Brazil: The Corruption of Progress

Alexander Hassenstein/FIFA/Getty Images
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin before the final match of the FIFA World Cup, Rio de Janeiro, July 2014

Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) was narrowly reelected president of Brazil in the second round of the presidential election on October 26 last year. She won with 51.6 percent of the votes. Aécio Neves, her opponent from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), received 48.4 percent of the votes. The result revealed a country deeply split by region, class, wealth, and race. In the north and northeast, the poorer part of the country, Dilma, as she is called in Brazil, received over 60 percent of the vote. Yet in the more prosperous south, southeast, and center west, Aécio won.

In São Paulo State, where one fifth of the Brazilian population lives, and which represents one third of Brazil’s economy, Aécio gained 64 percent of the votes to Dilma’s 36 percent. But he lost his home state of Minas Gerais just north of São Paulo, which he represents as a senator, and where he had been governor for two terms. He is also the heir apparent to his maternal grandfather, Tancredo Neves, one of the great heroes of Brazilian democratization who was elected president by an electoral college after military rule came to an end in 1985. Neves represented for many the opposition to the military regime, but he died before he could assume office. While Aécio had represented the state for years, his cuts to public expenditures were unpopular. Losing Minas Gerais lost him the election.

It had been a very bitter presidential campaign. The candidacy of the socialist Marina Silva had posed a serious challenge to Dilma from the left. Like former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Marina was born into poverty. She was illiterate until her late teens, and went on to become an environmentalist and heir to the legacy of Chico Mendes, the forest rubber tapper and worker’s party activist who was assassinated by ranchers in the western Amazonian town of Xapuri in 1988.

Marina had become the principal challenger to Dilma after Eduardo Campos, the socialist presidential candidate and the former governor of Pernambuco, died in a plane crash in Santos in August 2014. But Dilma attacked Marina, a Christian pentacostalist, with ferocity, accusing her of being an agent of the bankers, and of threatening to “take food off the tables” of the poor. It was untrue; but it worked. Marina was knocked out of the competition in the first round of the presidential elections. Yet the calculation that Marina’s voters would then support Dilma proved inaccurate. The main beneficiary was in fact Aécio Neves.

Disenchantment with Dilma had been growing well before the presidential election. Mass demonstrations throughout the country before the World Cup took place in Brazil in 2014…

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