Lessons of the fall

Bello – The Economist, 05/21/2016

ON A bright and breezy morning in Brasília on May 12th, hours after the Senate had voted to start her impeachment for budgetary misdemeanours and thus suspend her as president, Dilma Rousseff walked down the front ramp of the Planalto palace to address a few hundred supporters of the Workers’ Party (PT). As she vowed defiance, behind her left shoulder stood Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor as president and the PT’s founding leader. He looked downcast and pensive, several times wiping his brow and his eyes with a handkerchief. No doubt he was contemplating the probable end of more than 13 years of PT rule.

Behind Ms Rousseff’s impeachment lies a double political failure. The PT once claimed a monopoly on ethical politics; in the public mind, it is now identified with leading a scheme to loot Petrobras, the state-controlled oil company, of more than $2.4 billion to fill its own campaign coffers and the back pockets of allies. And Ms Rousseff, whom Lula sold to the country as a top-notch manager, proved to be an incompetent steward of the economy.

So what went wrong for Latin America’s biggest left-wing party? The answer starts with the PT’s ideological ambiguity. Formed in 1980 by dissident trade unionists (such as Lula), radical priests, grassroots social movements and Marxist intellectuals, the PT claimed to be a new kind of party, of radical democracy and the dispossessed.

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