What’s the matter with Brazil?
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, November 30, 2016
This Wednesday at 5 p.m. in room C130 in the Hesburgh Center, the Kellogg School of Global Affairs will host a current events panel to discuss “What is the matter with Brazil?”
I am Brazilian. I love being Brazilian and above anything else, I am incredibly proud of it. And as some may know, my country has been in the spotlight for many different reasons in the past years, some of which are not exactly positive.
In 2010, we elected our first female president. Dilma Rousseff was the candidate from the Workers’ Party, which had been in power for the previous eight years under two presidential terms. In 2013, a country-wide wave of protests asked for a political reform. Millions of people took to the streets throughout the country. The population was fed up with the corruption and the entrenched political system.
In 2014, we hosted the FIFA World Cup despite strong opposition from the Brazilian population. The country entered into recession. In the same year, Rousseff was re-elected after a close race with her opponent. In March 2015, a massive corruption scandal in our state oil company was discovered — Petrobrás had been used as part of a corruption scheme when Rousseff was still a member of its board of directors. The accusations assert that the scheme is responsible for the disappearance of nearly 30 billion reais — around 9 and 10 billion dollars in today’s exchange rate.
In the end of 2015, after accusations of misuse of campaign funds in 2014, Congress voted to start an investigation to assess whether Rousseff was responsible. In early 2016, the World Health Organization declared a public health crisis due to the Zika virus outbreak that started in Brazil.
In August 2016, Brazil hosted its first Summer Olympic Games. In the same month, Dilma Rousseff was formally impeached after the Senate voted, 61-20, to remove her from the presidency. Her vice president, Michel Temer, assumed the presidency and will preside until the end of the term on Jan. 1, 2019.
The real question is: what is the matter with my country? In the past decade, the country has become significantly divided between the so-called left and right; it has been overwhelmed by economic instability; and the political system seems to be distancing itself from the population.
Brazil is a country pervaded by severe segregation between several social groups based on race, gender, income, sexual orientation and religion. Many believe that the current political crisis is responsible for intensifying many of the social issues in the country. Others believe that the political crisis is a result of an eroding social structure and a growth in the extreme political antagonism between left and right after more than 12 years of a socialist government. We are also a young democracy; after 20 years under a military dictatorship regime, the first democratic presidential elections were held in 1985 and our first impeachment of this new era was in 1992.
Many Americans were shocked by the division of their country in this year’s elections between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but Brazil’s division is much deeper. Unlike the U.S., our political scenario is divided into a spectrum that goes from far-left to far-right within the established government. Our differences are not only over different types of capitalism, but all possible political ideologies. The disagreement between communists, socialists, neoliberalists and environmentalists is one of the reasons why our political system is currently extremely complicated. Brazil now has 35 different parties, 28 of which have elected politicians for the 513 seats in the Lower House of Congress and the 81 seats in the Senate. Brazilian citizens vote for seven different political posts every election cycle; however, many still do not feel represented.
Additionally, the Brazilian political system is virtually divided between the two leading parties, the Workers’ Party and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, known as PT (the left), and PSDB (the right), respectively. They have fought six out of the past eight presidential elections against each other; since 1994, all presidents have been from one of these two parties.
This polarization is also responsible for a social feeling of animosity between two sides that bars most types of constructive debate about politics. The country is divided between those who believe the impeachment was an unfair, anti-democratic state coup and those who believe she was fairly judged for possible crimes she committed as president. Half praises the new president; the other half refuses to recognize his presidency. On every front, the country is divided.
Many people believe our political system has also been deeply shaped by sports. Brazilians are passionate people and the rivalry between soccer teams mirrors the rivalry between political parties. There is no consensus as to how soccer influences our society. Some argue it impassioned the Brazilian people and thus affected our political mindset. Others say our love for soccer and how we do politics is a consequence of the passion of our people. The fact is that in Brazil, politics has become a game and right now, the fans are disillusioned.
So why should anyone care about what is happening in Brazil? Well, we have the fifth biggest population and territory in the world. We are among the top 10 economies in the world and our GDP is seventh in respect to share of the world GDP. We are the biggest economy and society in Latin America. If our country falls, several other world economies will fall altogether.
As the president of the Brazil Club and passionate Brazilian, I invite everyone who is interested in continuing the conversation to join us and the Kellogg School of Global Affairs this Wednesday to understand better how Brazil got to this point and what can happen as we go forward.
class of 2018
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.