Brazil: Creeping Coup!
SINCE the beginning of the year, Brazil has been lurching from crisis to crisis with the elected government now under the threat of being overthrown by a cabal of right wing politicians, businessmen and judges, acting in an extra-constitutional way. The current political crisis has its roots in the economic downturn the country has been facing since the re-election of President Dilma Rousseff for a successive second five year in office. Her victory coincided with the collapse of the commodity boom. Brazil, under more than a decade and a half of rule of the Left wing Workers Party (PT), first under Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and then under Rousseff, was deemed an economic success story. But after, Rousseff took charge for a second time, things started going awry. There were allegations that the president had not come out clean about the dismal state of the economy when she ran for re-election. Her opponents claim that she deliberately fudged the figures to give the electorate a rosy picture of the economy. But so far there has not been any formal complaint of corruption against the president. Yet, the Brazilian right wing is braying for her impeachment. ECONOMIC CRISIS The present economic crisis is one of the worst Brazil has faced since “the great depression” of the 1930's. Over one million jobs were lost in 2015. A high inflation rate has impacted adversely on the living wages of the working class. To further queer the pitch for the beleaguered president and the PT, the scandal surrounding the misappropriation of funds from the giant public sector oil company, Petrobras, is threatening to enmesh key ruling party figures along with those belonging to the opposition. Big oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron were unhappy with Lula for making Petrobras the chief operating company for Brazil's offshore fields, among the biggest in the world. He also opened up Brazil's oil operations to the Chinese oil company –Sinopec. Wikileaks documents have revealed that US National Security Agency (NSA) was regularly snooping on Dilma Rousseff and top Petrobras officials. An investigation into the Petrobras scandal, code named Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato) had started in March 2014. It is alleged that more than US$2.7 billion were siphoned away from the company by corrupt officials, middlemen and politicians. It is also being alleged that some of the money was used to finance the PT election campaign in 2014. It was not only the PT that has been accused of dipping its hands into Petrobras Funds. Politicians from across the political spectrum have also been named in the corruption scandal. The charges against Lula and Rousseff are mainly based on “plea bargain” made by Delcidio de Amaral, a former PT leader in the Senate. He was arrested and sent to prison on charges of attempting a cover up in the Petrobras investigations. In a bid to get his prison term reduced, he entered into a plea bargain and named Lula and Rousseff as being among the beneficiaries of illegal funding. “I am a prophet of chaos”, de Amaral told the media after the high court accepted his plea bargain. He alleged that Lula received two properties from companies involved in the Petrobras scandal. Rousseff was accused of resorting to the illegal funding of her election campaign. Delcidio de Amaral also fingered Brazil's vice president, Michel Temer, who belongs to the Brazilian Democratic Party and Eduardo da Cunha, the president of the Chamber of Deputies. Both of them were accused of receiving illegal funds from Petrobras. The other accused are Renan Calheiros, the current president of the Brazilian Senate, belonging to the Brazilian Development Movement Party and Aecio Neves, a senator and the president of the opposition Brazil Social Democratic Party. Despite many conservative politicians also being named in what is described as Brazil's “worst corruption scandal”, the right wing opposition is in a hurry to impeach the president and politically bury the charismatic Lula. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president who belongs to the center right and who is a vocal critic of Lula, is also under investigation for corruption. But he is being treated with kid gloves by the oligarch controlled Brazilian media which has no love lost for the PT and Lula. The game plan obviously is to bring down Rousseff and ensure that Lula is not allowed to return to Brazilian politics. Lula has been readying to make a run for the presidency in 2018 after Rousseff's term gets over. In an unprecedented step, the magistrate Sergio Moro investigating “Operation Car Wash” issued a warrant of arrest against Lula. The police briefly arrested Lula bundling him from his house to the police station in the wee hours of the morning and interrogated him for around four hours. Moro has close connections with right wing media conglomerate O Globo, which dominates the Brazilian media. Even conservative politicians were appalled by the act of a magistrate ordering an early morning raid on a former president's residence. Moro in an article he had written in 2004, had extolled the “authoritarian subversion of juridical order”. Lula after all was questioned about the allegations against him by investigators in his home on a previous occasion. One third of the 539 members of the Brazilian Congress are under investigation for alleged acts of corruption. In its more than a decade and a half in power, the PT never could get an outright majority in the Brazilian legislature. A lot of wheeling and dealing used to be involved to get important legislation passed and political deals made. WAVE OF PROTESTS Brazil in recent months has been witnessing a wave of protests, most of them anti-government. In the third week of March, the PT cadre, seemingly galvanised by the arbitrary arrest and questioning of the former president, Lula, put up a defiant show in the major cities of the country. In Brazil's biggest city, Sao Paulo, more than a 100,000 people gathered to show their loyalty to PT and the beleaguered government. The PT's popularity has definitely waned in the wake of the scandals and the economic downturn that has affected the poor. Recent opinion polls have shown that a majority of Brazilians want the “impeachment” of the president. The opposition has already started to lay the groundwork for an impeachment process. But many Brazilians are worried about such a prospect, however distant it may be. The last thing the people want is further political turmoil and economic uncertainties. It will be difficult to find a replacement for Rousseff in the first place as most opposition leaders have also been tarred by the corruption brush. Dilma has decided that she is not going down without a fight. The vice president, Michel Temer, who is constitutionally positioned to succeed her, faces the same charge of “illegal campaign financing” like the president. The next in line, Eduardo Cunha, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, is also an accused in the ongoing Lava Jato investigations. The fourth in the line of succession, the president of the senate is also under investigation. With the impeachment process having started in the lower house, Brazilian politics will be entering uncharted territory. A newly formed Congressional Impeachment Committee is expected to decide within a month on whether to impeach the president or not. The latest round of massive street protests were triggered by the induction of Lula into Rousseff’s cabinet as chief of staff. Lula will be the de facto prime minister and will help Rousseff govern Latin America's largest country. President Rousseff said that Lula's entry would “strengthen” her government. Lula's policies as president helped 30 million escape from poverty. “I am going back to help President Dilma to do what must – reestablish peace and hope. There is no room for hate in this country”, Lula said after taking his oath of office. Besides the economic and political crisis, the country is also facing a health crisis in the form of the “Zica epidemic” , that is causing panic in the northeast of the country. The country will also be hosting the Summer Olympics in a few months time. With Lula by her side, Rousseff will be more confident as she battles to overcome the challenges. As cabinet minister, Lula will have immunity from prosecution. Ministers and other high officials in Brazil can only be tried by the country's highest court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal. A judge investigating the case against Lula released a recording of a phone conversation between Rousseff and Lula. The two were heard vaguely talking about “appointment papers” being readied for Lula's induction into the cabinet. The very fact that the president's phone is tapped is indicative of the deep machinations that are at play in Brazil today. Many of Brazil's key institutions seem to have turned their back on the presidency. Some political groupings marching under the anti- corruption banner are openly calling for the restoration of military rule. Rousseff as a young guerrilla fighter fighting for the overthrow of military rule was brutally tortured after she was arrested in the 1960's. A Supreme Court judge was quick to strike down Lula's appointment to the cabinet despite the court being in recess. Lula's lawyers have appealed to the head of the Supreme Court to overturn the order. President Rousseff has warned that the aggressive tactics are being used in the corruption investigations. “It is important that we don't go back to history”, she said alluding to the military dictatorship that ruled the country for two decades till the mid-eighties.