Brian Winter – Americas Quarterly, 04/06/2016
When Argentina’s economy collapsed in late 2001, everybody was absolutely sure whose fault it was. Aloof, hermetic and increasingly prone to slurring his words in public, President Fernando de la Rúa had managed to trash the government’s fiscal accounts in just two years in power. Steakhouses and nightclubs were empty, unemployment was nearing 20 percent and cash was so scarce that much of the economy reverted to the barter system – trading haircuts for groceries, family heirlooms for rent. As Christmas approached, looting broke out at supermarkets and anti-government protests turned violent. Finally, on the evening of December 20, De la Rúa hand-wrote a resignation letter, muttered something to his secretary about collecting the soaps from his private bathroom, climbed the stairs to the palace roof and flew away in a helicopter.
Perfect, Argentines said. Now we can get out of this mess. But the next president was so overwhelmed by the challenge that he quit too, setting off a chain reaction that would ultimately see five different presidents in only two weeks. Appalled, Argentine protesters adopted a new slogan – ¡Que se vayan todos! or “They all must go!” Banging pots and pans, millions took to the streets to demand that the entire political class – the president, Congress, everybody – step aside to allow for a top-to-bottom renewal.
Fast-forward 15 years, and Brazil is now having a similar moment. The economy is not as bad as Argentina’s was, and nobody has yet boarded any helicopters. But the Brazilian public appears to be arriving at the same conclusion – that nobody currently on the political stage is competent or clean enough to address the enormous crises facing the country.