There are many moving parts in Brazil’s crisis, all of them deeply entwined, and none of them travelling in the right direction. The economy is suffering its worst recession since the 1930s. Congress is gripped by the so-called Lava Jato probe into Petrobras’s giant corruption scandal – a Senator was arrested last week. And now proceedings have opened to impeach the President, Dilma Rousseff. Can it get any worse? The short answer is: yes.
The proximate reason for Rousseff’s possible impeachment is the charge that her government fiddled the 2014 public accounts – normally a technical issue. But the reason why the proceedings have been launched now is pure politics.
Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house, is the key figure here. Like the president, Cunha is fighting for his political survival; he faces allegations of corruption thrown up by the Lava Jato probe, including lying about personal Swiss bank accounts. A skilful inside operator, Cunha had hoped the governing Workers party, Rousseff’s own, would support his cause and protect him from the tightening net. When that support did not come, he initiated the impeachment process. The opposition, scenting blood, has joined in.
None of this means that Rousseff’s end is imminent, though. The impeachment process is long, winding and highly legalistic; it is unlikely to get started properly before February. In the meantime, Cunha may lose his job – in which case the process may even be halted. In addition, more politicians may be brought down by corruption charges. That could change the balance of votes and power in Congress in untold ways.
In short, everything is in flux. Such has been the disruptive power of the Lava Jato probe. The fearlessness with which previously untouchable figures have been questioned or brought down by independent judges is remarkable. Certainly, it is a study in contrasts with how meekly corruption is so often dealt with in other Bric countries.
In the long term, this will improve governance in Brazil – a good thing. In the short term, though, the costs are huge. For one, it has turned Brasilia into a tropical version of the Hunger Games. Politicians – from Cunha to Rousseff – are now too preoccupied with saving their own skins to attend to most Brazilians’ more pressing concern: the economy. Currently, this is contracting at an 8 per cent annualised rate. Markets are likely to open sharply down in São Paulo on Thursday morning.
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