Neoliberal parties, the corporate media, a conservative judiciary, oil lobbyists, the white elite and right-wing groups, with generous help from outside, have ganged up to derail the country’s government. And it’s all being made to look like a popular uprising against a corrupt regime.
By Shobhan Saxena and cross-posted from The Wire
Sao Paulo: In November 2009, The Economist put Brazil on its cover. Brazil Takes Off, read the headline, emblazoned on a photo of Rio’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer rising above blue waters like an inter-stellar rocket. Predicting that “Brazil is likely to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, overtaking Britain and France,” the magazine said that South America’s largest economy should “pick up more speed over the next few years as big new deep-sea oilfields come on stream, and as Asian countries still hunger for food and minerals from Brazil’s vast and bountiful land.”
In 2009, even as the world was reeling from a catastrophic financial crisis, The Economist saw Brazil as the great hope of global capitalism.
Back then, the British magazine was not the only one in love with Brazil. Under Lula da Silva’s leadership, the country was witnessing unprecedented prosperity and social change. Lula’s personal rise from shoe-shine boy and motor mechanic to the presidency of the biggest Latin American country was the stuff of legends. He was the subject of several books and a Brazilian box-office hit. At the G-20 summit in London in April 2009, US president Barrack Obama called him the “most popular politician on earth.” And with two of the biggest sporting spectacles – the FIFA World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016) – scheduled to happen in the country, Brazil, perennially branded the “country of the future,” finally appeared to be arriving on the global stage.
Seven years later, Brazil is looking like a completely different country. Lula, who retired in 2010 with an 80% approval rating, was detained this month for questioning in a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal that has seen some of his Workers Party (PT) comrades go to jail. His successor, President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment in the Congress. The country’s economy shrank by 3.5% last year, and this year won’t be any better. Inflation is in double digits and hundreds of thousands are facing unemployment. Millions of people have taken to the streets – both in support of and opposition to the government. No one cares two hoots about the Rio Olympics, which are less than five months away. And the corporate media – global and local – has already written off Lula, Rousseff and Brazil.
The Brazil story began to lose some of its shine in 2013, especially in the eyes of international business media. In September 2013, The Economist put Brazil on its cover once again. The report was scathing and blasted Rousseff, who had been running the country for three years by then and was facing an election the next year, for doing “too little to reform its government in the boom years.” It took Brazil to task for “too many taxes,” “too much public expenditure” and paying pensions that were too “generous.”
That had not been a good year for Brazil. The economy was faltering and hundreds of thousands of people had come out on the streets just ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup to protest against corruption and demand better public services. The economy appeared to have stalled entirely.
So what went wrong between 2009 and 2013? How did Rousseff, declared the most powerful woman in the world in 2010 by Forbes, suddenly become weak and incompetent? How did the Brazil story turn from one of hope to that of despair in such a short time?
The answer is simple – oil, and the money, power and politics it generates…