In Brazil, Dilma hits bottom

July 2, 2013

Kenneth Rapoza – Forbes, 07/01/2013

Recent polls by Datafolha in São Paulo suggest average Brazilians are fed up with the Workers’ Party (PT) and the anger falls on the shoulders of President Dilma Rousseff. Only 30% said they intended to vote for her in October 2014, down from around 51% in the last Datafolha survey.

Two weeks of protests have taken its toll on Dilma, and now she seems sure to head into a second round of voting during next year’s elections. Candidates that do not get 51% of the popular vote face a run off vote. Right now, it looks like former PT politician and ex-Environment Minister Marina Silva is in second place. She left PT years ago over disdain for corruption within the party. She joined the fledgling Green Party and then started an even more fledgling party called the Sustainability Party. In short, it is unlikely that Silva, who gets the vote of the young and green college students will beat Dilma in a second round next year.  It is the economy that drives this country, not anger over corruption (even though Brazil has had its fill of it).

That brings the other major political party, the Social Democrats (PSDB), to the fore. They haven’t been in the Alvorado Palace in Brasilia since 2002 and would like it back. They are PTs biggest rival.

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Pressure intensifies for those sentenced to prison terms in the mensalão scandal

July 1, 2013

Paulo Sotero – Brazil Institute, 07/01/2013

Manifestação em protesto contra corrupção na Esplanada dos Ministérios

As protests continued in Brazilian streets, three fourths of a sample of 4,717 voters interviewed last week by Datafolha in 196 cities said they want the prison sentences to take effect immediately against twelve people convicted last year of crimes of corruption in the so-called mensalão scandal to take effect immediately.

The case refers to a scheme set up by the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) to buy votes in Congress by paying representatives a monthly stipend. After a lengthy national televised trial of the 37 people indicted, Brazil’s Supreme Court returned guilty verdicts against twenty five. Twelve of those received prison sentences – a novelty in Brazil, which is famous for the impunity its political and judicial systems have historically ensured to people in high places through a lengthy appeal process. Among the sentenced to jail terms are José Dirceu de Oliveira, Lula’s first chief of staff and policy coordinator, a former president of his Workers Party (PT) and a former Speaker of the House.

Political corruption was one of the targets of an unprecedented wave of protests that has swept Brazil for the past two and a half weeks and is likely to continue. Significantly, the support for executing the prison sentences returned in the mensalão scandal was uniformly high among voters of all stripes, including those who identified themselves as members or sympathizers of Lula’s Workers Party.

Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center

Link to original Datafolha poll in Portuguese.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Agencia Senado

Brazil protesters getting what they want

June 26, 2013

Kenneth Rapoza – Forbes, 06/26/2013

Occupy Wall Street should take note.  This is how it’s done.  You take to the streets by the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions, by some estimates), demand bus fares get cut and the government hold corrupt politicians’ feet to the flame. Two weeks later and voila, you got it!

Popular BPOP +0.58% protest in general tends to be a long process of two steps forward and one step back.  In the United States, for example, same sex marriage activists have been advocating for their cause for over a decade now, with strong opposition from the religious right.  But on Wednesday, the Defense of Marriage Act was shot down by the Supreme Court. Marriage will not be defined as between a man and a women for federal purposes.  That took years of protests to achieve.

But Brazil, for now, has a friendly government looking for re-election.  The left wing Workers’ Party, mired by corruption and scandal all its own, has no doubt listened to the protesters who first took to the streets of Sao Paulo on June 13 to protest rising bus fares.  Police over-reacted. Rubber bullets were fired. Fires were set. Reporters were maced and — like that old anti-World Bank protest from years ago — the world was watching.

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Brazil’s leftist ruling party, born of protests, is perplexed by revolt

June 20, 2013

Simon Romero -The New York Times, 06/19/2013

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The protests were heating up on the streets of Brazil’s largest city last week, but the mayor was not in his office. He was not even in the city. He had left for Paris to try to land the 2020 World’s Fair — exactly the kind of expensive, international mega-event that demonstrators nationwide have scorned.

A week later, the mayor, Fernando Haddad, 50, was holed up in his apartment as scores of protesters rallied outside and others smashed the windows of his office building, furious that he had refused to meet with them, much less yield to their demand to revoke a contentious bus fare increase.

How such a rising star in the leftist governing party, someone whose name is often mentioned as a future presidential contender, so badly misread the national mood reflects the disconnect between a growing segment of the population and a government that prides itself on popular policies aimed at lifting millions out of poverty.

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Brazil’s Rousseff takes nuanced approach to foreign policy

April 29, 2013

Vincent Bevins – Los Angeles Times,  04/25/2013

Shortly before Venezuela’spresidential election, former Brazilian PresidentLuiz Inacio Lula da Silva recorded a video supporting Nicolas Maduro, saying he had “stood out brilliantly in the struggle” for a more democratic Latin America.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was endorsed by Lula in 2010, kept silent on the ultimately victorious candidacy of Maduro, the hand-chosen heir of the late leftist Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.

The difference in demeanor between the two Brazilian presidents was not surprising to Rousseff watchers. Since assuming office at the start of 2011, she has taken a much more muted approach to foreign policy than Lula, avoiding the type of activism that often annoyed the United States.

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Analysis: Brazil’s next president will be…

February 25, 2013

Gabriel Elizondo – Al Jazeera, 02/25/2013

There’s a case to be made that no country has lived through as much radical and fundamental positive change in the past 10 years as Brazil.

There has also been an evolution – of sorts – in what Brazilians want and need out of their president.

A decade ago Brazil was a country looking for a charismatic, larger-than-life figure who would lift millions from poverty, take the country to new economic heights, and rattle the cages of the world to take notice of the South American giant.

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Dilma faces mounting difficulties

January 3, 2013

The Economist, 12/13/2012

The administration of President Dilma Rousseff and the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) have been put on the defensive following a new corruption scandal as well as recent fall-out from the largest corruption trial in Brazilian history, known as the mensalão (“big monthly stipend”), in which several PT officials have been sentenced to prison by the Supreme Court. Moreover, Brazil’s economy is struggling to recover from a slowdown that began in 2011, despite the government’s stimulus measures. Even though unemployment is at historically low levels, these developments threaten to erode Ms Rousseff’s popularity and complicate the political scene in 2013.

Political rivals from allied parties and the opposition also have begun to stir. In addition, the president faces a mobilisation of political forces in Congress which are opposed to her recent veto of parts of a controversial oil royalties bill. All this points to a more fluid political environment than previously expected in 2013, when Ms Rousseff will be preparing the ground for a re-election bid at the October 2014 elections.

In the latest corruption case, a federal police investigation code-named Porto Seguro has led to arrests and the indictment of several government officials, including the head of the president’s office in the state of São Paulo, Rosemary Nóvoa de Noronha; the deputy attorney-general, José Weber Holanda; and brothers Paulo Vieira and Rubens Vieira , who were political appointees at Brazil’s water and aviation regulatory agencies, respectively.

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A healthier menu

December 21, 2012

The Economist, 12/22/2012

SO RARELY has political corruption led to punishment in Brazil that there is an expression for the way scandals peter out. They “end in pizza”, with roughly the same convivial implication as settling differences over a drink. But a particularly brazen scandal has just drawn to a surprisingly disagreeable close for some prominent wrongdoers. The supreme-court trial of the mensalão (big monthly stipend), a scheme for buying votes in Brazil’s Congress that came to light in 2005, ended on December 17th. Of the 38 defendants, 25 were found guilty of charges including corruption, money-laundering and misuse of public funds. Many received stiff sentences and large fines.

The supreme court must still write its report on the trial, and hear appeals—though it is unlikely to change its mind. So in 2013 Brazilians should be treated to an unprecedented sight: well-connected politicos behind bars. José Dirceu, who served as chief of staff to the former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to almost 11 years; Delúbio Soares, former treasurer of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), got almost nine. Under the penal code, at least part of such long sentences must be served in jail. The justices also decided that the three federal deputies found guilty will automatically lose their seats if and when those verdicts are confirmed.

Lula was not charged, and has always insisted he knew nothing of the scheme. But Marcos Valério, a former advertising man sentenced to 40 years, claims to have evidence that Lula knew what was going on, and that some of the dirty money paid his personal expenses. These allegations may be merely a desperate attempt by a condemned man to bargain down his jail term. The attorney-general characterised Mr Valério as a “player”, and said his claims should be treated with caution. But if he has significant new evidence the mensalão may yet rumble on.

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Brazil faces a new corruption scandal

November 30, 2012

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 11/30/2012

Even as President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has moved energetically to stamp out corruption in her government, a new scandal is surging to the fore, centered on charges of influence peddling by an aide to the popular former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The latest revelations have put the governing Workers Party on the defensive yet again, as investigators expose a bribery scheme across several high echelons of government.

The scheme largely involved selling falsified public documents needed for transportation projects, and it extended into the attorney general’s office, the Education Ministry and the regulatory agencies for civil aviation and ports, according to the federal police, which carried out raids of government offices here in São Paulo and in the capital, Brasília, in recent days.

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