Brazil: an Olympic gold medal against a backdrop of political chaos

While Brazil got emotional with its first Olympic gold medal won by a judo champion who grew up in a favela, the Senate in Brasilia approved 59-21 to carry on with the impeachment process against the deposed president Dilma Rousseff — and in the capital, in Rio in the Copacabana beach and near the Maracanã, as well as in in São Paulo, Fortaleza, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Goiânia and other cities Rousseff's supporters took to the streets to protest against the institutional "coup".

REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

The two worlds — on one side the successful inauguration of the Olympics despite a load of adverse circumstances and political chaos on the other — overlapped briefly on the evening of the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Summer Games. Former Vice President Michel Temer, who will hold the presidency until the final judgment in Rousseff's trial, and perhaps until the natural end of the mandate in 2018, broke the protocol by appearing only briefly to declare the Games open. Even so, he did not escape a chorus of boos and "Out Temer". According to the polling institute Vox Populi, 79% of Brazilians want him to step down, up from 62% in just the last ten days coinciding with the onset of the Olympics. The nearly $12.300 billion spent for the Summer Games are a lot to take in for a population enduring ever higher unemployment and larger cuts to health care, education and social spending. A 32% of the population believes the impeachment process to be political maneuvering to install in power a right-wing neoliberal government before the 2018 elections, which Lula and Rousseff's Workers Party (PT) could win with little effort.

"Dilma will go down in history like former Presidents Getúlio Vargas and João Goulart" (forced to step down by political maneuvering and a military coup), said young Senator Lindbergh Farias. Not even the Special Commission found evidence to prosecute Rousseff for having illegally financed government spending. "In Brasilia they were not only voting to out Dilma for good, but also to prevent Temer to be put on trial for the 10 million reals he received [illegally] from Odebrecht [the Brazilian construction behemoth]. By becoming president, Temer will avoid indictment," Farias said.

Fortunately for him — this is Friday, August 11 news — the judges handling the trial against the former president of the House, Eduardo Cunha, under probe for not disclosing some of his foreign accounts, and who could testify against Temer, adjourned their decision to September, when Rousseff's impeachment process will likely be concluded.

Rumors have it, indeed, that a decision on Rousseff's impeachment could come as early as August 23 instead of the 25. In the case of the probe against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a decision was put off for 60 days, despite prosecutors claiming to have gathered already all needed evidence to charge Lula with "incitement against the public order" and for not disclosing an apartment he owned. Since the court decision will coincide with the municipal elections, Lula is out of the game too, with a good chance of ending in jail.

The accusations carousel is spinning at full speed, and could shine the spotlight on other members of the executive and legislative power anytime. Several managers with the Odebrecht Group are currently negotiating jail time reductions before speaking out.

It is no coincidence that 32% of Brazilians believe corruption to be the country's main problem. The Olympics, with its successful and stunning Opening Ceremony depicting the rich and complex history and culture of Brazil, were a moment of pride and a breather for a country whose economy enters the third year of stagnation-recession.

Unemployment was still rising in the second quarter to 11.3% compared to 10.9% in the previous one, and 8.3% last year. Also inflation exceeded expectations topping an annualized 8.74%, driven by the prices of milk and beans, the staple food of millions of Brazilians, which soared in a month by 17,58% and 32,42%, respectively.

The Brazilian stock market got a boost because markets expect Temer to control fiscal spending (a 90% of which is pegged so far to constitutional automatisms) and to adopt pro-market policies. The Minister of the Treasury, Henrique Meirelles, did not produce yet economic outcomes, but "was proficient enough at doing nothing pretending to do a lot," wrote columnist André Singer.

One major problem is the debt of the States. The question is whether, confirming fears within the center-left, financing will proceed from austerity policies at the expense of social security, education, health, public investments and privatized resources. Among the latter, the neoliberal center-right would consider the "pré-sal", an area of oil reserves lying under a deep layer of salt. This is a strategic resource that the center-left does not want to be sold to foreign multinational companies.

Not surprisingly, the former US candidate Bernie Sanders was vocal on Brazil: "After suspending Brazil’s first female president on dubious grounds,” he said, ”the new interim government (... is) now attempting to implement radical policies that could never be democratically ratified."

Sanders is not alone with his call. In Washington, "40 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives published a letter … expressing ‘deep concern’ about threats to democracy in Brazil.” The Labour party and British MPs, the Organization of American States and some EU MPs, all issued similar criticisms.

To avoid shaking hands with Temer and his not all-that-unblemished government, many world leaders deserted the Games. Only 38 arrived in Rio, compared with 70 in London and 80 in Beijing. Barack Obama sent John Kerry.

Many Brazilians raved on August 5 for Giselle Bündchen, their popular music singers and the sun over the Olympic flame, grateful to be blessed by the spirit of "gambiarra," namely, their talents to do something great out of almost nothing .

It all leads to fear, however, that the day after Rio 2016 will be very similar to that of the Carnival. As a famous Brazilian song goes, "people work hard for a whole year", but "it all ends already come Wednesday."


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