Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Brazil’s March Madness



March has been a tough month for the Brazilian government. In the past few weeks, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest against President Dilma Rousseff and demand her impeachment, the country’s local currency devalued to its lowest exchange rate in 12 years and state oil giant Petrobras continued to be engulfed in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history.

To top it off, national unemployment went up and Rousseff’s popularity hit an all-time low. Pollster Datafolha released figures this week showing the president’s approval rating reached 13 percent, the lowest presidential approval level since 1992.

In an effort to rebound from these negative numbers, Rousseff is schedule to announce some changes to her government roster. This comes after Minister of Education Cid Gomes resigned earlier this week.

She also presented an anti-corruption government package before Congress on Wednesday that introduced reforms such as  requiring government officials to have no criminal records (known as “Ficha Limpa” or clean slate), making it illegal for unregulated slush funds to be used in the financing of electoral campaigns, and granting the judicial ministry the power to seize goods and properties of those convicted of corruption.

“Prevent and battle,” Rousseff said as she introduced her latest defensive strategy. “This is what we see as the essential strategy in order to deepen Brazil’s commitment with democracy.”

This comes as the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) continues to be embroiled in a billion dollar kickback scandal—in which politicians and top Petrobras executives were paid for overpriced contracts with some of the country’s engineering and construction firms. Rousseff, 67, who was the chairwoman of the state-run oil company during many of the dates being investigated, has denied any knowledge of the scheme.

Following Rousseff’s narrow re-election last October (she beat challenger Aécio Neves by less than 4 points), Rousseff has faced a weakening economy, water shortages in the country’s financial capital and a decline in public services during her second term.

Rousseff’s supporters, who also came out last week in smaller numbers, accuse those calling for her impeachment of planning a coup and blame Congress for the current financial crisis.

If Rousseff is removed from office before the end of her four-year term, she would be the second president impeached since the fall of Brazil’s military dictatorship thirty years ago. The first was former President Fernando Collor de Mello, who was removed from the presidency in 1992.

Rousseff’s moves over the next few weeks will be crucial in order to keep her in the game. Otherwise, the Brazilian leader could be benched from office for a mandatory eight-year hiatus and be dragged down by the poisonous corruption that she has fought against for decades.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Flora Charner is an AQ contributing blogger and a multimedia journalist based in Rio de Janeiro and New York.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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