The Ceaseless Cycle of Brazil’s Political & Economic Instability
Janio da Silva Quadros of Brazilian National Labor Party won by a landslide in 1960, and took office on January 31, 1961. It was considered a significant event in Brazilian history. Although the ‘Empire of Brazil’ was abolished and known as Republic, the constitutional democracy was only in the theoretical form. The right to vote demanded literacy requirements and mostly regional oligarchies controlled the power sphere. Local landowners controlled the votes and only 6 percent of the people in countryside had the right to vote. In 1930, when Brazil was facing the pressure of 1929 Wall Street Crash (the Great Depression era) full-fledged dictatorship was imposed by Getulio Vargas. He had a affectionate nickname “Father of the Poor” and was said to strive for the betterment of works. Vargas was also a staunch opposer of communism. In 1945, Vargas was ousted by a military coup, but he weaved his influence in Brazilian politics by 1951, becoming the nation’s elected president. In 1954, a bigger crisis loomed and Vargas committed suicide in that year.
Four persons held the Presidential power between 1955 and 1960, before the first time victory of National Democratic Union in the 1960’s elections. Janio da Silva Quadros, a member of minor allied party elected as President, a man known for his anti-corruption stance. When Quadros took over, it was the first time an office-holding government peacefully gave away its office to an elected president. Quadros was also not a man in the closer vicinity of Getulio Vargas’ legacy. Quadros established relations with Soviet Union and Cuba, re-established relations with Socialist Bloc, when the Cold War was at its peak. He held office for nearly 7 months, when those established relations cost him the support of majority UDN. Quadros resigned on August 1961 and once again the right-wing militants took over. They barred the vice President from taking over office, branding him as
The Vice President Goulart returned as “Head of State” in 1963, but even that didn’t last a year, as in 1964 the military & right wing called him a socialist threat and unfurled the military coup. Goulart had many social reform plans, but what irked the right-wing was that he tried to grant votes to illiterate Brazilians. The military coup was celebrated as a great victory. The militants said the usual thing like ‘we have removed a corrupt President using the power for his own benefit’. After the coup in 1964, many left-wing guerillas & supporters were captured and tortured. The currently impeached Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was one among them. She was called as ‘subversive Joan of Arc’. Released in 1972, Rousseff was banned to participate in political activities. But, once again the so-called democratic rule returned to Brazil in mid 1980’s and Rousseff held number of political positions, and gradually the guerilla organizations strove to gain control of government by force.
Chuch Palahniuk in “Survivor” says “if you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns, we haven’t recognized”. The Brazilian modern history stands as testament to that statement. It could also be compared with that of an active volcano, which just keeps on erupting within a smaller timeline. On 2010, Dilma Rousseff became the President of world’s fourth largest democracy and also won the reelection in 2014. On Sunday, 17 April 2016, Brazil’s lower house of Congress exercised their democratic right to impeach President Rousseff. It is considered a major step in the process of removing the current President. But it isn’t worse than a military coup, is it? It was only lawmakers running here and there to cast their votes to bring impeachment. The irony here is that the 60 percent of 594 members of Brazil’s congress (lawmakers) accusing Rousseff for grave political offenses were themselves charged with serious crimes like homicide, kidnapping, illegal deforestation, bribery, electoral fraud, and many more.
Rousseff told that she is being judged by a ‘gang of thieves’. So, isn’t the charges against Rousseff and the move to remove her from office resemble the events happened with Janio Quadros? History does repeat itself, but in a little complicated way too. In the good old days, coups might be the best way to overthrow governments. But, in the contemporary world – as they say ‘the whole World is watching’ – seeking the fragmented pieces of democracy is the better way. As always, the politicians or militants wearing the mask of politician doesn’t intend to bring out a political system to maximize the goodness of democracy; they are only claiming to outcast the ‘bad’. And, for many modern politicians, not having the power is the only ‘bad’ thing in democracy. Former Brazilian President of Workers’ Party Lula da Silva – who was also seen as savior of the Brazilian poor – once said “a part of Rousseff life story reminds me of Nelson Mandela”. Yes, he said this before the accusation of multi-billion dollar corruption scandal, which was alleged to have the blessings of Lula and Rousseff.
Brazil’s largest construction firms were alleged to have paid nearly $415 million in kickbacks for contracts with the state-run oil company Petrobas. Between 2003 and 2010, Rousseff chaired the board of oil giant Petrobas (while Lula was President of Brazil). The construction company heads and many members of government were arrested after the charges of corruption scandal, but no strong evidence was produced against Lula or Rousseff (legally). However, the current move to impeachment is not about corruption. It’s about financial & economical misconduct – the other greatest threat to large democracies. Even if the scandals are just blind allegations, under Rousseff’ rule, Brazil’s GDP and economy are plunging to the bottom. The regional and national governments’ spending alone amounts of 41 percent of the nations’ GDP, which is the largest for any country in the world (last year Brazil’s GDP went to minus 3.5 percent). The heavy state spending surges interest rates, depresses private investment and the heaviest of tax burdens. Serious reforms are possible, but Rousseff wouldn’t have the political capital to make a sudden, radical change.
Now there would be another election, another celebration (Olympics are scheduled in just under months in Rio de Janeiro), another round of accusations, another exercising of democratic rights to only gather power, ceaseless protests, etc. And, the popular politicians will continue to say ‘I am the voice of working-class people’, while gradually strangling those people’s livelihood.