After several months of daily street demonstrations and chaotic parliamentary scenes, on May 12, 2016, Dilma Rousseff was forced to leave office for 180 days to be investigated by the Senate for the fairly tenuous charge of “manipulating government accounts” by using an accounting loophole used by her predecessors. The erstwhile Vice-President was sworn in and he wasted no time in putting down his mark, naming a new cabinet immediately and outlining a market friendly vision for Brazil that emphasized cutting down on social spending and welfare programs.
Just like in Nigeria, the victors even had their very own irredentist demagogue-in-chief; the Brazilian answer to Nasir El-Rufai. Meet Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-army officer and vocal opponent of Dilma Rousseff. Speaking after the vote, he dedicated his vote to the memory of Col Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra (the colonel who headed the brutalDoi-Codi torture unitin the 1970s), describing him as “The dread of Dilma Rousseff”. He continued, “They lost in 1964, and now they have lost in 2016.”
Newly sworn in President Temer’s list of ministers presented a glimpse of this vision for Brazil – one that represented the antithesis of all that Rousseff and PT stood for. The list read like a Who’s Who of right wing, pro-market upper-class Brazilian land owners, made up exclusively of white males, in a country where 51% of the population is female and 55% of the population identifies themselves as either Black or mixed race.
In terms of social progress and societal inclusion in Brazil, this represented a huge departure from the socially leftist orientation of Dilma Rousseff’s PT which had seven female ministers, and a huge step back for Brazil in general. It is noteworthy however, that in terms of racial makeup, Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet was not that different from Temer’s, with only one Black minister – the Minister of Women, Racial Equality, Youth and Human Rights.
In any case, Mr. Temer discarded that post, deeming it surplus to requirements and merging it with the Justice ministry, to be headed by – you guessed it – a wealthy, middle-aged white male.
Thus, after a successful campaign of mud slinging and McCarthyist demagoguery, an unpopular and unrepresentative Brazilian political party managed to capture the Presidency without being voted in by the people, and without needing their approval. It now has three whole years to shape the future of the country as it sees fit, without being accountable to the Brazilian people. The chances of Dilma Rousseff returning to office after the Senate investigation are next to nil.
To all intents and purposes, this has been a successful coup.
A recent UK Guardian article about Michel Temer’s impending government of social exclusion and market fundamentalism drew this anguished comment from Roberto De Nigris, a Brazilian reader:
“Only in Brazil can the old political elite, whose political power stems directly from dictatorship times, manage to convince the population (through media moguls whose influence also stems from the same time) that to eliminate the corruption which has been always rampant and only now was being investigated and punished, the only possibility is by putting them back in power.
And when they finally manage that, immediately they remove the independent investigative powers of CGU back under the grasp of the executive. Already a few investigations are being halted, and the population still somehow convinces themselves that this is for the best. Even as a Brazilian I am still pinching myself and struggling to sink in and believe the reality of this absurd situation. We are accelerating in reverse and people are liking it. Brace yourselves for a rough ride.”
Roberto is wrong about one thing though. It’s not only in Brazil that such things happen. It happened last year in Nigeria and it is about to happen in Kenya soon. It will also keep on happening around the developing world. For as long as citizens of a country refuse to rise above enforced mediocrity and deliberate falsehood pushed into their faces by controlled media platforms, the national discourse will never transcend the infantile “Corruption” accusations and McCarthyist politics Nigeria and Brazil are witnessing.
“Corruption” as it is presented to us through the media is a chimera designed to keep populations distracted from real economic and political issues. While a consortium of rich white landowners were plotting to seize control of Brazil’s government and direct its economic policy in favour of their business interests, their media platforms were regaling ordinary Brazilians with tales of “corruption” and “Dilma Rousseff,” fueling weeks of street protests that eventually brought the government down.
The millions that took to the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo to protest against “corruption” and “Dilma Rousseff” had no idea that they were simply acting out someone’s script and that the removal of Dilma Rousseff would neither “end corruption” nor would it be in their economic, social and political interest.
The case of Nigeria a year ago demonstrated that when deployed across all popular media platforms to serve an agenda, the word “corruption” is a very effective smear and a powerful trigger which creates strong and unthinking, illogical reactions – reactions such as forcing out a President who is merely suspected of “corruption” with no proof, and replacing them with someone who is already implicated in several proven cases of corruption.
Fact-free, noise-filled and emotional discourse led by PR shills, compromised journalists and political demagogues cannot lead to accurate national decision making, as we are finding out to our detriment in Nigeria.
To the Brazilians about to learn this hard lesson, “Boa Sorte!”
NB: For a comprehensive breakdown of the political factors that led to Dilma Rousseff’s forced removal, read independent journalist Glenn Greenwald’s accounthere.