Brazil’s political system falling apart?

Dilma survives another day Source: Aim

The political storm that has been brewing since the beginning of the year has finally broken out over Brasilia. Impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff have begun in the House of Representatives, the greatest blow yet to an administration that a little over a year ago had won reelection with the support of over 54 million voters. While for now, the President has not been impeached, the Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, had approved impeachment proceedings on the grounds of fiscal irregularities by Rousseff in the 2014 national budget.

It’s not just the President who’s confronting seismic challenges ahead. Cunha faces the prospect of being removed from his post as well, as the congressional ethics committee prepares to give a verdict on corruption charges against him. Crucially, investigations surrounding the bribery of public officials by construction companies for projects with Petrobras are reaching a decisive phase. Over the last few weeks, the government’s leader in the Senate, Delcidio Amaral, and one of the country’s richest men, investment banker Andre Esteves, were arrested for disrupting the investigations. Additionally, the CEOs of all the major national construction companies are facing lengthy prison terms for their involvement in the scandal.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Michel Temer issued a letter to the President expressing dissatisfaction with his role in the administration. The letter was leaked to major national media outlets, a move that indicates his desire to distance himself from Rousseff and profit from her vulnerable position. If the House votes in favor of impeachment, Temer will assume the presidency while the Senate decides Rousseff’s fate. Last, but definitely not least, former President Lula da Silva’s popularity is waning as some of his closest associates have been arrested for involvement in the Petrobras scandal. Lula himself has not been implicated in the investigation so far but his prospects of running for a third term in 2018 look increasingly unlikely. Temer has talked about how he isn’t behind the impeachment but there remains a shadow of doubt.

Thus, Rousseff’s touted impeachment is not an isolated political crisis. It is yet another installment in the slow, but progressing degradation of Brazil’s political system. Coalitions of the old school of corrupt politicians are no longer in vogue amidst an increasingly politically aware public and an autonomous judiciary. The likes of Cunha and his cronies are utilizing the President’s historically low popularity to distract the Congress and the public from their own corrupt practices. Nonetheless, the resilience of the judicial branch will ensure that the crimes of corrupt politicians, regardless of affiliation or authority, will not go unnoticed.

Despite her single-digit approval ratings, Rousseff’s removal was  unlikely. The charge of fiscal mismanagement against her is tenuous and the government currently has sufficient votes to avoid impeachment going through the House. While demonstrations against an inefficient government are to be encouraged, low approval ratings do not legitimize the obstruction of a presidential term. If impeachment is to occur, it should be done through the appropriate legal means, not because Congress seeks to utilize public discontent for political triumph against a vulnerable president. For now, she remains safe despite rising public pressure.

While the Executive and Legislative branches of government remain stained by the illicit actions of its leaders, the judicial branch continues to ride out the political storm. Regardless of whether impeachment is successful, the Petrobras scandal continues to disintegrate the political system’s institutionalized impunity. It is expected that the other major political figures involved in the scandal will be behind bars shortly, offering further challenges to Rousseff as she clings to power.

The storms surrounding the country are not limited to the political crisis. They are varied and potentially destructive in their own ways. The eruption of dam barriers in the state of Minas Gerais caused the flooding of the city of Bento Rodrigues and the contamination of the water sources for millions of people. The greatest environmental disaster in the country’s history caused the deaths of 15 people and the devastation of local wildlife, as the government and mining companies involved seek to avoid responsibility. In São Paulo, government plans to reduce the number of public schools led to student occupation of schools in protest, and a repressive police response. Meanwhile, preparations for the Olympics in Rio continue relentlessly through forced displacement and mass murders committed by the military police against the city’s poor.

Every crisis the country faces further weakens Brazil’s political establishment. The various storms assailing the country offer opportunities for short-term gains for some, but ultimately threaten to transform the inner workings of Brazil’s decrepit political system. It will be worth keeping a close eye on Brasilia to see what remains after the storm passes.


Gabriel Funari

Gabriel Funari

Associate Editor, Latin America at InPRA
Gabriel Funari  is a Brazilian by birth and an internationalist by circumstance. He has lived in the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany and the UK prior to attaining an International Studies degree at American University in Washington, DC. Passionate about Brazilian politics, Latin American regional integration, New Left movements and post-colonialism, he aspires to challenge conventional narratives surrounding international politics and seeks to contribute to the crucial issues of our times through vibrant dialogue and debate.
Gabriel Funari

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