Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment was a successful coup in Brasilia, without any tanks. After all, this is 2016, not Brazil in 1964 or Chile in 1973. The right-wing power has regained the presidency until 2018 and appointed Michel Temer, the bland centrist of the PMDB party, as president, without a popular vote. The only other case of impeachment in Brazil was the case of President Fernando Collor de Mello, who was dismissed with the same proceedings.
But what made all this possible? The Yankee imperialism and the neoliberal right worked to reverse the balance of power in parliament and put Rousseff and her Workers’ Party in the minority, but they are not the only ones responsible. A mess of contradictions entangled government policy. And the difficulties faced by other progressive Latin American parties are worrisome: from Venezuela to Chile, from Bolivia to Ecuador. There is a widespread fear this will stop the progressive cycle implemented in recent years. Therefore, the analysis must be careful and not superficial.
We had an image of Brazil that did not include contradictions and traumatic twists. It’s the sixth or fifth country in the world in GDP, the ninth world power about to outshine a G8 country. In a few words, this is the Latin American monster country, in terms of territory and potential, that seemed able to occupy its corresponding role in world politics.
Amazing economic results had been achieved during the presidencies of the former trade union leader Luiz Inacio da Silva, alias Lula (2002-2008) and Dilma Vana Rousseff Linhares (in office since 2011), both leader of the Workers’ Party and part of the history of the struggle for the return to democracy after the 1964 military coup.
Hence the positive conclusions that leftist observers could draw from the results achieved in just over a decade of progressive governments of Brazil, even though they knew some contradictions were simmering under the ashes. For example, the corruption that lurked in many sectors of the Workers’ Party (there were multiple cases at the local level, some ministers were forced to resign, and the party lost prestige), the unanswered requests of the Landless Workers’ Movement on the fate of the Amazon Rainforest and the persistence of slums a few kilometers away from the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
In June 2013, during the Confederations Cup, the rehearsal dinner of the World Cup planned for the following year, the image of Brazil changed suddenly due to the impact of the doubling of urban transportation fees and the sharp rise in tuition and university fees. Massive rallies were held in major Brazilian cities, as the people expressed their dissatisfaction with the leftist government policies. The social composition of those events was worthy of analysis: The protesters were not from the masses of the suburban underclass (as is often the case in other countries of Latin America), but young students and representatives of a young middle class people who could not keep up — in terms of wages and consumption— with Brazil’s economic locomotive of that period.
Thanks to the policies designed by Lula and Rousseff, 35 million Brazilians have moved up from poverty to the middle class. The statistics published from Brasilia describe the composition of the country’s population as 50 percent middle class, mostly employed in the services sector, 27 percent poor people, 20 percent wealthy and 3 percent unclassifiable. Twenty-eight million new jobs have been created over the past decade, so many that the most optimistic observers spoke of “full employment” in the making.
Substantial investments have been made in technology, research and innovation to improve the industrial and agricultural sectors. In addition, public debt and inflation — traditional floating mines in Brazil — were kept under control until recently. But the positive results of Lula and Rousseff’s policies have generated new social and political problems. That 50 percent middle class now demands improvements in the quality of public schools, health care and the pension system, which risks crashing down because of the aging population (another good undeniable result of Lula and Rousseff’s policies).
In addition, the real, the local currency, was overvalued in relation to the dollar, and this has undermined export capacity, while the infrastructure remained inadequate for the growth accelerating program that was implemented. The polls finally showed last year that the popularity of President Rousseff fell from 70 percent to 57 percent in a few months, and then again under 50. Meanwhile, the growth of the Brazilian economy was almost completely stalled due to the international crisis, which reached Latin America. It was easy for the right to strike Rousseff with an impeachment, accusing her of falsifying the federal budget data.
What provisional conclusions can be drawn from the events in Brazil during August 2016? Becoming the ninth world power is not easy and it creates social contradictions that can only be overcome with wise policy. Each goal achieved by a progressive leftist policy opens new, more ambitious scenarios, especially in a country that experienced a military regime for more than 20 years, blocking every aspiration and social progress.
And the traditional problems of Brazil have come home to roost: the weakness of political parties and democracy, the unstructured social composition, the new middle class not represented, the right always lurking in the shadows playing on dissatisfaction and delivering easy promises, and an economy dependant on the rest of the world.
But these are the critical questions in almost all Latin American countries. And this makes everyone fear the worst after more than a decade when the wind was blowing to the left.