to leave office? Brazil’s plazas have been filled with protesters against her, and some have insinuated that Lula, and hence Rousseff, is also corrupt. They say that Lula received funds of at least 1.1 million euros from dodgy kickback schemes involving major Brazilian construction companies connected to Petrobras.

“The appalling politicisation of the Brazilian judiciary is now a fait accompli, with many judges moved by opportunism and/or corporate interest/shady political agendas,” warns Pepe Escoba, a Brazilian journalist and author of Globalistan: How the Globalised World is Dissolving into Liquid War. Brazilian economist Alfredo Saad-Filho has also labelled the “Brazilian Circus Maximus” a “confluence of dissatisfactions”.

Brazil’s tiny neighbour to the south is Uruguay, whose president, Jose “Pepe” Mujica, is the model of many leftist Latin American statesmen despite being “the poorest president in the world.” Mujica told the US network CNN recently that “we invented this thing called representative democracy where we say the majority is who decides. So it seems to me that we [heads of state] should live like the majority and not like the minority.”

As the Uruguayan president notes, “people who love money should dedicate themselves to industry, to commerce, to multiplying wealth. Politics is the struggle for the happiness of all.”

Latin America today is in turmoil, and it appears that socialism on the continent is on the retreat. Argentina has refused to pay unjust debts and instead has attempted to build a just society. In Latin America the Pinochet era of military dictatorships is over, but corruption still prevails.

Congresso em Foco, a prominent watchdog group in Brazil, is itself under investigation for corruption, fraud or electoral crimes. Brazil is no exception to the global corruption revealed by the Panama Papers. Perhaps Brazil and the rest of the world have more in common than we think.

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