Featured Q&A from the Latin America Advisor

Inter-American Dialogue, 06/26/2013

Director of the Brazil Institute, Paulo Sotero, was interviewed by the Latin America Advisor on the protests taking place in Brazil.

Q: Massive crowds have been gathering this month in Brazil in demonstrations that began as protests against transit fare hikes, but then grew to encompass the public’s frustrations on issues ranging from high taxes and corruption to the low quality of public services. Why have Brazilians’ grievances boiled over to this extent now? What will President Dilma Rousseff’s government do to address the protesters’ concerns? How will the massive demonstrations affect her ability to govern? Would the proposed anti-corruption law, which imposes liability on companies for bribery, be effective in reducing graft? What does it mean for businesses?

A: Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center: “Massive, leaderless protests organized through social media are likely to continue and influence not only President Rousseff ‘s ability to govern, but also that of all political actors at all levels in Brazil. It will certainly affect their chances to remain in power. Gone is the sense of inevitability of Rousseff ‘s re-election in 2014 that existed until two weeks ago. The president continues to be seen as an honest person. Her proposal on corruption contains a measure of courage, since she is surrounded by the problem in her own party and coalition. But it offers nothing that could not have been legislated already by the majority that supports her government in Congress. A more promising proposal is taking shape in the form of a direct popular petition to Congress to ban corporate donations, which would make Brazil cheaper for doing business and introduce two-phase elections where voters would choose party platforms before electing candidates to advance them. The idea is to reduce the number of parties and strengthen political representation, which no longer exists in the eyes of the people. Having experienced the fruits of some prosperity with more equity, the country’s young and rising middle class now in the streets fear that a stalled economy with growing inflation may end their dream of a better life. Overall, Brazilians are expressing their exasperation with the slow pace of change. They are utterly fed-up with politicians and a political system seen as mostly corrupt and self-serving. The landscape has been transformed by the protests and opened space for leaders capable of presenting concrete proposals that address real problems, from public transportation, education and health to corruption and accountability. They are also tremendously disappointed with the Workers’ Party (PT), seen now as part of the problem, including that of corruption. PT senator Lindbergh Farias, a former student leader from Rio, acknowledged this week the party ‘distanced itself from society and the youth.’ The famously popular and usually talkative former President Lula has stayed silent and out of view.”

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