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Brazil - Politics

Getlio Vargas19301954
Juscelino Kubitschek19561961
Jnio Quadros19611961
Joo Goulart19611964
Humberto Castelo Branco19641967
Artur da Costa e Silva 19671969
Emlio Garrastaz Mdici19691974
Ernesto Geisel19741979
Joo Figueiredo19791985
Tancredo Neves19851985
Jose Sarney19851990
Fernando Collor de Mello19901992
Itamar Franco19921994
Fernando Henrique Cardoso19952002
Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva20022010
Dilma Vana Rousseff20102014+
President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating sank by 27 percentage points in the last three weeks of June, the evidence the recent wave of protests sweeping Brazil posed a serious threat to her re-election in 2014. The share of people who consider Rousseff's administration "great" or "good" plummeted to 30 percent from 57 percent in early June, according to a Datafolha opinion poll published in local newspaper Folha de S.Paulo on 29 June 2013. The drop was the sharpest for a Brazilian leader since 1990, when Fernando Collor froze all savings accounts in a desperate attempt to stop hyperinflation. The move outraged the population, and within two years Collor resigned the presidency as Congress moved to impeach him over corruption allegations.

The unrest came at a delicate time for Rousseff, whose administration was struggling to rein in high inflation and get the economy back on track after two years of sluggish growth. Polls initially showed Rousseff remained widely popular, but her approval ratings have begun to slip for the first time since taking office in early 2011. According to the CNI/IBOPE poll, the presidents approval ratings dropped from 79 percent to 71 percent between March and June 2013. The socialist-leaning government of President Rousseff may be unable or unwilling to cut programs for the poor to appease the middle class, and this issue will be at the center of the 2014 presidential election.

Concessions and a call for calm by Brazilian President Rousseff did not deter protesters who again took to the streets on Saturday June 22, 2013. About a quarter of a million [150,000 by other estimates] anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets in several Brazilian cities. Over 60,000 demonstrators chanted and waved banners in Belo Horizonte, where police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. Smaller rallies took place in several other cities. Some of the protests focused on the billions of dollars being spent for Brazil to host next year's World Cup, this month's Confederations Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic summer games. The demonstrations began on 06 June 2013 [some sources report June 11] as an outcry against a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares. Protests against a 20 centavo [US$0.09] increase in public transit prices in Sao Paulo soon spread across a number of cities.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff held an emergency cabinet meeting June 21, 2013 to discuss an intensifying protest movement that had not slowed despite government concessions. Rousseff is a former leftist guerrilla who was imprisoned for bank robbery and tortured by military dictators in her youth. During prime time on the evening of 21 June 2013, the Brazilian president repeated her support for the people's right to protest, invoking her own experiences as a protester against the military dictatorship which ended in 1985. Lawmakers would draft a plan to improve public transportation, she said, adding that she supported funding education with royalties from Brazil's oil reserves.

The government would also address shortages in the health care industry by bringing in thousands of doctors from abroad [just where she will find thousands of Portuguese-speaking doctors eager to move to Brazil was unclear - as of 2010 there were only 42,000 authorised doctors in all of Portugal, compared to 360,000 in Brazil]. But by 08 July 2013 the Brazilian government dropped plans to import a contingent of Cuban doctors, and instead began looking to hire physicians in Spain and Portugal. The plan to bring in Cuban doctors created a backlash after Brazilian medical associations argued that standards at Cuba's medical schools were lower than in Brazil and equivalent in some cases to no more than a nursing education.

The focus of demonstrations shifted to sharp criticism of the government's $10 billion (7.5 billion euros) spending on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games instead of funnelling the funds into health care and education, or curbing Brazil's high crime rate. President Dilma Rousseff on June 18, 2013 sought to defuse a massive protest movement sweeping Brazil, acknowledging the need for better public services and more responsive governance as demonstrations continued in some cities around the country. Speaking the morning after more than 200,000 Brazilians marched in over a half-dozen cities, Rousseff said her government remains committed to social change and is listening attentively to the many grievances expressed at the demonstrations.

More than a million protesters marched in upwards of a hundred cities across Brazil on 20 June 2013, including at least 300,000 in Rio de Janeiro alone, where police fired tear gas to contain the crowds. Protesters also stormed the foreign ministry in the capital, Brasilia, throwing burning objects and firecrackers into the building before being repelled by police. The demonstrations were the latest in a flurry of protests over the previous week that fed on widespread frustration with poor public services, police violence and government corruption. The protests, organized mostly by university students through snowballing social media campaigns, marked the first time that Brazilians had taken to the streets on such a large scale since economic volatility and a corruption scandal led to the toppling of corrupt President Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992.

The masses that mobilized protested against the high cost of living, corruption and government mismanagement. It's especially young people - not the very poor, not the extremely rich, but people in between. People who work, study or do both. The level of education in public schools is still very low and quality healthcare is only available to the wealthy. Some analysts say the protests were fueled by a middle class which has grown to 40 million people, and business centers in the south of the country that resent being heavily taxed to pay for government handouts to the poor. There has been a sense that the people who really run the country financially - the south and southeast - are getting the short end of the stick with lousy schools, terrible transportation, terrible medical care and a growing sense that Brasilia, Rousseff and her Workers Party [PT] really dont care about Sao Paulo, the south and the southeast of the country. There is little the government can do in the short term to address the protesters demands. The Brazilian governments reversal of the transport fare hikes that sparked nationwide demonstrations has done little to appease the protesters.

Christopher Garman and Clifford Young wrote that "... its no coincidence that the protesters tend to be more from the upper middle class. It is precisely this segment of society that has been hit the hardest with the escalating cost of living in large cities. ... with heightened prosperity voters have turned their attention to other priorities, most linked to quality of life issues such as healthcare, education, transportation and public safety.... Such a trend is evident in polling data. In 2005 nearly 60 percent of the public considered issues surrounding jobs and income to be their main concern. The sum of issues surrounding quality of life issues, like healthcare, transport, crime and education, were front and center for only a bit over 20 percent of the population. By 2013 the tables turned entirely, with concern over jobs dropping to 30 percent, and issues of the quality of life surpassing that of jobs and income."

While avoiding open conflict, Brazilian society has gone through transitions that in general have moved in the direction of modernization and democracy. There is a strong Brazilian tradition of nonviolent resolution of conflicts. Avoidance of organized conflict between the privileged and the poor in Brazil can be attributed in part to the corporatist system set up during the regime of Getlio Dorneles Vargas (president, 1930-45, 1951-54) in the 1930s and 1940s. This system was designed to preempt direct class confrontation through well-controlled concessions to workers. For the most part, contemporary violence cannot easily be construed as a class struggle, at least as a struggle that involves collective consciousness and action. It is essentially particularistic and opportunistic at the individual level, although it often reflects perceptions of social injustice.

In contrast to developed countries, Brazil had few organizations--interest groups, associations, leagues, clubs, and NGOs--up until the 1970s. This lack of mediation between government and society was characteristic of a paternalistic and authoritarian social structure with a small but powerful elite and a dispossessed majority. During the 1970s and early 1980s, however, in part because of the growth of the middle class, a wide variety of social movements and local and national organizations appeared and expanded. Many engaged in some kind of political activity. Women's groups also appeared. Increasingly, social and political organizations reached into the lower classes. A significant number were connected directly or indirectly to the Roman Catholic Church, which sponsored CEBs (Ecclesiastical Base Communities) as part of its "option for the poor."

Independent labor movements also grew during the 1980s. People took to the streets in 1984 to press for direct elections for president, as they did in 1992 to demand the impeachment of President Collor de Mello. Once a new constitution was written in 1988 and a president was chosen through direct elections in 1989, opposition or resistance movements were forced to redefine their roles.

With democracy re-established in 1988 after decades of military dictatorship, Brazil's democratic institutions are generally strong and stable. Ongoing public scandals involving the leadership of the Senate and various members of Congress have further eroded the legislature's power vis-a-vis the executive and its ratings among the Brazilian public. The court system remains cumbersome and unreliable, but has taken limited steps to curb impunity among public officials, which have been well received by a public accustomed to abuses by authorities.

Brazil completed its transition to a popularly elected government in 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello won 53% of the vote in the first direct presidential election in 29 years. In 1992, a major corruption scandal led to his impeachment and ultimately, resignation. Vice President Itamar Franco took his place and governed for the remainder of Collor's term. Political and labor strikes and demonstrations occur occasionally in urban areas and may cause temporary disruption to public transportation. In addition, criminal organizations in Sao Paulo have in the past staged campaigns against public institutions.

To date, all democratically elected presidents that followed Itamar Franco started and finished their mandate with no interruptions in the constitutional order. On October 3, 1994 Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected President with 54% of the vote. Cardoso took office January 1, 1995, and pursued a program of ambitious economic reform. President Cardoso was elected with the support of a heterodox alliance of his own center-left Social Democratic Party, the PSDB, and two center-right parties, the Liberal Front Party (PFL) and the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB). Brazil's largest party, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), joined Cardoso's governing coalition after the election, as did the center-right PPB, the Brazilian Progressive Party, in 1996, after its formation from three conservative parties the previous year. Federal deputies and senators who belong to the parties comprising the government coalition do not always vote with the government. As a result, President Cardoso had difficulty, at times, gaining sufficient support for some of his legislative priorities, despite the fact that his coalition parties hold an overwhelming majority of congressional seats. Nevertheless, as the Cardoso Administration ended its fourth year, it has accomplished many of its legislative and reform objectives. He was re-elected in 1998 for a second 4-year term.

In the run up to the 2002 elections Brazil suffered a serious confidence shock as investors waited to see whether President Lula delivered on his commitment to a responsible economic policy. This led to sharp spikes in both Brazil's risk rating and the exchange rate (with the Real peaking at R$4/US$). Many investors and the country's elites were concerned about the commitment of the da Silva government to the liberal developmental model that predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso had supported. Only a few years earlier da Silva's party sponsored a referendum on a debt moratorium, or a decade and a half earlier when da Silva announced his interest in establishing a socialist government in Brazil.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was elected president in 2002, after his fourth campaign for the office. Leftists were positively ecstatic when Lula, a former union leader, assumed the presidency of Brazil in early 2003. Following a campaign pregnant with ambiguous plans of high growth and low inflation, the da Silva government-in-waiting was careful to support monetary tightening and trade liberalization. President Lula was Brazil's first working-class president.

Once in office President da Silva clearly prioritized inflation over growth. Market sentiment improved as President Lula and his team have carried through sound macroeconomic policies built on the three pillars of inflation targeting, a floating exchange rate and fiscal austerity. In office Lula took a prudent fiscal path, warning that social reforms would take years and that Brazil had no alternative but to maintain tight fiscal austerity policies. At the same time, he made fighting poverty through conditional transfer payments an important element of his policies.

Lula was re-elected in 2006 for a second 4-year term. Continuity and legacy were the guiding lights of Lula's second term. Lula continued to shape his legacy as a friend of the poor and builder of a foundation for prosperity for the lower and middle classes through broad social welfare programs and a vast, new economic growth program of public works and growth incentives. At the same time, Lula failed to promote needed reforms to abolish a political culture of corruption, clientelism, and spoils. Lula remained a popular president -- one of the most popular in Brazil's history and indeed in the world today, with approval ratings still as high as 75 percent seven years into his presidency. This sustained popularity is based on a combination of his personal connection with the country's lower classes, orthodox economic policies, and expanded social programs.

Lula was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term and designated Civil Household Minister (Prime Minister-equivalent) Dilma Rousseff as his party's candidate to succeed him. Initially, Rousseff was a distant second in the polls to likely opposition candidate Sao Paulo Governor Jose Serra, but the race remained unpredictable. By January 2010, polling indicated that likely Workers' Party (PT) presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, President Lula's chosen successor, had closed much of the gap with front-running opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) candidate Jose Serra, and trailed by less than ten points in a two-way race for the October 2010 election. The narrowing of the race was widely expected; the campaign entered a zone where predictions were more difficult, as both Rousseff and Serra struggled to overcome public perceptions that had limited their respective voter preference ratings.

Rousseff's harshest critics most often emphasized that poor television and public speaking skills would kill her candidacy. Other critics take a more subtle tack, arguing somewhat counterintuitively that Brazil's desire for continuity after years of progress and prosperity actually benefits Serra, because he is seen by many as more likely to follow the economic path laid out by Cardoso and followed by Lula. Others argued that the social base of the country has developed to the extent that it would prefer to alternate parties in power in order to retain continuity, rather than keep one party in power long-term, thereby facilitating a hard shift to that party's side of the political spectrum.

In October 2010, Brazil held its sixth consecutive presidential and general elections since the reinstatement of democracy in 1985. About 130 million Brazilians, two-thirds of the countrys population, were eligible to vote, a mandatory civic duty. Up for election were the President, the governors of all 26 states and of the federal district of Braslia; all 513 federal deputies; 54 senators (two-thirds of the total); and 1,057 delegates to the 27 state assemblies. Dilma Vana Rousseff, the Workers Party (PT) candidate, won a runoff election against the Social Democrat Party candidate, becoming the first woman president in Brazil. Dilma had previously served as the Minister of Mines and Energy and the Executive Chief of Staff, a cabinet-member position, in President Lulas administration. Rousseff took office on January 1, 2011 and prioritized growth with equity policies to eradicate poverty and fiscal austerity. President Rousseff was also a vocal defender of human rights and promoter of social inclusion, most notably gender equality. Within the first year of her government, several cabinet ministers resigned at Rousseff's urging due to accusations of graft.



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