Impeachment in Brazil: Throwing the Best Apple Out of the Rotten Barrel?

By Thomas J. Rivera (PhD at LUISS & HEC)

On this week’s episode of “Political Capital in the Twenty-First Century” we focus our attention on the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in yet another political drama. For those out of the loop, a few weeks ago Brazil’s Congress successfully voted to begin an impeachment trial against the country’s current president over corruption charges. Interestingly, this congress, especially the key protagonists spearheading this “trial against corruption,” are far more implicated in scandals that largely overshadow Rousseff’s allegations – manipulating state funds in order to plug budget gaps. “Altogether, 60 percent of the 594 members of Brazil’s Congress face serious charges like bribery, electoral fraud, illegal deforestation, kidnapping and homicide…” reports the New York Times.

So here we have yet another bizarre story, this time taking the form of corrupt politicians fighting to replace a president in order to replace her with a potentially more corrupt politician. As an illustration, the speaker of the lower house, and champion for impeachment, faces charges of having earned over $40 million in bribes. In fact, if the impeachment process makes it through the Senate, Rousseff will be forced to step down while the trial is held, at which point she will effectively be replaced by the VP Michael Temer – currently charged with involvement in an illegal ethanol purchasing scheme. Given that the unpopular right wing parties have been unable to dethrone the Worker’s Party in the presidential seat since Brazil’s transition to democracy, one can imagine the true reason for inciting what is becoming largely recognized as a coup d’etat.

So how have we gotten here? Again we can talk about the economic frustration of the people, who are largely blaming Rousseff for their woes, but Brazil’s story illustrates a more salient feature of our political era – media’s influence on popular opinion. Brazil’s media is controlled by a tight group of oligarchs largely in favor of the military dictatorship that controlled Brazil before it’s unprecedented and peaceful shift to democracy. It is these media tycoons that are pushing the hardest to smear Rousseff and the Worker’s Party out of office so that they can continue to consolidate and conceal their power. On one side of the coin, who could be against dealing with corruption in Brazilian politics? And why not start at the top when doing so? The other side, that is being largely overlooked, is the long-term security and health of both the Brazilian democracy and its economy.

If Dilma is replaced, who will replace her? Will we simply see one president impeached after another until the influence of media and corruption has the country settle on someone far worse? Or will this be the leverage that the far right needs to convince the people that democracy has failed? Either way, the entire scandal will only exacerbate the economic woes of a country whose political system is currently carrying more uncertainty than Britain’s July 2016 trade balance (hint: the Brexit referendum is in June 2016). One very real fear is that this theater is just a front to help consolidate more wealth and power into the hands of the already wealthy and powerful, undermining democracy and failing the Brazilian people.

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