Brazil: Pais do futuro?”” Country of the Future,” as Brazilians have long lamented? No, it is the country of NOW—full of vibrant people, trying to get through a difficult present.
Brazil has problems: recession, corruption, disunity, demands for impeachment, threat of a government being toppled.
On the positive side, Brazil has the world’s fifth largest land mass (larger than the continental U.S.). Brazil has the world’s fifth largest population (over 210 million). Brazil has the world’s fifth largest economy. Yet, the current Brazilian crisis may be “worse than Trump” (Glenn Greenwald, Independent Global News, March 24, 2016).
What does he mean? Could this crisis be “worse” than Trump? (Could anything?) Greenwald means the phenomenon of Trump himself and the U.S. media’s fawning coverage. Throw in terrorist attacks in Brussels for good measure, plus Syria and other international crises. But these stories, as important as they are, also obscure what’s happening in our own hemisphere (e.g., Cuba, Argentina, Brazil).
Brazil is a sister Republic to the U.S. It is a leading international power. Brazilians are usually notoriously optimistic. They believe Deus e Brasileiro or “God is a Brazilian.” They brag: “Brazil is too large to fall into the abyss.” Add to the geo-political and socio-economic power of Brazil its great literature (e.g., Jorge Amado, whom I interviewed as we joined in Candomblé ceremonies). Add its great music (samba, bossa nova, “Girl from Ipanema, etc.). Add its great religious leaders (e.g., Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, one of founders of Liberation Theology, recently revived by Pope Francis. I also interviewed Dom Helder).
I am hopeful Brazil—given its culture and optimism—will weather this storm. The reason I think it can is based on more than just hope and feelings. It is based on not only my travel and research in Brazil, exploring the Amazon, living in slums of Rio de Janeiro, its famous favelas, but on the analysis of credible academic sources and on the undeniable facts of Brazil’s nature and recent politics.
Brazil was booming in the last few decades. Former President Inacio da Silva’s (“Lula) policies had lifted 21 million out of poverty. The media, at the time, acknowledged Lula’s “Doctorate in Charisma” and credited him for providing the right “light” touch with a bit of socialism. Current President, Dilma Rousseff, has generally followed in his footsteps.
Rousseff was dubious of U.S. demands or other pressures to return to previous, pro-business, policies. Her labor background—as a negotiator, not a radical—tried to find a Lulaesque “middle way” of compromise with reality. But, with the over-building, over-spending for the World Cup and, now, for the Olympics, she is confronted by recession amid the rising expectations that were not met.
Brazil’s powerful conservative elites, emboldened by outbursts from street demonstrations, are now trying to oust her, via impeachment. The military has hinted it will, first and foremost, support stability. This has weakened the likelihood for impeachment. Rousseff proclaims “I am not a weak woman.” Brazil’s top leaders have not forgotten their own popular majorities. They provided more benefits (education and health) when budgets allowed. But the flow of oil and money from PETROBRAS, the national oil company, has clouded the picture.
Huge sums of money clouded judgement. Politicians and businessmen played fast-and-loose with loans, with transfers of funds and kick-backs to private construction companies. This climate has allowed corruption to flourish at many levels of society and government. Lula and Dilma have been among those accused. She, however, blames her main accuser, the Speaker of the House (of Deputies), Eduardo Cunha, of fomenting the crisis to cover his own duplicitous actions. He currently faces indictment for bribery. The courts, more or less independent, will play their role.
How does this confusing scenario, so far from home, relate to Trump and the U.S.? Greenwald sees the four consecutive, democratic elections and re-elections of Lula and Rousseff as analogous to beleaguered President Obama. Republicans in the U.S., since the beginning of his term, and even now with a Supreme Court vacancy, have refused to cooperate. They have spoken of impeachment. Given their hypocrisy, many of us joined late-night comedians in laughing at them. Perhaps we should have taken them more seriously. Is ridicule enough to halt their mischief?
Their racism has little parallel in Brazil, but the united opposition of many of the richest elites and their allies in Congress seem to ape the Brazilian right-wing interference with democracy. Neither faction will stop pursuing their goal of total power. The Brazilian rich cannot abide the gains made by the middle class and the poor under President Rousseff. In the U.S., Republican elites cannot bear to admit the successes (health, pulling the country out of the Great Recession) of President Obama.
Trump, while posing as an “outsider,” aids and abets this negativism. He denies the President’s birth place and, thus, his legitimacy to serve. However, greater numbers of reasonable people reject the lies, in both countries. There are not enough votes now in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to impeach. The Brazilian military will oppose any attempt at a coup d’etat in Brazil (Commander-in-Chief, General Eduardo Vilas Boas). They will protect the will of the people voiced in the last four elections.
I remain almost as optimistic as traditional Brazilians. I suggest neither country will fall into the abyss. Polls now indicate American voters will reject demagogues and extremists. The 20 percent who support them will lose. The right wing—neither here nor there—will not likely be able to roll back the progress both countries have made toward achieving more open, democratic societies.
Editor’s Note: Brazil President Dilma Rousseff is pictured in the main photo accompanying this guest column.