Leftist President Dilma Rousseff Removed from Office
Now it is official: Dilma Rousseff is no longer Brazil’s president. After almost two years of waiting, the country’s senate approved her impeachment. I will try to make here a brief summary of what happened, and write down some of my expectations for Brazil’s near political future.
The details of Brazilian law and Rousseff’s trial can get somewhat complicated, but the basics are that she spent public money she was legally not supposed to, most likely with electoral purposes.
But there are larger policy-based reasons for the opposition she faces, as well. Rousseff has basically a Keynesian economic mentality (I wonder if Brazilian socialists realize how far from Marx they really are), and she publicly claims that her stimulus-based policies were the right answer to the 2008 economic crisis. Rousseff's time in office has been about spending money, and lots of it.
The problem with that is that since Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government (1995-2002), Brazilian law limits governors in how they can spend taxpayer funds. Rousseff’s party opposed these limitations and voted against these laws, believing them to be "undemocratic."
In the wake of so much spending, senators opposed to Rousseff have claimed her overspending is responsible for Brazil’s present crisis. Her defense was that she cannot predict the future. This fact did not stop her from attempting to plan the economy, however.
Is Rousseff a Democratic Martyr?
In her defense, Rousseff's supporters often compare her to former Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas, who they regard as a martyr of democracy. Vargas was president from 1930 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1954. And yet, the only popular election he actually won happened in 1950. From 1930 to 1945 Vargas was a dictator who took power in a coup against the elected government. He committed suicide in 1954, because, according to his own words, he could not bear the growing opposition to his government.
In short, Vargas was no great model of democratic government. Even more oddly, considering his modern supporters, Vargas also persecuted communists. Ironically, though, Rousseff’s comparison to Vargas is very good: although Vargas's anti-communism might seem to set him apart him from Rousseff in the conventional political spectrum, Rousseff and Vargas actually share the basics: both are die-hard interventionists.
Just as former Brazilian communist icon Luís Carlos Prestes fought Vargas for years until becoming his ally (even tough Vargas was personally responsible for assassinating Prestes’ wife), Rousseff finds herself today on the side of the greatest dictator in Brazilian history.
What Does the Future Hold?
What can we expect for Brazilian political future? It seems that the Workers Party, Rousseff’s party, received a great blow. But it is not clear how much change this really means: Brazil has over thirty parties, and Rousseff's impeachment does not mean that the left has entirely lost its place in Brazilian politics. With the exception of the recently established Partido Novo (New Party), no party presents itself as economically liberal. Most parties are still on the left or at least on the center of the political spectrum.
There is, however, a libertarian movement going on in Brazil, especially among the young. Although this movement is not represented in any specific political party, it will probably play some role in future elections. Other than that, some politicians are starting to come out as more pro-market, even if their parties do not fully follow. The greatest example is Jair Bolsonaro, expected to run for president in 2018. In the past Bolsonaro was no friend of market-oriented economic policies, but today he seems to go in a different direction. Nevertheless, while many of his admirers are conservative in their personal behavior, they are not known for their support of markets in economic policy or politics. They still expect much from government.
Another rising star in Brazilian politics is Marina Silva, of the newly created party REDE. After almost twenty years in the Worker’s Party, she left first for the Green Party, and eventually to form her own party. Silva finished in third place in 2010 and 2014 presidential elections, and is still expected to become a major player in Brazilian politics. Her political ideas, however, are not all that new, and seem to mostly reflect Cardoso’s reforms in the 1990s, but without much more than that. Other than new parties or new candidates, Brazil still has its old political bedfellows. Cardoso’s party, PSDB, is still a major political force, and was pivotal in Rousseff’s impeachment process. Although Social Democratic in name, the party is known to harbor some true, pro-market liberals in its ranks.
To the left we have many parties. Some support Rousseff and say that the impeachment was a coup. Others pretend not to support her, while still casting doubt on the legitimacy of the impeachment process. PSOL is the best example of this, and has considerable support among the young and artists.
Rousseff is, as she herself has said, “a card off the deck,” and this is a victory for Brazil, especially for those who believe that the country’s future lies in more liberal policy.
Some political possibilities are leaning in this direction, while others still lean to the left. Brazilian electors still seem to be divided, and not just in party affiliation: Brazilians in general seem to live with the paradox of being somewhat traditional in morals, but very much to the left in economics and politics. But with Rousseff and the Worker’s Party out, there seems to be room for hope.
Bruno Gonçalves Rosi is an assistant professor at Candido Mendes University, Rio de Janeiro.