Enemies of reform in Brazil

Dilma Rousseff

Last August, the socialist president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was removed from office for corruption. As we’ve noted on this site, fellow socialists came to Rousseff’s defense, with David Miranda (husband of notorious Edward Snowden helpmeet Glenn Greenwald) arguing in the Guardian that Rousseff was the victim of corporations and rich people who don’t like socialism.

But in the weeks leading up to Rousseff’s removal, millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest her corrupt government and the deep and lingering economic recession over which she had presided, and to demand her departure from office. Ideologically, the protests were not unlike those currently rocking Venezuela (which, of course, is in far worse shape than Brazil): people were sick of having their freedom squelched and their economy mismanaged.

Michel Temer

Rousseff, a member of the Workers’ Party, was replaced by her vice president, Michel Temer, who belongs to the more conservative Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. Now, Temer is no saint. Like Rousseff before him (and like many others who still hold high positions in his government), he’s been implicated in the massive “Lava Jato” corruption case surrounding the federally owned oil company, Petrobras.

Here and below: some images from the General Strike

During his brief tenure, though, he has at least sought to rescue Brazil from the consequences of his predecessor’s socialist policies. Taking office in the midst of an economic crisis, he warned that Brazil’s economy faced a “meltdown” unless “severe fiscal discipline and belt tightening” were introduced.

Pronounced himself the head of a “national salvation government,” he began instituting the kind of reforms – including significant changes in public employment contracts and pension arrangements – which, although uncomfortable in the short term for many working-class Brazilians, sought to correct policies that simply could not be sustained in the long term without doing to Brazil something similar to what chavismo has done to Venezuela. Indeed, Temer’s reforms might well have helped Brazil, which has long been looked to as a nation of immense but unfulfilled economic promise, to finally develop, within a few years, a robust First World economy dominated by a large and prosperous middle class.

But many workers, unsurprisingly, weren’t happy with Temer’s new policies. The socialists felt threatened to their core. And the labor unions were outraged. On April 28, a new set of public protests began. This time, however, it wasn’t a matter of angry citizens taking spontaneously to the streets. This was a nationwide general strike, the first in Brazil since 1996, called by the labor unions. Schools were closed. So were most businesses. Public transport came to a near-total halt. The entrances to many airports were blocked. Media described the nation as “paralyzed.” There was widespread violence. Cars and trams and buses were burned. In the Sao Paulo neighborhood where Temer owns a house (he currently lives in the vice-presidential residence in Brasilia), protesters “broke up sidewalks and lobbed chunks of concrete at police.”

While socialist leaders celebrated the general strike as an effective pushback against Temer, others disagreed. Yahoo News, for example, quoted landscape architect Marcelo Faisal as saying that “reforms need to take place” and that the strike hadn’t (in Yahoo’s words) “lived up to the hype.” A shipping news website seconded this view, reporting with relief that the strike had “impacted the country’s ports, especially the largest port of Santos, less than originally feared.” Doubtless we haven’t heard the last of the enemies of reform in Brazil, but it may well be that despite their occasional noise-making, the necessary reform will, after all, be able to proceed. And in the end that will likely be good news for almost everyone in that huge and promising country.

Defending Dilma: Greenwald and Miranda

In recent weeks we’ve watched the massive Petrobras scandal in Brazil spread wider and wider, taking down politicians and business figures, big and small, until it finally reached the most powerful person in the land: the country’s corrupt president, Dilma Rousseff. She is now facing impeachment.

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Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys

On April 20, Shannon Sims of Forbes reported on the novel responses by Rousseff’s stooges to the legislature’s vote to impeach her. Some of them are describing it as a “right-wing coup” – a ridiculous way to characterize a constitutionally legitimate action that is amply justified by Rousseff’s conduct in office. There are other, equally absurd takes on the impeachment: Congressman Jean Wyllys has called it “sexist,” an effort by anti-woman reactionaries to unseat Brazil’s first female head of state.

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Dilma Rousseff

Rousseff herself is one of those who have called the impeachment a coup. She’s responded in a characteristically authoritative way, threatening to have Brazil removed from Mercosur, the South American common market, if she’s removed from office. She’s accused her potential successor, Vice-President Michel Temer, of being a leader of the “coup” – a charge that he denied angrily, rejecting the notion that Brazil is “some minor republic where coups are carried out.”

David Miranda
David Miranda

Meanwhile one David Miranda contributed an article to the Guardian in which he purported to explain the “real reason Dilma Rousseff’s enemies want her impeached.” Never mind her corruption in office. Rousseff, insisted Miranda, was being targeted by “rich and powerful” conservatives and the major corporations they own, for no other reason than that they oppose her left-wing politics.

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Glenn Greenwald

Who is David Miranda? You may have run across his name while reading about the scandal surrounding Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency who stole sensitive secret papers and passed them on to journalist Glenn Greenwald, who in turn published them in the Guardian. At the height of the controversy, in August 2013, U.K. police detained Greenwald’s husband at Heathrow Airport on his way from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro and seized thumb drives containing tens of thousands of classified British Government documents. They’d been given by Snowden, who’d received asylum in Russia, to Laura Poitras, a partner in Snowden’s scheme, who’d then passed them on to Greenwald’s husband so that he could deliver them to Greenwald, with whom he lives in Rio.

The name of Greenwald’s husband? David Miranda.

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Miranda at the airport in Rio de Janeiro, after his detention at Heathrow

This past January, Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled Miranda’s detention at Heathrow legal. The editors of The Spectator approved, describing Miranda as “a mule for industrial-scale sabotage” and arguing that “the right to a free press [does not] extend to the indiscriminate release of secret documents which put agents’ lives in danger, or alert terrorists to the gaps in our capabilities.” Indeed, as The Spectator pointed out, many of Miranda’s staunchest champions in Britain, who invoked the freedom of the press in his defense, are not consistently fans of press freedom; on the contrary, their real reason for standing with Miranda was patently that his actions were potentially very harmful to the U.S. and Britain and very helpful to those countries’ jihadist enemies.

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An anti-Rousseff protest in Sao Paulo last December

It is no coincidence that Miranda, who in his capacity as Greenwald’s “mule” acted against the interests of the U.S. and Britain, is now standing shoulder to shoulder with the socialist regime of Brazil. His claim? That the massive, ever-growing street rallies against Rousseff’s corrupt regime are something of an artificial phenomenon – almost a mirage. The protests, he maintains, didn’t happen organically: they were incited by the anti-Rousseff media. Moreover, being “disproportionately white and wealthy,” the protesters themselves are “not remotely representative of Brazil’s population.” Miranda, as it happens, had already made much the same argument in an earlier article, published in March and written in collaboration with Greenwald and Andrew Fishman. 

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Anti-government protest in Venezuela: a picture from 2014

Attentive readers of this website may recall that supporters of the corrupt, authoritative governments of the late Hugo Chávez and his anointed successor, Nicolás Maduro, in Venezuela, have used much the same arguments (they’re rich, they’re white, they’ve been ginned up by the media) to discredit opponents of chavismo. The Tea Party movement in the U.S. has also been dismissed in similar terms. Somehow protesters aren’t authentic if they don’t fit the right demographic.

In this photo provided by Brazil's Presidency, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, left, and Brazil's newly elected leader Dilma Rousseff, make a sign of victory, at the Alvorada palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Nov. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Brazil's Presidency, Ricardo Stuckert) NO SALES
Dilma and Lula

It’s worth noting, by the way, that the chavistas in Caracas have longstanding ties to Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in Brasilia. And the ideological continuities are obvious. And just as the chavistas’ incompetent administration, socialist policies, and corrupt conduct have combined to drag Venezuela’s economy into the gutter, so it has become increasingly obvious that the exact same attributes on the part of Brazil’s rulers threaten to bring down its own economy, which not long ago seemed to be on the verge of First World-level prosperity.

In any case, whatever you may think of Greenwald’s other activities, it’s certainly interesting to see him and Miranda – who made their names trying to compromise American and British security, all the while seeking to paint themselves as principled – shamelessly carrying water for the socialist thugs who run Brazil. 

Brazil: another crisis for Rousseff

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Dilma Rousseff

Last September, as we reported on this site a while back, two top members of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s posse were sentenced to long prison terms. João Vaccari Neto, treasurer of the ruling Workers’ Party, got more than 15 years for corruption and money-laundering; another party hack, Renato Duque, got 20 years for inflating oil contracts and shoveling the excess profits into the party’s coffers. The convictions of these two men were only part of a large-scale disaster – a blend of scandal and economic crisis – that sent Rousseff’s popularity ratings south, making her, in the words of the Financial Times, “Brazil’s most unpopular president in recent democratic history.”

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Joao Santana

Then, on February 23, just as Rousseff’s numbers were starting to recover and she seemed to be emerging from under the cloud of possible impeachment, yet another member of her inner circle was put under arrest. Joao Santana, a journalist and political strategist, was the mastermind behind her two election victories and is one of Rousseff’s more intimate friends and advisers – the James Carville to her Bill Clinton. In addition to engineering her victories, he’s also successfully coordinated campaigns for leftist presidential candidates in the Dominican Republic, Angola, Peru, and – notably – for both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

According to the charges leveled against him, Santana knowingly allowed himself to be paid for his services to the Rousseff campaign with several million dollars in funds illegally diverted from Petrobras, the state oil company that is currently at the center of Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal ever. Santana’s homes and offices were raided by 300-odd officers; his wife was also taken into custody. The arrests reportedly came as a shock to Rousseff’s supporters, who fear that Santana may work out a plea bargain with prosecutors in which he throws Rousseff under the bus.

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Michel Temer

Even if Santana doesn’t turn state’s evidence, to be sure, the goods the cops have on him may be more than enough to sink Rousseff. If it’s proven that she paid Santana with money pilfered from Petrobras, it could mean the official overturning of her election victory. The Portuguese language has a lovely word for this act of invalidation: cassação. As Americas Quarterly staffer Stephen Kurczy recently explained, impeaching Rousseff would involve action by both houses of Congress – which in early December, in fact, initiated impeachment proceedings, only to see them stall shortly therafter. (The proceedings will supposedly resume soon.) Cassação, by contrast, is a process that only requires a ruling by Brazil’s electoral court, the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral – which, as it happens, is already investigating the funding of Rousseff’s 2014 campaign as part of Operação Lava Jato (“Operation Car Wash”), the probe into corruption at Petrobras. If the court determined that Rousseff and her vice president, Michel Temer, had funded their election campaign with illegal funds, both Rousseff and Temer could be removed from office at once, with Rousseff being temporarily replaced by the Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, until a new election could be arranged.

“We’re on the border of changing eras in Brazil,” political consultant Thiago de Aragão told Kurczy. “Until recently, anyone involved in the PT [the Workers’ Party] was immune. Now people are discovering that it’s not like this. The times are changing.” In fact, they’re changing fast. Only days after Santana’s arrest, another Rousseff intimate suddenly resigned his cabinet position. Tune in tomorrow.