Global Independent Analytics
Pedro Marin
Pedro Marin

Location: Brazil

Specialization: Latin America, Ukraine, North Korea

Brazil: Too late for a change

The next weeks may seal Brazil’s future for years.

It has become usual to hear that compared to Brazilian politics nowadays, House of Cards is a piece of cake.

Facing multiple enemies, such as the opposition in the House of Representatives and Senate, factions within the Federal Police and the Judiciary, industrialists, the media and crowds of mad protesters dressed in yellow, President Dilma seems to have her hands completely tied over her government and the country’s future.

This crisis dates back to 2014, when President Dilma was reelected, beating candidate Aécio Neves by 3.2% of the votes. But the current scenario, whose major characteristic is the radicalization of all past political conflicts, emerged after former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva was detained for interrogation on March 4.

It was followed by what was probably the biggest demonstrations ever in Brazil, on March 13. At least 1 million pro-impeachment protesters demonstrated countrywide against the government and for Lula’s imprisonment then.

Three days later it was announced that instead of going to prison, like the crowd in yellow asked, Lula would be Dilma’s chief of staff - a move that would transfer the investigations against him to the Supreme Court. Judge Sergio Moro, who at the time was leading the investigation, then lit at match and made it touch the wick of the barrel of powder, by illegally releasing a series of tapped phone calls made by Lula - including one phone call in which Dilma told Lula she was sending him his ministerial papers, to be used “only in case of need”.

Moro’s move worked perfectly: thousands of protesters demonstrated against Lula, blocking avenues and setting up Maidan-like camps, as the media started its propaganda machine, screaming from the rooftops that Dilma had helped Lula escape from going to prison - again: that’s despite the fact that Lula would be investigated by the Supreme Court anyway.  

On March 17, Lula officially took office, but it didn’t last much: about an hour later, Lula’s nomination was suspended by the Federal Court of Brasília. A day after it was the government supporters’ turn to seize the streets, and Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, who had a private meeting with oppositionists José Serra and Armínio Fraga two days before, suspended Lula’s nomination for good and decided the investigations would stay with Sergio Moro.

Then in another quirk of fate, on March 22, Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki decided that the Supreme Court would be responsible for Lula’s investigation. Lula’s saga, for now, has ended. The Supreme Court is expected to rule over his nomination this week. But it may be too late now.

A tale on Brazilian McCarthyism and Class collaboration

The year was 1963. My grandmother, a poor peasant that left Portugal as a child in the 40’s, feared that “the communists” would take her humble house, where she would be forced to live with numerous families.  João Goulart, a moderate left-wing nationalist that compromised with the so-called “base reforms” - land reform, tax reform, educational reform and so on - was then President.

My grandmothers’ fears didn’t come from nowhere. They were the result of a wide propaganda campaign pushed by the Brazilian elite and some sectors of the military, with the latter attempting a coup d’etat since 1954. The Center for Research and Social Studies (IPÊS), for instance, was an institute created in 1961 and funded by the U.S government and Brazilian companies to promote anticommunist ideas and to instigate people’s fears towards Goulart’s government. According to René Armand Dreifuss, “what happened in 1964 wasn’t a conspirator coup, but the result of a political, ideological and military campaign moved by the organic elite and centered on IPÊS and IBAD.”

On March 19 of 1964, about 300,000 people marched in São Paulo against the government. Two weeks later, on April 1, they finally accomplished it: João Goulart was removed from office, as he refused to fight the coup, and the military seized power for 21 years.

Something very similar is happening now. Funded by national and international companies and institutes, right-wing think tanks such as the Millenium Institute, Students for Liberty Brazil, Liberal Institute and Institute Ludwig Von Mises have been emerging in past years. Books written by its members have arrived in the bookstores’ shelves - some of which even became bestsellers. Even the “March of the Family with God for Freedom” of 1964 had its remake in 2014. During the past years the serpent’s egg has been hatched - now it’s broken.

The Brazilian McCarthyism is in its best shape ever. According to a poll conducted during an anti-government demonstration last year, 64% of the protesters actually believe that the Workers’ Party wants to implement a “communist dictatorship” in Brazil.

Although those who demonstrate against the government are mostly from the upper classes and are moved by bitter and niggardly feelings - they just hate the fact that the poor masses had access to numerous rights and became less poor after the Workers’ Party governments - it is an undeniable fact that most of the people want Dilma out anyway. 69% of the Brazilians disapprove Dilma’s government and 68% support the impeachment process, according to Datafolha Institute.

But such a rejection didn’t come only from the opposition’s propaganda campaigns, like in 1964: the Workers’ Party, since Lula’s first got elected, chose a conciliatory approach when ruling. They fed the rich in exchange for giving the poor some breadcrumbs; at the same time Lula’s governments are known for putting poor people in the universities and reducing poverty and hunger. They are also known for giving the private sector record earnings. From 2003 to 2010, for instance, about 20 million people were lifted out of poverty - yet during the same period of time, Brazilian banks’ profits tripled.

To smash the coup

Since 2013, though, this road seems to have arrived at its end. There isn’t enough food for both rich and poor anymore. As the crisis hit Brazil, the government had to take a side: the working class or the bourgeoisie. Dilma chose the later, and now there’s no more time to stay aligned with them.

In the next weeks the House of Representatives will vote on whether or not to start an impeachment process against Dilma. Fighting it is her first task. In case she accomplishes it, she will then have to change the government’s economic policy urgently, to make sure that those protesting keep coming from the upper-class neighbourhoods, not the favelas, as the cuts on social programs have been hurting people’s pockets, and unemployment is hiking.

A good start would be reviewing Brazil’s public debt, that currently consumes 45.1% of the country’s GDP annually on rates of interest alone - yes, that means that Brazil currently spends about a half of all its money to keep some bankers happy. By doing so, people would actually have a reason to defend her government, and the social movements would drop the wishful-thinking slogan “there won’t be a coup” and would de facto stand for the government and take the streets back. Dilma had the opportunity to do so two months ago, but she refused to. Now the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), the second biggest party in Brazil after the Workers’ Party and its key ally, dropped its support for the government, making it highly unlikely that the Workers’ Party will succeed in getting any law approved. Dilma will have to rule through “Provisional Measures” - laws that are implemented during a short period of time without the Legislature’s approvement.

A dark future

Unfortunately, all these points have been pointed out by many in the past years, even within the Workers’ Party. The President kept choosing the suicidal and cravenly path of conciliation. Three weeks ago, it was perfectly possible, now only a miracle would bring change to the economic policy.

The next weeks may seal Brazil’s future for years. In case Dilma is impeached, vice-President Michel Temer would take her seat, and an even worst economic policy would be implemented. Those who are unhappy now will become angry. That would be the perfect scenario for both left-wing and right-wing radicalism to emerge. But as sociologist Rosana Pinheiro-Machado points out, the left today is even weaker than it was in 1964. The radical right would get the red carpet threatment. Dilma failed to understand that if the opposition wants to run over the Brazilian people, it was her task to break their legs. Now it’s all too late.

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