National Security & Defense

Brazil’s Berlin Wall Falls

Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff (right) with former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Igo Estrela/Getty)

The largest nation in Latin America is in flames. A week ago, at least 4 million people took to the streets to call for the impeachment of the left-wing president, Dilma Rousseff. And they probably will get what they want.

Two years ago, nobody could have predicted that.

In October 2014, Dilma Rousseff was sworn in for a second term as president of Brazil. She had succeeded her mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was leader of the Worker’s Party and the most popular politician in Brazil — so popular that many in the opposition were afraid to challenge him.

Seventeen months later, Dilma struggles to keep her job, support for the government is at a historic low, and Brazil watches the largest street demonstrations in its history. What has changed?

One of the reasons for the revolt is economic. Right after Dilma’s reelection, it became clear that she had lied to the nation. After more than a decade of uncontrolled spending sustained only by the temporary boom of commodities, the government — surprise! — had run out of other people’s money. Brazil’s economy shrank 3.8 percent in 2015, and the markets predict a similar decrease this year. Unemployment and inflation are running out of control.

The main reason for the uprising against Dilma and her party is the extensive list of crimes committed during her tenure in government (and Lula’s).

The main reason for the uprising against Dilma and her party, however, is the extensive list of crimes committed during her tenure in government (and Lula’s). According to investigators, Petrobras, the state oil company, alone lost at least $5 billion to graft and bribery. Besides personal enrichment, that money was used to pay for political campaigns and to buy support from political parties in the fragmented Brazilian congress. Today, 25 political parties have seats in the congress, and 90 percent of the representatives can be divided into two groups: the leftists, on one hand, and, on the other, the non-ideological who will support any government in exchange for power and money.

The network of corruption was so extensive that it was impossible not to see it. If part of the Brazilian judiciary doesn’t seem interested in challenging the country’s culture of impunity, this is not true of a group of prosecutors and a federal judge from Curitiba, 850 miles south of Brasília. When investigating a mundane case of money laundering, they uncovered the sophisticated scheme implemented by the ruling party. They didn’t hesitate to send powerful politicians and some of the richest men in Brazil to jail.

Among those involved in the graft are not only Dilma and Lula, but also numerous members of the government, the speakers of the house and the senate, almost 40 other congressmen, and even the president of the most important opposition party. That is too much even by Latin America’s standards.

#share#The massive demonstrations against the government started in 2015 and escalated to a climax one week ago. Most of the groups are formed by young, non-partisan militants with no political record and zero ties to students unions. They don’t care for the opposition leaders, mostly social democrats. They despise the support the government gives to dictatorships in Latin America. And it is not rare to see a teenager holding a sign that says, “More Mises, less Marx.” Something is changing.

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In recent days, the situation has grown even worse for Dilma and Lula. Investigators are convinced that the former president tried to hide his ownership of a triplex apartment and a farm in the countryside. Afraid of being arrested, he managed to receive an “invitation” to become Dilma’s chief of cabinet, which would give him judicial immunity.

The dominant feeling in Brazil is that Dilma’s government is over.

But he didn’t know his phone was being monitored by officials from the department of justice, following a court order by the federal judge from Curitiba. In one of Lula’s conversations with Dilma, it became clear that the reasons publicly offered for nominating him were fake. The same day, thousands of protesters surrounded the presidential palace. Brazil’s supreme court has now suspended Lula’s nomination to the cabinet.

The dominant feeling in Brazil is that Dilma’s government is over. The impeachment process, already started, is likely to pass in the house next month. Until 2018, Brazil will probably be governed by Vice President Michel Temer, a centrist.

What comes next? The fall of the Left and the rise of democratic right-wing movements are something completely new. But if those groups want to effect an ideological shift in the country’s collectivist culture, Dilma’s impeachment will be only the first step.

In the last three decades, socialists and social democrats have taken control of public institutions and the educational system. Fourteen years of Worker’s Party government has also expanded the destructive reach of crony capitalism. In this context, it will not be easy to fight for individual liberties and to encourage a belief in personal responsibility. This battle will have to take place not only on the streets but also in universities, churches, and civic associations across the country. Brazil’s Berlin Wall has already fallen. It is time to start building a new country.


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