Impeachment Night in Brasilia, 17 April 2016

The voting has reached 342 in the Congress, the necessary 2/3rds majority against Dilma Rousseff, and there’s a deep roaring noise in the Lower House (Camara) of the Federated Republic of Brazil. “Dilma Fora” has now become “Tchau Querida!” – the most prominent banners of the last day’s marches. (“Por Democracia, Contra Golpe” made a good show. too.) Vote by vote, every steaming delegate shouted out his or her reasons for a “Sim” or “Não”, professing to do so in the name of family, in the name of their constituency, in the name of the people, of shopkeepers, workers, hospital patients, and every other segment of the public they could think of. At one point is simply devolved into a competition as to who shout say “Sim” the loudest – though one elder simple said, “eu voto sim” in the shortest speech of all.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks to the media after a bilateral meeting with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet at the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

Dilma in Santiago, Feb. 2016

I must admit that the expressions of disgust at the ‘parliamentary coup’ in progress on the part of some staunch PT-istas were among the most impressive mini-speeches in the five-hour odyssey but the avalanche of votes against the Partido dos Trabalhadores – often against a corrupt government rather than Dilma Rousseff in her own person, be it noted – sounded unmistakably like a majoritarian consensus. It seems to me that, for everyone there “on the night”, the dodgy Impeachment charges had morphed into a vote against a government which tirelessly supported a regime of inveterate corruption on the political plane, even when the perpetrators were as often among bought-on Congress supporters as from its own senior ranks (though not a few of these). In restaurants and shopping centres, during weeks past, all the talk was about the need for a moral reform in Brazil and and end to the “bad ethos” which seems to dominate every walk of life – even to the extent that, as someone told me today, doctors and dentists don’t consider it necessary to supply an invoice when they fill out a prescription or lavish their attentions on that migraine or that abcess which has been causing trouble all week. R$200 will see the job right. (Perhaps we aren’t so different.)

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Anti-Dilma Delegates supporting the Impeachment

What was notably about the Presidential election – which went through two “turmas” back in 2014 before a result was reached – was that none of the front-runners expressed anything like a recognisably political, still less ethical, idea about the proper government of Brazil. It was all a barrage of innuendo and downright slander, a dressing-match on stage and a form of political pugilism in the ring which had nothing to do with the choices actually facing the country in the midst of world recession. Some will argue that this was not the case, or that the differing political theologies were entirely implicit at each stage in the contest – socialist v. monetarist. There was also the fact that much of PT’s support comes from an extreme left formation with the usual Latin American credentials – though the governing party has itself softened its features to resemble the very cuddly Centre-Left exponent of Social Democracy that Lula was so good at imitating – if less so in recent months.

A 2/3rds vote of non-confidence is a damning decision, whatever excuse will be tendered – and much wider than the difference in the last Presidential election when Dilma narrowly won a second term of office in contention with Acéio Neves. Tonight and in weeks past, there were such convincing indications of a widespread popular will to see the “populist” party out that it seemed impossible they could continue to govern even if the majority had failed to meet the Impeachment quota – as it comfortably did with 45 “delagados” still to be heard. Of all the phraseology which was blasted across the floor the one that sticks is “Quebramos o spinha dorsal desse quadrillo [Let’s break the spine of this crew of gangsters]” – possibly an allusion to the fighting-talk that Lula da Silva offered on his release from brief detention by the Federal Police when he said that “old cobra was not yet dead”.

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A Nordestino with his own “take” on Eduardo Cunha

Meanwhile outside the window in Petropolis tonight, the cacaphony of fireworks in the Praça is loud enough to prevent further thought. This is an anti-PT “bairro” where banners saying “Fora Dilma – Menos Populismo” are often seen – likewise the Indian strip on the cheek and the counter-revolutionary bandana round the brow. So too, more weirdly, is “Marry Donald Trump and Don’t Come Back!” and sundry educated reflections on the great dates of Brazilian history – 1822 independência, 2016 Justiça!” So now the President will pack her bags and the temporary government of Michel Temer – her treacherous VP – will take over. And then after 80 days or so there will be a chance to review the matter in what parliamentary form I don’t know, though by then the interim government may be clutching its pants around its knees in an attempt to separate itself from an equal or greater load of “corruption” whose ingredients are already … but I have lost my metaphor. At any rate, whatever the conduct of the in-coming President, the outcome of this unfailingly dramatic political battle has already altered all the pieces on the board from the lowest municipal level to the top of the Brazilian political existence – and politics, with “musicas” – very often in tandem – is pretty-much everything here in Brazil.

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Michel and Michala Cunha – getting ready of office

Michel Temer is going to be President, unless impeded by an unlikely injunction, but the real victor is probably Eduardo Cunha, the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the “nemesis” of Rousseff who steadily rolled out the carpet to the scaffold since his election to that post last year. After him, the runner-up is certainly Globo, the broadcasting station and media corporation which orchestrated the propaganda right up to last night when a news report in which PSOL speakers suddenly began to talk up for Dilma Rousseff and to condemn the medias role in her eviction was suddenly and inexplicably cut short. Considered as a managerial intervention it was not so much brash as downright brutal. There is no point denying that Globo – usually spoken of as the chief public beneficiary of the dictatorship – has incessantly and by all possible means orchestrated the hostility to PT and Dilma – and some might say they had a soft target – but at the same time the raucous expressions of animosity towards the PT government which we heard tonight mean that, at the very least, that existing situation could not go on much longer – and here we are, in another chapter of Brazilian politics in the most over-legislated, under-efficient republic in the universe. (I reserve comments on the nature of Brazilian “resolaçoes” for another time – and with it my surprise that a “lei” with fifteen digits in its nomenclature can mean so much on one occasion and so little on another.)

The Petistas say that this has been a parliamentary coup. Certainly it was a parliamentary lynching and the experience of defeat for the Petistas must have been very bitter indeed. Some will resort to extreme emotions and a sense of alienation from the country that seemed to be their for fourteen years past. Others will reflect that the conduct of the party was ill-suited to the times when transparency has become the inevitable style of politics and even the British Prime Minister can be pilloried for off-shore banking – one of the recurrent charges against Brazil’s political class in the current Lavo Jato. Some Petistas say that the motive force behind the “coup” was the desire to switch off that strenuous investigation of corruption charges against so many of those who voted “Sim” tonight. If so, they may be disappointed – although some process of amnesty would be entirely in keeping with the Brazilian track-record in such matters. (It used to be that government “appointments” were amnestied by the incoming administration – and who has not met a man while his life away in good or bad private projects while drawing down a municipal salary as a non-functioning “functionário”? These are the breed call “fantomas” (or sinecures) and the have added the most amusing note to the whole topic of corruption in recent weeks.

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Sao Paolo makes its feelings known about Partido dos Trabalhadores

It is observable that the numbers who wanted a real coup – with contingents of the Army (Exército – like the Romans) in the streets – were in a tiny minority and even the pure oligarchs with yearnings for autocratic rule were little more than a propaganda wheeze on the part of PT. True, there are still massive aggregations of land, property and commerce – though actually unremarkable in comparison with present-day USA – but the old patriarchy has melted into the educated middle class and no one is actually threatening the principle of egalitarianism in the Brazil of today. (Apparent threats to sexual liberalisation are probably exaggerated and, in any case, the PT love-affair with LGBT was very much a matter of all talk and no pence – a Joycean phrase some will remember. Hence I predict that, in Michel Temer’s reign, attempts at austerity might be made across the board – and even that the huge subvention of gasoline at the pump will be dented in the name of national savings – but no one is going to demolish the welfare institutions of the country such as the unemployment dole, bolsa familia (with single motherhood its special target), minha vida, minha casa, and public health insurance – thought this could hardly get worse than it is in practice.

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Whooooh! It’s the “phantom” employees of the Brazilian State – sinecures in your language!

Privatisation of Higher Education? Granted that Brazil has had a rocking Third-Level history, this is a a dystopic fantasy and a paradox too since the Federal campuses which dish out the best-quality degrees are the first resort of the wealthy in Brazil whose children are able to tackle the entrance exams with least trouble. And even if paying arrangements were put in place, as in most European societies today and for some decades past, it would still be possible to arrange a comprehensive bolsa system tied to a quota rate for underprivileged students in a country where “underprivileged” is untainted by any degree of semantic ambiguity, anymore than “undersized” fails to describe whole townships in North-Eastern Brazil. It is thus the affluent who would cry out loudest if the free-entrance arrangement was challenged – along with the professorial staff – all, no doubt for honorable socialist motives – who complacently draw down four and five times what any school-teacher gets in basic salary, plus such benefits as “holiday pay” and “a thirteenth month” and paid post-doctoral missions ever five years.

Crucially, it seems unlikely that the Bolsa Familia will be cut – the mechanism which made such deep inroads into abject poverty in Brazil. As a proportion of the national budget, the R$140 basic rate with add-ons for “in-school” and vaccinated children, costs little to run in spite of its vast scale with some estimated 12 million Brazilians currently in receipt. The Bolsa, which is justly associated with the Lula da Silva’s first Presidential term – though it had a longer Federal history as the Bolsa Escola under Henrique Cardoso – is here to stay. It just isn’t part of the language of politics in Brazil to contemplate its abolition in any short-term way, albeit Michel Temer has averred, ominously enough, that unemployment payments will continue to be made under his leadership “as long as they are necessary”. (The up-side is that his phraseology promises full employment as early as tomorrow.) Listen to the middle class and you can hear as many moaning about the effect of social welfare in “encouraging idleness” – just as you would in Britain. Listen to anyone from O Sul do Brasil (the South) cranking on about the sloth and stupidity of the Nordestinos and you would think you were in an ante-bellum cotton plantation in the Deep South.

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Grass roots campaigners against PT in office

Granted, the 20th century German migrants who occupied the nice bits in the temperate zones of Brazil – where they have meadows and mountains and real seasons – made a good job of their new-found-land. By the same token, the Portuguese peasants shipped over to sow and reap in the North East had to live with medieval structures of social power while facing into wrathful visitations from A Seca (“The Drought”). A kindly “gaucho” who is now living and working in the Nordeste told me as recently as last night that she was indoctrinated into thinking ill of Nordestinos until she came here – and now routinely votes PT. “History is to blame,” she said. In this context, the current battle can very well be regarded as a struggle between rich south and the still-impoverished north – and so it was in the last Presidential election when the support for PT in the North and North-East states literally swung the election. It is less endearing to recall that Dilma took the brakes of the deforestation (“desmatamento”) of the Amazon in order to secure the small-holders’ votes in those months when world authorities were saying that the rape of the rain forest had reach the tipping point and when prosperous São Paolo illustrated the argument by submitting to a critical water-shortages with whole reservoirs run dry. (No rain forest, no rain.)Petistasx500

No, the rules of the game are clear. Whoever rules in Brazil today is going to have to operate from the middle, or as near to it as their ideology and self-interest will permit. On that basis, Temer’s Rule ought to be a temperate affair, perhaps even to the point of ineffectuality – though Lebanese pedigree combined with is pronounced inclination to the typology of the alpha-male makes him an unlikely candidate for any sort of soft-pedalling in economic politics. It is hard to see him as a radical belt-tightener, though he will certainly liberalise the tax system with breaks for entrepreneurs, indigenous or foreign. He may even dismantled the charges against international corporations who have been pillaging Brazil’s resources on the back of bribery (“propinas”) to leading PT ministers and others. Yet, as matters stand – and as he stands at the podium with his glossy child-bride of the extruded fashion-model variety, he looks less like a new broom than a new hairbrush.

If this was a coup it was at least a democratic coup – if that is not an oxymoron – though it is uncertain that what is to follows on will be precisely of that character. You will see it on the news tomorrow morning – which is much closer to you than it is here. Goodnight from Brazil, as Alistair Cooke used to say.

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