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Brazil - Politics

Getúlio Vargas19301954
Juscelino Kubitschek19561961
Jânio Quadros19611961
João Goulart19611964
Humberto Castelo Branco19641967
Artur da Costa e Silva 19671969
Emílio Garrastazú Médici19691974
Ernesto Geisel19741979
João Figueiredo19791985
Tancredo Neves19851985
Jose Sarney19851990
Fernando Collor de Mello19901992
Itamar Franco19921994
Fernando Henrique Cardoso19952002
Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva20022010
Dilma Vana Rousseff20102018
????? 20182022+

Everything in Brazilian politics traces back to slavery. Brazil was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery. African slaves were brought into Brazil as early as 1530, with abolition in 1888. During those three centuries, Brazil received 4,000,000 Africans, over four times as many as any other American destination. Comparatively speaking, Brazil received 40% of the total number of Africans brought to the Americas, while the US received approximately 10%. Due to this huge influx of Africans, today Brazil’s African-descended population is larger than the population of most African countries.

Due to Brazil’s long history of slavery and the subsequent exploitation of its political process and resources by foreigners, there is an ingrained mentality among elites who see workers as inferior. Once there were 50 or 60 families that controlled all the wealth, and today there are about 200 families, but it is the same mentality, it is like the mindset of plantation owners in the United States in the Deep South in the 19th century.

The Crisis - 2015-2016 ?

Until recently, resource-rich Brazil benefited from the Chinese economic bubble. But then the intensity of Brazil’s downturn, with no parallel in the country’s history, sent the government of President Dilma Rousseff to the brink of collapse.

Brazil benefited from the commodities boom, and used these gains to finance social programs, formalize the labor market and raise minimum wages. But the downturn in the commodities sector exposed the structural flaws in the economy, which ws dependent on Chinese growth. Brazil suffered its steepest contraction in more than three decades in 2015. This was the worst annual fall in GDP since 1990, when the economy dipped 4.3 percent. GDP shrank by 3.8 percent in 2015, and may decline by a further 3 percent in 2016.

Brazil was heading into its longest and deepest recession since records were first taken in 1901. Brazil suffered from rising unemployment and a drop in investor confidence. The country’s inflation gained steam in late 2015. Food prices picked up amid sharp currency devaluation in the country as well as impacts of severe weather conditions in the south. All three main credit rating agencies have downgraded Brazil to junk status.

Billions were stolen in a huge kickback scheme at the national oil company Petrobras. Petrobras profits were funnelled to members of Rousseff’s PT and its allies. A prosecutor's motion 03 March 2015 to open investigations against 54 individuals, including the leaders of both chambers of Congress, meant a swath of Brazil's political elite now felt threatened. About a dozen executives from some of Brazil's biggest construction and engineering firms had been under "preventive arrest" since late 2014. The prevailing view is that the scandal has taken on a life of its own and will spread further if any of the numerous parties under pressure buckle.

Dilma Rousseff was Petrobras board chair during much of the decade-long period when politicians allegedly benefited from huge kickbacks via inflated contracts struck between the oil firm and dozens of companies. Rousseff’s approval rating had fallen by around 20 percentage points since the beginning of the year as the country struggled with a stagnant economy, rising inflation, and a major corruption scandal at the state-run oil company. Forty-two percent of Brazilians thought the left-wing president was doing a “good” or “excellent” job when she narrowly defeated conservative candidate Aécio Neves in a runoff poll on October 26. That figure remained unchanged in December 2014, but plummeted to 23 percent in February 2015.

Close to a million demonstrators marched in cities and towns across Brazil on 15 March 2015 to protest the sluggish economy, rising prices and corruption - and to call for the impeachment of leftist President Dilma Rousseff. The marches across the continent-sized country come as Brazil struggles to overcome economic and political malaise. Rousseff was unlikely to resign or face the impeachment proceedings called for by many opponents. The protests were a sign of a polarized country increasingly unhappy with its leadership.

By mid-March 2015 Rousseff, elected for a second term in 2014, lacked the approval of the majority of Brazilians for the first time since taking over the presidency in January 2011. About 62 percent of Brazilians said they found her rule either "bad" or "terrible," according to Datafolha's. Only 13 percent of respondents are satisfied with the current president, the survey said.

Tens of thousands of protesters across Brazil called on President Dilma Rousseff to step down 16 August 2015, blaming her and the leftist Workers' Party for the corruption and economic troubles besetting Latin America's biggest country. Austerity measures replaced the economic go-go years fueled by Chinese demand for commodities, while an ever-expanding bribes and embezzlement probe centered on state oil company Petrobras ripped through the country's elite. In April, at least 600,000 people turned out against Rousseff and her Workers' Party (PT) and more than a million in March. It initially appeared the August protests, the third of their kind this year, had drawn relatively modest crowds.

Rousseff’s popularity ratings have fallen to a level not seen since 1992, when President Fernando Collor de Mello was forced from office after being impeached for corruption. A poll in August 2015 showed only 8% of those surveyed considered Brazil’s government to be “great” or “good.” By contrast, 71% said the government was a “failure.”

The investigations into the Petrobras corruption scheme showed that politicians from many parties — not only the governing Workers' Party — were involved in the illegal network, including some from the main opposition party, PSDB, and others from former presidential candidate Marina Silva's Socialist Party (PSB). Most of the politicians participating in the scheme come from the right-wing Progressive Party.

Brazil was led by a shaky governing alliance of the Workers' Party and the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). This alliance was being torpedoed by the President of Congress Eduardo Cunha, a leading PMDB member, but one who was closely allied with the opposition. Many believe he was seeking to exploit the issue to strengthen his own power base.

Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house of Brazil's parliament, said on 02 December 2015 that impeachment proceedings had been opened against President Dilma Rousseff. Cunha said he officially accepted an impeachment petition, which was filed by opposition figures on the grounds that Rousseff manipulated the budget to fill budget holes.

An impeachment trial was still a long way off, however, as the procedure must pass several stages before it can reach a vote to oust the leader. As part of the next step, two-thirds of the lower house must approve the impeachment process for it to then move forward. There are not enough votes in Congress to initiate an impeachment process.

Cunha said that the current alliance in Congress will not hold until the 2018 election, in a clear message of warning to the governing Workers' Party. His party mate and head of the Senate, Renan Calheiros broke with the ruling party in a similar fashion.

The 1994 constitutional revision reduced the Presidential mandate to four years, and in 1997 Congress approved an amendment allowing reelection. Cunha announced a constitutional reform proposing changing the presidential system to a parliamentary one.

Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were exonerated of all responsibility in the Petrobras scandal in a report released 29 February 2016 by the parliamentary commission in charge of the investigation. Commission spokesperson, Deputy Luiz Sergio Nobrega de Oliveira said “there was no proof” against Rousseff or Lula in any of documents examined by the parliamentary commission.

President Rousseff's re-election in 2014 marked the fourth consecutive victory for the Workers Party, a fact that did not sit well with the country's elites and their right-wing allies, who immediately started to conspire against the president. The Workers Party (PT) governments provoked Brazil’s elites to the point that they were willing to try to mount a coup to oust Rousseff. Her supporters see the impeachment as an effort to retroactively win the 2014 election through non-democratic means.

  1. The Federation of Industries is backing the coup in order to rollback worker friendly policies enacted by the Workers' Party. One of the major forces behind the push for impeachment has been the Federation of Industries of São Paulo, which represents the richest state's largest businesses. It is led by Paulo Skaf, a supporter of the PMDB, the party of Vice-President Michel Temer, who would take over the president's duties should she be impeached.
  2. The efforts to oust the PT were partially driven by contempt. Brazil, since the colonial era, has been a highly stratified society. The powerful classes are afraid because (the poor) are occupying spaces that were once reserved for them. This is the intolerance that upper classes have always had in Brazilian history. Few know that Brazil actually received ten times as many slaves as the US and is home to the largest Black population in the world outside of Africa. Brazil was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery, in 1888. The protests backing the ouster of President Rousseff have been overwhelmingly white, revealing the racial divide of the current political crisis. In Brazil, where race and class are nearly indistinguishable, the weight of reactionary policies will fall heaviest on the country's predominantly Black and low-income population.
  3. Spending on health grew from US$28 billion in 2002 to US$106 billion in 2013. Represented as a percentage of GDP, health spending increased from 7.0 percent in 2004 to 9.7 percent in 2013. The country's infant mortality rate, a key social indicator, dropped from 22.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2003 to 14.6 in 2015.
  4. Under PT government’s public spending on education grew from US$17 billion in 2002 to US$94 billion in 2013. This represents a significant bump as a percentage of total government expenditure, from 10.4 percent in 2004 to 15.6 percent in 2012.
  5. The PT developed innovative and widely praised social programs such as Fome Zero, which virtually eliminated malnutrition, and Bolsa Familia, which saw millions lifted out of poverty. The Brazil Without Misery program is credited with lifting at least 22 million people out of extreme poverty. Poverty fell from 35.8 percent in 2003 to 15.7 percent in 2013, whereas extreme poverty fell from 11.5 percent in 2003 to 4.5 percent in 2013. Many of those who oppose the leftist governments of Lula and Rousseff alleged that the reason they continue to be reelected is due to clientelism, that the poor vote for the Workers Party only because they stand to gain from wealth distribution programs.

On 02 March 2016 a majority of Brazil's Supreme Court voted to accept corruption charges against lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, putting him on trial for allegedly accepting bribes on contracts for two drill ships leased by state oil company Petrobras.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, PMDB, remained the main ally of the ruling Workers' Party. Its leader, Michel Temer, was Rousseff's vice president. In addition to the vice presidency, it held six cabinet posts. The drive to impeach Rousseff could come to a vote in both chambers of Congress after it passes a committee in the lower house in April 2016. One benefit for the party, which plans to field its own candidate in the 2018 presidential election, is that Temer would become president.

The momentum for a leadership change in South America’s largest country gathered steam. Rousseff’s popularity rating was 10 percent and 60 percent of Brazilians would support her impeachment. Rousseff’s government scrambled to contain the fall-out from the largest protests in Brazil’s history: Brazilian police said more than three million people in 100 cities, from Manaus in the north to Curitiba in the south, took to the streets Sunday 13 March 2016 to demand her impeachment. Sergio Praca, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro said the demonstrations "were very powerful" and were "the worst scenario possible for the government."

On 16 March 2016 Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva agreed to take over as chief of staff for his successor Dilma Rousseff, potentially marking a shift away from austerity measures in efforts to stimulate the struggling economy. Lula’s return to government may mark a shift in economic policy, as the former president has openly criticized austerity efforts and called for more public spending to end Brazil's worst recession in decades.

The new position came after federal judge Sergio Moro was given jurisdiction to rule over money laundering charges presented against Lula. Accepting a cabinet position gave Lula immunity from Moro, though not from Brazil's Supreme Court. The opposition branded Rousseff's appointment of her charismatic political mentor as a desperate bid to shore up support in her Workers Party against impeachment proceedings.

The opposition request to impeach Rousseff alleged that her government manipulated accounts in 2014 to allow her to boost public spending in the run-up to her re-election in 2014. The president had 10 sessions in the lower house to present her defense and the decision to hold a session on 18 March 2016 meant the clock has started on those, even though the special impeachment committee did not meet. The case against her centers on allegations that Rousseff broke budget rules to boost spending as she campaigned for re-election in 2014. Lula and Rousseff both deny any wrongdoing.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva vowed 24 March 2016 to help President Dilma Rousseff to govern the country "if it is the last thing I do in life." The socialist leader affirmed that he can do so even though the country's Supreme Court maintains veto power over his appointment as Rousseff's chief of staff. The Supreme Court banned Lula because it maintained that Rousseff offered him the position in her cabinet in order to prevent a possible arrest over allegations of corruption linked to the Petrobras scandal.

2018 Election

Brazilian Vice-President Michel Temer said 17 February 2016 that his political party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, intends to run its own candidate in presidential elections in 2018, a move that would effectively put an end to coalition that has ruled Brazil since 2006. The centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as the PMDB, had been the junior partner in government with the leftist Workers Party since 2006, first under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and then current President Dilma Rousseff.

The Workers Party intended to run former President Lula da Silva in elections in 2018. As a result, Lula has been subject to what his supporters have called a “smear campaign” in an effort to diminish his profile ahead of elections. Lula still enjoys widespread support relative to his successor Rousseff, whose ratings have dropped to historic lows as a result of a serious downturn in the Brazilian economy.

Supporters of Lula's PT party said that attempts to embroil him in the Petrobras scandal were politically motivated. In February 2016, Rui Falcao, the PT president said there was a political slaughtering underway against the former president by sectors of the right to try and damage any chances of re-election. The investigations so far into the Petrobras corruption scheme show that politicians from many parties – not only the Workers' Party – were involved in the illegal network, including some from the main opposition party, PSDB, and others from former presidential candidate Marina Silva's Socialist Party.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), the country's largest political party, left her fragile governing coalition on 29 March 2016. The party is led by Vice President Michel Temer, and held several posts in Rousseff's cabinet. The PMDB, the nation's largest political party, called for an "immediate exit" from the administration, calling on its 6 remaining ministers in Rousseff's cabinet to resign or face internal ethics investigations. The PMDB, a massive centrist party, had always been an unlikely partner for Rousseff's left-wing PT, which needrf its votes, but haf little in common with it ideologically.

"An impeachment without legal basis is a coup," Lula Da Silva told reporters on 28 March 2016. "These are excuses and fake arguments to shorten the term of the person who won the elections." If she is impeached, Rousseff would be suspended from office while undergoing trial in the Senate, and Temer would be named acting president. If Rousseff is impeached, she would be suspended and the upper house, overseen by the president of the Supreme Court, would decide her fate, with a two-thirds majority - 54 of 81 - needed to force her from office.

On 17 April 2016 the 513-member lower house of Congress voted 367 to 137 in favor of the impeachment. Seven lawmakers abstained and two did not show up to vote. Rousseff’s supports needed 172 votes to block the impeachment from going forward. The issue passed to the senate to determine whether to open an investigation against Rousseff on possible removal from office. If approved by the senate, the president would be suspended from office and Vice President Michel Temer, also facing low approval ratings and corruption charges, would step in to fill the country’s top office. About 60 percent of the members of Brazil’s Congress face major charges for corruption and other crimes such as bribery, electoral fraud, kidnapping, and more.

The impeachment is payback for Rousseff permitting investigations of powerful lawmakers in the Petrobras corruption scandal that also implicated Lula. In fact, hundreds of lawmakers who cast a vote for impeachment were themselves under investigation.

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