Brazil: Dilma’s Ousting was Warranted, But What Comes Next Is Infinitely Worse.
Brazilians have learned a tough lesson amidst our country’s ongoing political crisis: the culture of violence that plagues our history is not behind us. As Congress votes to impeach our first woman president, Ms. Dilma Rousseff, the nation has taken to the streets, divided. They are moved by much more than a simple disagreement over the current state of things. Decades of quiet, brooding hatred between proponents of liberal and conservative ideologies lie beneath the surface, fanning the flames of protesters' spirits.
On one side, supporters of the impeachment, frothing over years of economic mismanagement, celebrate the prospect of toppling the Workers' Party. They hope to put an end to the largest organized corruption scheme in the country's history, devised to solidify the party's grasp on power for decades to come. On the other side, opponents of the impeachment roar, shocked at what are bonafide gangsters invoking 'God and the family' as they vote to impeach Ms. Rousseff. It smacks of 1964, the year the military used those same two words, God and family, to take power and rule the country for more than two decades. The Right is back.
Yet, in a deeper sense, both sides share the same views on what is happening: it's a tragedy. There’s no other word for it. Look back to 2011. For once, every single economic indicator was moving in the right direction. The hard-earned economic victories of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who held office from 1995 to 2003, were finally paying off. Inflation was under control. The country showed a primary surplus as it rode the Chinese wave. Brazil was hailed as the next big thing — we even got a letter on the BRICs. This time is different, we thought.
Think of how this was achieved. For the first time in memory, a politician somehow managed to do the right thing. In the developing world, the right thing is a particularly tricky proposition, given that it usually entails economic orthodoxy, belt tightening, roll-back of social programs, and severe unemployment. This mix tends to render the nation's leader perpetually unelectable, and so most navigate some middle ground between the actual long-term solution, and short-term populist measures to appease the public.
But that is not what happened in '94. Cardoso decided future electability was not his primary goal. He promoted a comprehensive economic policy overhaul, stopping hyperinflation and balancing the country’s budget for the first time in decades. When Lula was elected president in 2002, he found a pile of money waiting for him. He also did the right thing by redistributing it, creating one of the most successful cash transfer programs in history, and raising 20 million Brazilians out of abject poverty. All the conditions were finally in place for Brazil to address its long-lasting socioeconomic problems and begin a new era of inclusive prosperity.
So imagine how exasperating, how infuriating it is to watch those prospects crumble, as an arrogant and corrupt party, posing as the messianic embodiment of a people’s movement, becomes drunk on power and stops at no law or regulation in order to perpetuate itself in government. Imagine watching that party make the worst series of economic decisions in the country’s recent history, and then try to conceal it through illegal means to preserve its all-important reelection prospects. Imagine the feeling of powerlessness as those in power rob state-owned companies blind, as was the case with Brazil's oil giant Petrobras, and run it — along with the country's economy — into the ground.
Imagine the rage we felt. And so came the remedy, or what the right would have you believe is the remedy. Impeach Dilma. Run the left out of government. Reinstate order. Keep non-whites where they belong. Cure homosexuality. Ensure women stay home. At least in the days of the military, we did not have to deal with any of this.
This is the first time my generation has come to understand, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how powerful and dangerous the political right is in Brazil. Left-wing politics are almost a fluke, a temporary occurrence. A movement lucky to have survived this long before the right cracked down. That is how it is in the Americas: the left could be; the right is.
Myself, I am brought to tears. And most, I believe, in some way feel what I feel. There was hope that we had transcended our terrible history. There was hope that we lived in a country that respected the rights of those who did not resemble us. There was hope that the power wielded by white elites in São Paulo and Rio was waning, and that their self-interested subservience to foreign powers would no longer erode the country’s growth. But the beast of reactionary politics has shown its fangs, frightened at the prospect of losing its grip on the country — it is fighting back.
Ms. Rousseff had a task much bigger than herself, something she perhaps did not fully comprehend. She had to ensure economic stability and growth, so that she could promote her social agenda. That is the only way progress is tolerated in Brazil. The Workers Party’s term in government was the first chance the left had in over 60 years to prove that it was a viable model of government, and they failed, because of greed and arrogance. They betrayed their ideals, through power-crazed corruption, and undershot even the most modest expectations of what they could have achieved. They also gave the right the excuse they needed to seize power and undo all the hard-fought victories of people of color, LGBTQ communities, and women, who are once again set back in their path towards equality.
A somber chord is sounding in my country as the youth, who felt removed from the country's violent past, has suddenly realized they are very much a part of history. All is as it has always been in Brazil: some celebrate, some weep, but there are no winners, except for those who run the game.
Perhaps it’s time we all understood that real solutions will likely not come from government. That it is in personal initiative that the answer may lie — in each of our hands. Be it through innovative tech solutions to the archaic democratic machine; be it speaking up, informing people and empowering them to engage, or be it in actually running for office and fighting for our local communities. These are the times we live in. We are fortunate to live in an era where the promises of equality and freedom feel within reach, but we must all commit to stand against hate and fear, and against the nefarious vision of what is to come. Our future is our own.