Given ancient Rome’s delight in all things Hellenistic, it’s perhaps surprising that it took until 1960 for the Italian capital to win its turn hosting the Summer Olympic Games.
Those 1960 Games, however, showcased a Rome that, in barely more than a decade, rose from the ashes of World War II’s devastation. Under the guidance of U.S. and western allies and under the aegis of the Catholic, conservative Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democrats), the 1960 Games forecast a competent and determined Italy that would, for the next three decades, leap forward economically in surprising and creative ways.
Though Italy today seems often trapped in sclerotic and tradition-bound ways, it wasn’t outlandish to say that Italy in 1960 was still a country of the future.
That evergreen label, too, is affixed to Brazil. It’s the country of the future, the old chestnut goes… and it always will be.
When Rio de Janeiro was awarded the Olympic Games in 2009, it looked like that future, always just beyond the horizon, was finally within reach. In 2010, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva marked the last of eight years in power. With GDP growth of 7.5%, the frothiest Brazilian economy in a quarter-century, and with extreme poverty nearly eliminated across Brazil through a series of social welfare, transfer and educational programs, it was a victory lap for a figure who had become the most mythic colossus of the Latin American left. Though Brazil’s 2010 boom was part of a short-lived emerging economies bubble, things were still looking up for Brazil as recently as 2014, when Lula da Silva’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, narrowly won reelection – the fourth consecutive term for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party), defeating both Marina Silva, a charismatic third-way economic leftist and evangelical Christian who would have been Brazil’s first leader of African descent, and conservative Aécio Neves, a telegenic and well-regarded senator and successful former governor of Minas Gerais.
Even then, it was still possible to regard the historic 2016 Games, the first to be held in South America, as notice that at long last, Brazil would be a country of the present. Instead, the country today is in political and economic crisis. Far from announcing Brazil as a major economic power, the Rio Games themselves have become a symbol of economic inequality and government misrule. At best, they have been an opportunity (as much for Brazilians as for Trump-weary and Clinton-fatigued Americans) to forget politics for two weeks. Continue reading What Italy’s Tangentopoli in 1992 political trauma can teach Brazil in 2016→
No one has accused Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, of any personal impropriety in the sweeping investigations of kickbacks to politicians in Brazil from the state oil company, Petrobras.
Nevertheless, a two-thirds majority of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies) decided to impeach Rousseff anyway, based on an obscure theory — that Rousseff fudged the budget numbers in the lead-up to the 2014 election to hide the precarious condition of Brazil’s budget deficit and reduce the need to cut spending in an election year.
No one had any doubts in 2014 that the country’s increasing debt burden was weighing down its economic outlook and even Rousseff, after her reelection, shook up her cabinet, bringing in Joaquim Levy as finance minister, and Nelson Barbosa, now Levy’s successor, to introduce greater budget discipline as the country sinks further into recession.
In reality, it’s the Petrobras scandal that’s swept up Rousseff, along with nearly 320 members of the Brazilian congress. Operation Car Wash has uncovered a wide-ranging scheme whereby leading politicians accepted kickbacks on the basis of inflated public contracts granted from Petrobras. The scandal implicates Rousseff’s own Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), but it has also snared politicians from across the ideological spectrum. The scandal took an even sharper turn this spring when former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rousseff’s mentor who first won power in 2002, was also accused of taking kickbacks. The speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, among many, many others, are also under investigation. Brazilians refer to the scandal as the petrolão, which translates to the ‘big oily.’
The battle moves to Brazil’s Senate
Complicating the impeachment vote is the fact that Rousseff herself is personally and politically unpopular. A collapsing economy has left her with an approval rating in the teens. In one sense, Rousseff was impeached on Sunday because she’s so widely reviled by Brazilians. Rousseff’s opponents, even though many of them are under investigation themselves, blatantly admit that they supported impeachment just to remove her from office for political reasons. The Brazilian right has lost four consecutive elections to either Lula or to Rousseff, though Rousseff only narrowly won reelection in October 2014.
The nakedly political considerations involved explain why Rousseff and her left-leaning supporters have been quick to label the impeachment vote as an undemocratic coup. But it’s more complicated than either side would like to admit. Rousseff is correct when she argues that the Brazilian media is, largely, anti-PT, and the business elite has increasingly turned against her and Lula.
But Rousseff herself served as the chairwoman of the Petrobras board between 2003 and 2010, and her critics believe it’s risible that she knew nothing about the kickbacks. Moreover, she blatantly attempted to appoint Lula to her cabinet last month as a way of offering him immunity from prosecution. (Rousseff’s supporters subsequently attacked the lead prosecutor, Sérgio Moro, for releasing the audio recording of a conversation between Lula and Rousseff).
Rousseff is now almost certain to face a prolonged trial before the upper house of the Brazilian Congress. With just a majority vote in the 81-member Senado (Senate), she can be suspended for office for 180 days. Her vice president, Michel Temer, the 75-year-old leader of the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), will almost certainly take over temporarily and, if not impeached himself, will take over if Rousseff is formally removed. The next elections are scheduled for 2018.
Temer and the PMDB broke with Rousseff earlier this month, in a step that now seems likely to have doomed Rousseff’s fate. Temer has already indicated that, as Brazil’s new president, he will pursue a much more center-right orientation that will look to assure markets and business elites. He has also indicated that he might attempt to rein in the Petrobras investigations that have thoroughly discredited a country’s worth of institutions. The PMDB is a ‘big tent’ party whose sole ideology seems to be proximity to power — it has provided support to every sitting Brazilian government, of the center-right or the center-left, since 1994. Temer, Cunha and other leading pemedebistas are under the same clouds of corruption as many of the leading petistas, so a Temer presidency would not wipe the political slate clean.
Rousseff will, however, survive if she can muster more than one-third of Brazil’s senators in a trial that might not begin until May.
Her removal isn’t a fait accompli.
Note, however, that Rousseff (and Temer, as her 2014 running mate) still faces the possibility that her reelection will be vacated by Brazil’s supreme electoral court, which is reviewing whether the Rousseff campaign received illegal campaign funds. If the court decides to vacate the election, Cunha (the scandal-plagued speaker of the Chamber of Deputies) will temporarily replace Temer as president before a fresh presidential vote later this year.
Brazil’s hyper-partisan future looks grim
Even if Rousseff survives the Senate trial, she will have virtually no power as a wildly unpopular lame-duck president — just the second in modern Brazilian democracy to be impeached. Rousseff will continue fighting to protect the legacy of lulismo and the PT’s four terms in power, most notably the massive programs that have reduced extreme poverty and inequality that have made Lula, Rousseff and the PT extremely popular among Brazil’s poor. Moreover, even as Lula himself faces criminal liability for his own possible role in the Petrobras scandal, he remains extremely popular in Brazil (much more so than Rousseff) and on the Latin American left, generally.
Indeed, if an election were held today, Lula would be competitive to win, as incredible as it seems. He’s essentially tied with the other top-tier contenders from the 2014 election, Marina Silva (an alternative leftist with socially conservative positions on abortion of LGBT rights and with roots in Brazil’s green movement) and Aécio Neves, a Brazilian senator and the former two-term governor of the state of Minas Gerais. Neves today is the leader of Brazil’s main center-right opposition party, the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), which has long supported Rousseff’s removal.
But the impeachment process and its aftermath are already making Brazil’s hyperpartisan divide even worse. A small glimpse of the ugliness came on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies Sunday night when one member, Jair Bolsonaro, who also hopes to run for president in 2018, dedicated his vote in favor of impeachment to the leader of a torture unit during Brazil’s military dictatorship whose victims included, among others, Rousseff herself. Other far-right deputies also voiced praise Sunday night for some of the leaders of Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964 through 1985.
Though a majority of Brazilians (including both wealthy and poor Brazilians) supported Rousseff’s impeachment, the battle has left many voters divided sharply. Moreover, a compromised Temer-led interim presidency also seems unlikely to unite a country that still faces incredible challenges, including a nasty economic downturn, the rising threat of the Zika virus and the difficulty of hosting the first Summer Olympics in South American history later in 2016.
Brazil’s democracy has already survived one impeachment, when former president Fernando Collor resigned a day before the Brazilian senate voted formally to remove him from office in December 1992. But Collor, at the time, was more personally and, potentially, criminally implicated in the corruption scandal that spurred his impeachment, which the Chamber of Deputies passed in a near-unanimous vote. In contrast, the impeachment battle against Rousseff has been far more colored by partisan opinion.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff might not make it through the end of her term in January 2019.
On March 12, Rousseff’s main coalition partner, the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) announced that it would take a full month to reconsider its support for Rousseff, currently in her second term and what amounts to the fourth consecutive term of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) that began with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s 2002 election victory.
Since mid-March, the drive to impeach Rousseff has only intensified, with prosecutors seeking to interview and possibly detain Lula da Silva himself, the godfather of not just the Brazilian left but the entire Latin American left. Rousseff attempted to appoint Lula da Silva as her chief of staff to give him the kind of ministerial role that he would need to evade potential investigation, though Brazil’s supreme court blocking the appointment in short order. Though Rousseff herself has not been personally implicated in the Petrobras scandal (whereby officials gave kickbacks to politicians in exchange for inflated construction contracts), investigators believe that Lula da Silva might be more deeply involved.
Lula da Silva, incredibly, might be arrested at any moment, which would almost certainly accelerate the push to impeach Rousseff on obscure charges about obfuscation of Brazil’s state finances during the 2014 election campaign. Also, incredibly, impeachment isn’t the only way that Rousseff might be forced from office. If it emerges that she won the 2014 presidential election through illicit money, she and the vice president could be removed through the cassação process that could vacated the election altogether.
Either way, the presidency would end up in either the hands of the PMDB: in the case of impeachment, vice president Michel Temer or, in the case that the 2014 election is annulled, the speaker of the Brazilian congress’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados), Eduardo Cunha.
It was something of an odd remark by the new president of Brazil’s Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies), Eduardo Cunha, whose elevation to the top post in the lower house of the Brazilian congress came just three weeks ago.
Typically described as either a tough insider in the vein of Frank Underwood, the protagonist of House of Cards, or an independent-minded speaker sure to challenge beleaguered Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Cunha’s off-hand comments that December 3 should be celebrated as ‘straight pride’ day have backfired, causing one response (embedded above) to go viral, first in Brazil and now globally.
Though same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013, when the country’s top court issued a ruling to that effect, Brazil remains a country where homophobia remains a problem, especially in its more rural and conservative enclaves. Former presidential candidate Marina Silva, who surged in the polls late last summer, started to tumble after backtracking on her support for gay marriage. In 2010, Rousseff stumbled when her opponent, José Serra, suggested she was too pro-abortion. With a growing number of evangelicals (including both Cunha and Silva) and a strong base of Catholics, Brazil is still a deeply religion country. Rousseff, for the record, still opposes full marriage equality as well, though she supports civil unions, and she pledged her support for an anti-homophobia bill — an initiative that seems unlikely now that Cunha controls Brazil’s lower house.
Cunha (pictured above) is a member of the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), a big-party tent that played a role in promoting democracy during military rule in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Today, though, it’s something of an ally of convenience — the PMDB boosts Rousseff’s government in power just as it did for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva before her and for the more conservative Fernando Henrique Cardoso. It’s generally viewed on the more corrupt side of the political spectrum, and it includes all sorts of ideologies (like most of Brazil’s political parties, large and small).
So officials like Cunha, ostensibly allies, are far more conservative than Rousseff or the political mainstream on social issues, even though he’s likely to block her administration’s moves to cut spending to reduce the country’s budget deficit in her second term. Realistically, though the PMDB is Rousseff’s ally, Cunha personally opposes much of Rousseff’s agenda, and his elevation as Chamber president essentially means that Rousseff will face an unfriendly legislative branch in her second term — at least as long as her political popularity continues to sink.
That Cunha was elected in the first place came as a shock within Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party). Though Rousseff recently won reelection last October, a corruption scandal at the state oil company, Petrobras, and a deepening recession (exacerbating by falling global oil prices) have hurt Rousseff politically, even while Lula da Silva contemplates a comeback to the Brazilian presidency in 2018.
Cunha’s remarks should come as no surprise, though. It’s not even the first time he has pontificated aloud over a ‘Straight Pride’ day. He’s also staunchly anti-abortion, and he said shortly after his election as Chamber president that a law to liberalize Brazil’s tight abortion restrictions would pass only ‘over his dead body.’
It was the closest presidential race since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985.
Ultimately, the benefits of incumbency and the track record of poverty reduction were enough to push Dilma Rousseff to reelection against an alliance between her center-right opponent, Aécio Neves, and former candidate Marina Silva, who finished third in the October 5 first-round vote.
Rousseff narrowly defeated Neves by a margin of 51.52% to 48.38% in Sunday’s vote, giving the center-left Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) a fourth consecutive term in power.
Neves, the candidate of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), came from behind to win a spot in the runoff after Silva’s candidacy imploded earlier this year. Silva, a former environmental minister who assumed the presidential nomination of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), after its initial candidate, former Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos, died in an airplane crash in mid-August.
Neves, who served as a highly regarded governor of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second-most populous state, from 2002 to 2010, is a member of the Brazilian Senado (Senate), and he challenged Rousseff aggressively for several high-profile corruption cases, most recently revelations of kickbacks to PT politicians and their allies from Petrobras, the state-owned oil company.
The electorate predictably split between the PT’s supporters in the relatively poorer northeast and the PSDB’s more conservative base in the relatively wealthier southeast. Rousseff narrowly won the crucial battlegrounds of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, though the PT’s support dropped sharply from its levels in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 elections.
Nevertheless, Rousseff’s PT-led coalition will enjoy a large congressional majority. Voters chose all 513 members of the lower house of the Brazilian congress, the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies) in the October 5 round.
That’s notwithstanding moderate losses for the PT and its largest partner, the ideologically vapid Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, PMDB), largely at the hands of the Partido Social Democrático (PSD, Social Democratic Party), a party formed in 2011 by former São Paulo mayor Gilberto Kassab and a handful of PSDB and other centrist dissenters, who are also part of Rousseff’s coalition.
What the hell happened to Marina Silva’s presidential campaign?
In the 2010 presidential election, Silva came out of nowhere to win 19.33% of the vote.
In 2014, she looked like she might win it all.
Instead, she blew what seemed like an insurmountable path to the October 26 runoff, falling into third place with just 21.32% of the vote, more than 10% behind the second-place finisher. That’s just under 2% more than she won four years ago.
When Brazilians choose their next president in three weeks, they’ll choose between the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, and the center-right former governor of Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves. Silva, now a two-time presidential loser, will be watching from the sidelines (though she’ll have at least some power as a kingmaker in what could be the closest presidential runoff in Brazilian politics since 1989).
Fate — in the form of a tragic airplane crash — initially brought her into the 2014 presidential race, when her running mate Eduardo Campos’s plane crashed on the southern Brazilian coast on August 13.
Silva had wanted to make a second presidential bid all along, and polls showed that she was the most popular of Rousseff’s potential opponents. When her attempts to form a new party failed, Silva partnered with Campos, joining his center-left Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party) and serving as the party’s vice presidential candidate. In mid-August, she became the only clear choice to replace Campos on such short notice.
She peaked in late August, when a Datafolha poll showed Silva tied in the first round with Rousseff at 34%, Neves trailing with just 15%, and leading Rousseff with a nearly double-digit margin in a potential runoff.
Despite leading in the polls, despite having the support of a much stronger party organization in 2014, despite running a much more disciplined and politically moderate campaign and despite the sympathy of Brazilians mourning Campos, Silva failed.
On the Friday before Brazil’s first-round general election, the biggest story is that the runoff that everyone expected — a showdown between incumbent president Dilma Rousseff and former environmental minister and presidential candidate Marina Silva — may not actually happen.
It’s a stunning turn of events. Silva, the candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), is still the favorite to advance to a runoff against Rousseff, the candidate of the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), which has led Brazil since the 2002 election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
But it’s going to be a lot closer than anyone thought for the past six weeks, while Silva benefited from the sympathy of being the candidate to replace her late running mate, former Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos, who died in a plane crash on August 13.
Can anyone guarantee, 48 hours out from election day, what will happen?
The latest Datafolha poll, taken between October 1 and 2, shows Rousseff, the candidate of the governing with 40% of the vote to just 24% for Silva, and 21% for Aécio Neves (pictured above with Rouseff). When all undecided voters are allocated or eliminated, Rousseff wins 47% of the vote — just short of a stunning outright victory on Sunday. Rousseff would win a runoff against Silva by a margin of 48% to 41%.
Neves, a senator and the former governor of Minas Gerais, the candidate of the center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), could actually pip Silva to the runoff.
The most striking thing the latest sensational scandal involving Brazil’s state oil company is that president Dilma Rousseff’s poll standing has actually increased since the story broke three weeks ago.
If Rousseff, as polls predict, wins the first round presidential vote on October 5, it will be largely because Brazilian voters have shrugged off the latest scandal involving Petrobras and several leading Brazilian figures, along with 12 years of scandals that have now accumulated after three consecutive terms of rule by Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party).
Former Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa, who was arrested in the spring during an investigation into money laundering, has allegedly testified that dozens of top officials, mostly within Rousseff’s own party, routinely took a 3% kickback on some of the company’s contracts dating back to 2004, when Rousseff, then the minister for energy and mines, technically oversaw Petrobras’s operations.
Among the politicians that Costa singled out was former Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos, the former presidential candidate who died in a plane crash in August; Henrique Eduardo Alves, the president of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Brazilian congress; and Edison Lobão, the minister for energy and mines, and a member of the centrist Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party).
Campos’s alleged involvement may be why the allegations haven’t apparently hurt Rousseff’s ratings against Marina Silva, Campos’s former running mate and now the candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party). Campos’s party spent much of the past 12 years supporting the governments of both Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Marina Silva, then a member of the Workers Party, served for five years as environmental minister.
But Rousseff’s other major rival, former Minas Gerais governor Aécio Neves, the candidate of the center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), has been unable to generate much success by emphasizing the scandal. Neves generally trails both Rousseff and Silva in polls ahead of Sunday’s first-round presidential vote. If, as expected, no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff on October 26.
Boris Johnson, move over. Eduardo Paes (pictured above, top) was reelected as mayor today of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-most populous — but most evocative — city during municipal elections that saw José Serra (pictured above, bottom), a perennial figure of the Brazilian right, lead the race for mayor of São Paulo.
Paes easily won reelection with 64.60% of the vote, representing a wide coalition that includes not only his own party, the wide Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), but also the leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party) of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He faced an energetic opponent in Marcelo Freixo of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL, the Socialism and Freedom Party), a state assemblyman in the state of Rio de Janeiro and a human rights activist, who received around 28.15% of the vote after waging a savvy campaign through aggressive use of social networks like Twitter and won the support of much of Brazil’s cultural elite — and his increasing support in the days leading up to today’s election, coupled with his criticism of the Olympic development as an unequal move benefitting corporations more than society, had given the International Olympic Committee some cause for alarm. Freixo had challenged the evictions and clearings that have marked the push to prepare Rio for not just 2016, but also the 2014 World Cup.
Paes, who has served as Rio’s mayor since 2008, however, was able to brag that he brought the 2016 Olympic Summer Games to the city — and can take credit for the widely acknowledged improvements in the city, especially as regards the ongoing ‘pacification’ of the once-notorious favela slums that dot the hillsides above the richer parts of Rio below — the ‘pacification’ campaign involves both the implementation of police control over a favela and wresting control, often by force, of each slum from drug gangs and criminal forces, but also the institution of better schools and other municipal services designed to keep the favelas firmly within the city’s control. In addition, Paes is working to build four new superhighways in advance of 2016, has improved bus transit and has spearheaded an overhaul of the Porto Maravilha that served as the city’s main port during the Portuguese colonial era.
Despite the surprisingly widespread availability of Twitter in favelas, Paes’s coalition of 16 parties gave him access to 16 minutes of free daily public broadcast time during the campaign, giving him an advantage over Freixo’s 1 minute and 22 seconds, in addition to the other perks of incumbency and the benefits of having been associated with nabbing South America’s first Olympic Games.
The win will be a mild victory for the Workers’ Party as well — it is expected that Rousseff will likely run for reelection, although Lula will also be eligible to run (presidents are limited to just two consecutive terms, but are not limited as to two terms for life). The Workers’ Party has been subdued by the constant drip of trial proceedings over a political corruption scandal from the early 2000s.
The Workers’ Party will be even more thrilled with the mayoral election in Brazil’s most populous city, São Paulo, where its candidate Fernando Haddad, a former federal minister of education, won 28.99% of the vote, narrowly trailing Serra, the candidate of the centrist Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party), who won 30.75%. Celso Russomanno, a famous television consumer advocate in the 1990s and candidate of the small Partido Republicano Brasileiro (PRB, Brazilian Republican Party), had led polls for most of the race and was considered the frontrunner, but finished a disappointing third with just 21.60%.
Russomanno, with backing from the evangelist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, had shown success throughout the campaign in winning support in the traditional strongholds of the Workers’ Party. Haddad, a former minister of education in Lula’s administration, was seen as a weak candidate imposed as the party’s standard-bearer by Lula himself.
Haddad and Serra will now advance to a runoff vote to determine who will become São Paulo’s mayor, and a win for Haddad would be a huge triumph for the Workers’ Party.
Serra, who lost the Brazilian presidential election by a wide margin in 2002 to Lula and by a narrower margin in 2010 to Rousseff, served as minister of planning and minister of health during the administration of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who preceded Lula as president from 1994 to 2002. More recently, Serra was elected as mayor of São Paulo for the first time in 2004, although he left the post early to contest the governorship of São Paulo state in 2006, which he subsequently won. Serra had broken a pledge he made in the 2004 campaign to remain mayor through his whole term, however.