Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings are mostly in the single digits and those in favour of her impeachment make up around 60% or more of the population in most major polls. To many, she has lost any legitimacy to run the country and PT (Worker’s Party) is hated with such a passion that, according to the Military Police, historians, and other major data compiling agencies, the “anti-Dilma” protests reunited more people in the streets than the June 2013 protests, and the Direitos Já (Rights Now!) protests against the military dictatorship in 1983-84.
How can one woman and one party derail so greatly? It wasn’t even a decade ago when Brazil was the world’s darling and Lula its knight in shining armor. Surely there must be more than corruption scandals which drive the hate and vitriol directed at PT. After all, as many PT and anti-impeachment supporters are quick to correctly point out, Brazil and corruption have been comfortable bed fellows for a very very long time – PT did not create corruption.
1. LIFE SIMPLY BECAME HARDER FOR THE AVERAGE BRAZILIAN
For those who don’t follow the minutia of politics, a government turns sour when those very people’s day to day turns sour. Everything from health to jobs to education to crime and cost of living has had negative turns since Dilma’s first term in office. The segments of the population that the PT party promised to serve suffered the brunt of government cuts and the effects of bad planning and lack of economic judgement. PT’s approval ratings in these poorer regions, especially in the Northeast, which for many analysts won Dilma the election, have gone down tremendously. In the favelas (Brazilian shanty towns) and middle to lower class suburbs, the dissatisfaction grew tremendously as families found it harder to put food on the table. These people’s faces may not be represented during the large street protests but their voices are largely turned against the current administration for the most practical of reasons. In fact, 60% of those interviewed for a 2015 study in 104 less-well-off communities in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo said they were supportive of the anti-Dilma protests.
Hard working lower class people may have benefited from some of PT’s policies of the last decade, but as they left the lower classes, they entered into the higher tax paying class that ripped holes in their wallets and purses. Lower to middle class people’s needs may be very pragmatic, but they aren’t as politically unsophisticated as some believe. They understand enough about politics to know that much of the money that was stolen under this administration’s watch in their many corruption scandals could have been spent improving schools, hospitals, infrastructure, and strengthening the work sector. To compound this, no government before had made such a strong and open commitment to lower classes as Lula’s party, so to discover that PT is no different than any other establishment institution in Brazil must have been a slap in the face and a huge betrayal of faith and trust. That, my fellow readers, creates quite a bit of hate among citizens.
2. PT DIDN’T INVENT CORRUPTION, BUT THEY BROUGHT IT TO A NEW HEIGHTS
I agree with defenders of the current government: corruption has indeed always existed in Brazil. The major difference between prior cases of corruption and what has happened under Lula and Dilma’s watch is the sheer scale and cronyism of it under the banner of cleaning up corruption once and for all. The first major scandal was 2005s Mensalão, which saw payment for votes. This scandal threatened to bring Lula down, but he escaped unscathed. We later moved to the Lava Jato during the Dilma administration, which involved the once powerful Petrobras and has cost tax payers billions. Some believe that a possible corruption scandal involving BNDES (Brazil’s National Development Bank) may make the Lava Jato look like small pickings based on the amount of money involved.
These scandals involved many political parties in Brazil, in fact PP (The Progressive Party) has been the party with the largest number of politicians investigated in the Lava Jato scheme. And the PSDB (Brazilian Socialist Democratic Party), which has had candidates which ran against Dilma and Lula in every presidential election, leads the way in politicians with a dirty track record and barred from entering political contests.
So why does PT stand out for so many?
Simply put, the Lava Jato scandal happened under PT’s watch and involved a state run institution thought to be off limits for corrupt hands. The amount of money laundered and misappropriated was on a scale never before seen, and after Petrobras became a shadow of what it once was the consumer had to pay the costs at the gas tank among other places.
As the Brazilian economy teetered closer and closer to the edge, it became clear to many that the large scale corruption that occurred under Lula and Dilma’s watch, and the economic resolutions that were meant to save Brazil from collapse but only increased daily living expenses while stiffing job growth, were at the root of the Brazilian crisis – PT became squarely to blame.
While other parties did in fact stick their hands in the cookie jar, the cookie jar was placed squarely on PT’s table for the last near decade and a half while they acted like victims of media conspiracies, treated their fallen party affiliates as heroes who had been wrongly prosecuted, and screamed of elitist opposition coups. A good portion of Brazilians simply had enough. This is another reason why PT gets so much more hate.
3. YES, IT HAS TO DO WITH THE RISE OF SOCIALIST AND COMMUNIST IDEOLOGY IN LATIN AMERICA
A core group of opposition voices to PT do not see the party as just any party. For them they are the strong arm of a growing socialist and communist uprising in America, mainly inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution as well as Nicaragua’s Sandanista uprising. To understand why people feel this way it’s important to note some things.
In 1964 Brazil’s military staged a coup. It was supported and backed by The United States because of their fear of the spread of Communism in Latin America and especially in a country as large as Brazil. Both Lula and Dilma fought against the dictatorship in their own ways. They were both jailed, Dilma was even tortured, which is why she has two front teeth that stick out.
What most accounts of this story miss is what Lula, Dilma, and others were fighting for.
The usual line is that it was for democracy, but according to some who were once affiliated with the early anti-military dictatorship movements, the truth is that they wanted to institute a proletariat dictatorship in the place of the military one.
In this way, Dilma was perhaps more radical than Lula. She was an active member and even led many violent leftist groups whose mission was to take down the government by force. She claims that tales of her robbing banks and being involved in kidnappings are fabrications, though.
Lula, on the other hand, took the more political path with his PT party and, in 1990, formed the Foro de São Paulo, (São Paulo Forum) with help from Fidel Castro. This forum’s main goal is “to debate the new, post-fall of the Berlin Wall international setting and the consequences of the neoliberal policies that had been adopted by a majority of the region’s governments. The core proposal was to discuss a people-led and democratic alternative to neoliberalism, as this entered a phase of worldwide implementation.to unite the various voices of the left in Latin America in order to find ways.”
Lula’s goal was still a leftist socialist revolution but he understood the importance of creating it through democratic paths, as he admits in one of his speeches at the São Paulo Forum. He even goes on at length to explain that Hugo Chaves was not allowed to participate in the forum until he came into power by way of the popular vote.
This may all start sounding like right wing anti-communist conspiratorial talk by now. And indeed, it may feel a bit off considering the version of Lula that became President in 2003. That version of Lula was business friendly, and even “neo-liberal” by many economic standards. With him at the helm it seemed Brazil was finally ready to reach its self-defined “country of the future” potential. Though there were critics who stated from the start that PT was all a farce. Talk of the Forum of São Paulo or Lula’s close ties to Cuba and Venezuela were not major talking points until Dilma came into power.
With Dilma at the helm, and corruption scandal after corruption scandal proving that PT was no different, but perhaps worse, than most all the other political parties that had come before, a more critical eye was turned to the ruling coalition. This eye was especially focused on whom PT considered to be their foreign allies, and more importantly, where Brazilian tax payer money went.
While Brazilians were still waiting for important infrastructure projects to get off the drawing board, the government was financing huge projects in leftist countries like Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Paraguay with BNDES loans, which meant that the tax payer was footing the bill. It also gave the impression that PT was very comfortable in their relationship with these nations that have been historically accused of curtailing human rights.
Though Brazil has always had a left leaning segment (the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) traces its origins back to 1922), it had never exalted so much power as it has during PT’s time in power. In fact PCdoB make up a solid base of PT’s coalition, coming out in strong defense of the current government. Interestingly, this same PCdoB has sent out a letter of support for the struggles of North Korea.
Whether you believe this all to be fanaticism on the part of opposition or not, it’s important to know that this factor plays a big role in anti-Dilma fervor. It’s not for nothing that opposition leaders scream about not wanting Brazil to become another Venezuela or Bolivia or Cuba, when PT and their militants in the MST (Landless Movement) and CUT (United Worker’s Central) show so much support to these governments. And this is yet another reason PT is singled out and hated so much.
YOU MAY NOT AGREE, BUT …
I believe it is impossible to debate the political climate of Brazil without understanding why some Brazilians feel that the rise of PT, and their militant left party supporter, is the worse thing that has ever happened in this country. If the discussion is simply about the usual corruption and government mismanagement that has always occurred here, a case can be made for why PT is being unfairly singled out. The party itself knows this, and uses this to their benefit, claiming that they are being threatened with a right wing coup which seeks to dismantle their social programs and bury the middle class back into the poverty where they belong. As we saw above, this is not the full story.
The political discussion when it comes to PT is much more nuanced and profound than “Brazil has always had corruption.” This is echoed in the voices of the the poor and middle class. These people are mostly represented as pro-government, but, in fact, are not. They want the food, safety, healthcare and work that is not being provided by a government that has turned their backs on them. It is also echoed in the voice of the more in depth political analysts. These people are mostly represented as a lunatic right wing fringe, but they view clear evidence that PT’s open relationship with failed governments and veiled dictatorships, which abuse their citizens liberties and create utter disarray within their borders, as a sign of an attempted take over of this country by an extreme leftist and violent ideology.
In the minds of many who stand against the current administration, if PT goes, it won’t be the end of corruption, but if PT stays, it may be the end of Brazil and its infant democracy. Agree with them or not, these are some of the reasons why PT is hated so much more.
Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.
Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.
If politics is not your thing, read about a wonderful little spot in Sao Paulo – SESC Pompeia. Click here.
Find out why the political climate in Brazil frustrates me on a very personal level. Click here.