Götterdämmerung to the Tune of a Bossa Nova

Demonstration demanding Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, March 2016. Photo credit: Miguel Schincariol/AFP. Source: noticias.uol.com.br

Dilma Rousseff got kicked out of office and will be impeached. Her best efforts at denouncing the move as “a coup” against her were all for naught. Her party cries foul and says it is all a right-wing conspiracy. International progressivism screams to the top of its lungs that a head of state elected by 54 million citizens has been forced out and it is all part of Washington’s plan to undermine Latin American unity and the conquests of its people. (Yeah, sure.)

Conspiracies are not very likely to pass muster with Occam’s razor, so I will pass on talking about claims of a right-wing cabal. On the other hand, it is curious to listen to the accusations that the US is behind Rousseff’s ouster, even if she has not said anything like that in public. It may be even funny to listen in, because the accusations fly in the face of prior skepticism toward reformist policies. In a book chapter on Venezuela, Greg Wilpert argues that the policies of Latin American social-democratic governments like those of Rousseff and her mentor Lula da Silva, notwithstanding that they benefit millions of people, are not sufficiently transformative because they do not aim at abolishing the abusive neoliberal status quo. In his view, Latin American social-democrats belong to the izquierda permitida, the “good left” — a term usually presented with evident suspicion, if not all-out scorn, and always in opposition to (what progressivism believes is) the authentically transformative projects of radical democracy. And back in 2015, James Petras, writing for Latin American Perspectives, concluded that Rousseff did a 180 toward neoliberalism the moment the Brazilian economy started to take on water. Now, as if by magic, Rousseff is a martyr of the cause of the proverbial wretched of the earth, placed in the same pedestal as Hugo Chávez. In other words, Rousseff is a victim of neoliberalism — the same system left mostly intact by Latin American social-democracy during the famous “pink tide.” In addition, the same Lula who made a very public promise to not rock the neoliberal boat when he was first elected in 2002 now has his reputation being “tarnished” by them neoliberal bastards, who have unleashed a meritless and politically-motivated anti-corruption investigation against him with the purpose of impeding his (possible) second re-election bid in 2018. So these social-democrats are not wash-outs or sell-outs anymore. What changed?

I am of the opinion that misrepresenting fiscal data to hide a budget deficit, as Rousseff is accused of doing, deserves a legislative censure at best. Maybe a vote of no confidence at the most extreme. Impeachment is a punishment that just does not seem appropriate. It is better suited to more egregious felonies, like covering up a burglary or lying under oath. But the fact is that there is a law in Brazil against misrepresenting fiscal information, and it appears that it does merit an impeachment. If the accusation holds water, it would prove that the Workers Party deviated from his leftist origins and got “intoxicated with power,” as the New York Times says. (The offense in question was supposedly made for electioneering purposes.) As far as that goes, the Workers Party is no different from any other Brazilian political party full of sketchy, sleazy people. Not in a Downsian fashion, at least (that is, a party that competes for power simply to enjoy the status, perks, and rent that come with public office and not for ideology or political agenda). The Workers Party tasted political power and it was delicious. And it looks like it could not get enough of it. Was it gluttony?

Meanwhile, a whole slew of the opposition pols who clamored for impeachment have been accused of corruption – a sad fact. Rousseff, to her credit, has not been targeted by any anti-corruption investigation. Not even by “Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato),” which uncovered a kickbacks scheme that went on for years at the state-owned oil company, Petrobras (much of which occurring while Rousseff was part of its board of directors, though). Still, she has no right to cast the first stone. First, there was the mensalão bribery scandal of the early 2000s, for which a number of Workers Party notables (as well as pols from other parties) were indicted and found guilty, including Rousseff’s predecessor as Lula’s chief of staff, José Dirceu. Rousseff had nothing to do with that scandal, but because it was instigated within her party it must be an embarrassment to her, if it is not already, because of the guilt by association. And second, Dirceu (still imprisoned for the mensalão scandal) and the Workers Party treasurer were arrested last year in connection with Lava Jato, adding to the embarrassment. As for progressives, the involvement of some of Rousseff’s fellow party members in those scandals was unceremoniously pushed aside in their statements (reminiscent of the claim that human rights are an ideological weapon being used to destroy the Cuban Revolution) casting dispersions at anti-corruption probes. In short, if they target Lula or Rousseff, they are baseless and have to be politically motivated. If they target Eduardo Cunha (the Speaker of the House of Deputies, separated from the post by the Brazilian Supreme Court on corruption charges) or acting president Michel Temer, their heads must roll.

Speaking of Temer, he will have to hope he does not fall from the rodeo horse and get pummeled under the hoofs. Lee Alston, of Indiana University, has this take: Temer should aim to set Brazil back to the type of disciplined fiscal policy that will provide a strong foundation for policies of socioeconomic inclusion like Bolsa Família and the like – the same type of policy implemented by Fernando Henrique Cardoso long before Lula was even elected. The devil, says Alston, is in the detail of whether Temer is imaginative, adaptive, and resourceful enough to do that. At least, he retained a popular figure in Rousseff’s government – the head of the central bank – and appointed him finance minister. But in turn, Rousseff’s supporters in and out of Brazil will not give him the benefit of the doubt: he is a coup-monger who was an informant to the US embassy (according to Wikileaks) and will sell out Brazil on a free trade agreement with the US. Already, two of Brazil’s largest labor unions have announced that they will not cooperate with him, a few South American heads of state refuse to recognize him as president, and his decision to appoint only white males for ministerial posts was not welcome by feminists (he has since appointed a woman as head of Brazil’s development bank). But curiously, Temer has also drawn fire from the same people he is supposedly in cahoots with, because business leaders are not happy with the finance minister’s idea of imposing new taxes. And then there are the anti-corruption probes: if he orders to stop them, Brazilians of all stripes will remind him every day about his illegitimacy and give him an even harder time. It is obviously too early to make a sound value judgment, but given all this context Temer could end up being an ineffectual and hapless head of state rather than the hired gun for neoliberalism his detractors portray him as. He does not arouse my contempt, but my pity.

None of this means that Rousseff is guilty as charged. What it does mean is that all this ideological chest-beating from her side is similar to the tantrums of a teenage drama queen. Where were Cindy Sheehan, Tom Hayden and all the other people who signed an online petition demanding Rousseff’s reinstatement (see the full list here and here) when José Dirceu was giving a bad rep to Rousseff’s party by engaging in bribery and graft? And how is it that a social-democrat who never aimed at abolishing Brazilian neoliberalism is not a martyr? And assuming that Rousseff did violate the law and there is hard evidence of it, why should she not be held accountable for her actions?

In the end, anyway, Brazil is a hot mess. First the Olympics of Superfluousness, then Zika, and now this, on top of the issues it already has. Rather than being the Country of Tomorrow, it is merely the Country of Always Been, or maybe of Never Will Be.

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