Alex Weisman, JHU:
On Sunday evening, the lower house of Brazil’s Congress voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff on charges of manipulating the national budget. The motion to impeach was adopted by 367 of the 513 deputies. Although the charges only cover Dilma’s alleged cooking of the books, the move is indicative of the country’s much broader systemic problems: a severe economic downturn, immense public frustration, and unprecedented corruption.
Economically, Brazil is in major trouble. Starting in 2012, falling commodity prices greatly damaged its primarily commodity export based economy. To make matters worse, since 2010 Dilma’s government has increased government spending, which has resulted in the government deficit increasing from 2% to 10% of total GDP. Together, these factors have produced a perfect storm of high inflation, a shrinking economy, and burgeoning unemployment. To add fuel to the fire, Brazilian police uncovered a major corruption scandal involving Brazil’s largest state-run company, Petrobras. Essentially, for the last ten years, construction executives have intentionally overcharged Petrobras for construction contracts, while senior executives of the petroleum company have turned a blind eye. These construction executives then pocketed the proceeds from the inflated contracts and rewarded their partners within Petrobras with bribes. Many of the executives receiving bribes were directly appointed by government officials to those positions. Finally, in even more egregious cases, many politicians directly accepted large sums of the proceeds in order to ensure the continuation of this cycle. Although Dilma has not been directly charged with collusion, she was the Chair of Petrobras’ Administrative Council during the peak years of these practices. In other words, Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal occurred under her watch.
Many defenders of Dilma believe that she is a victim of a political conspiracy and is being unjustly accused. Her defenders point out that her adversaries are corrupt opportunists. They are not wrong. Among the 65 members on the impeachment commission, 37 face charges of corruption or other crimes. Within the lower house in Congress, 303 of the 513 members face charges or are being investigated for crimes. Similarly in the Senate, 49 of the 81 members face charges. Simply put, corruption in Brazilian government is not a novelty but the norm. In fact, politicians that don’t engage in corrupt acts are among the minority.
However, this does not mean that the motion to impeach Dilma is undemocratic or unjust. According to the polling firm, Datafolha, 61% of Brazilians support impeachment. Further, her possible ouster follows a strict constitutional process, one that is vital to any healthy democracy. Dilma has been caught using money from state-owned banks to conceal her incompetence at managing a national budget, something that is unquestionably illegal. It is unfortunate that the individuals facilitating her impeachment are corrupt themselves, but that’s besides the point. A democracy can only work if the people’s will is safeguarded and if the law is upheld. Clearly, Dilma has broken the law and the majority of Brazilians want her out. Therefore, If Brazilian democracy is to be saved, there must be some accountability. Politicians must know that there will be consequences and that the people will no longer tolerate corruption. While it may same seem wrong to oust one dirty politician, while leaving a cohort of similar ones in office, allowing Dilma to stay in power would be worse.
Therefore, the Brazilian people must be firm in their resolve to set their government back on an upright path. They must continue to support the efforts of Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), a joint investigation by the Federal police and judiciary into the illegal behavior of Petrobras and make it known that the buck does not stop with Dilma. Rather than wash the car, it may be necessary for the Brazilian people to demand an entirely new one.This will most likely be a long and arduous process, including a full blown purging of the current government in order to restore integrity to the Brazilian government. However, drastic action is necessary if there is any hope of saving the “beacon of Latin America” from economic and moral failure.