Formally, Congress followed the letter of the law. She was accused of transferring money between various state banks and agencies to embellish the national accounts, and she did so without the approval of Congress. In other words, she had broken the law as sitting president and could be brought before a high court, it was said.
Others believed that the entire basis for the Supreme Court case was incorrect. Money transfer was a common practice that many previous presidents had used, and in any case it was not something that Congress should approve or not. Many believed that the motive for the Supreme Court case was not the alleged offenses, but rather a desire for political turnaround and a desperate hope of preventing Operation Car Wash from reaching the top of politics.
The result was at least a marked right turn in politics. In one year, Temer’s government has introduced and promoted a number of neoliberal reforms , such as cuts in pension rights, weakening of the Working Environment Act and a reduction in the state’s and Petrobrás’ share in oil development. The process of privatizing state-owned companies is gaining momentum. In addition, the new government has introduced a highly controversial ceiling on public spending that will apply for the next 20 years.
The Supreme Court case and the subsequent political U-turn reveal the power struggle that took place in Brazil in the 2000s. In the broad perspective, there are two worldview and social models that have stood against each other: NPT and the left have represented a desire for an active state and a more equitable distribution of goods and burdens, somewhat in the direction of the Nordic social democratic ideas. The right-wing opposition has wanted to return to a more liberal society with minimal state intervention, not unlike the United States.
At the beginning of the 2000s, these models clearly stood against each other. But eventually the differences were apparently erased . In order to retain power, NPT had to ally with parts of the old elite , represented by the PMDB party, which also got the vice president. The policy was put more and more to the right to satisfy the traditional economic interests. Nevertheless, the right sat with growing frustration after losing four presidential elections in a row. In the end, the Supreme Court case became the way the old elites regained power. And with President Temer’s neoliberal reforms, the real political differences came to the surface again.
And then the historic thing happened : President Michel Temer was caught with his pants down in secret intercepted conversations with the meat giant JBS. It was clear that he agrees with, and supports, that JBS pays for a imprisoned party colleague of his to keep quiet about what he knows about corruption and bribery.
In May 2017, for the first time in Brazil’s history, the country’s incumbent president was formally accused of corruption by the prosecution. Then Temer changed political focus overnight. Away with neoliberal reforms and budget responsibility. Now there was a struggle by all means – and with open state money cranes – to keep the job. Temer survived the first case, but in September 2017 he was formally charged again in a new and even more serious corruption case.
7: What now Brazil?
Brazil is in 2017 in its most serious economic and political crisis since the military dictatorship. In politics, it is everyone’s fight against everyone. Everyone fears becoming the next victim in Operation Car Wash. The economy shrank in both 2015 and 2016, but now seems to have bottomed out. But poverty is growing again, inequality is widening, levels of violence are rising and deforestation in the Amazon is on the rise.
In a longer perspective, we see a Brazil moving back to the start. For Brazilians who were accustomed to progress and optimism for most of the 2000s, the fall is both dramatic and outrageous.
There are positive signs . Operation Car Wash has had politicians and business leaders prosecuted and convicted. Many are in prison. It has been made possible by new institutions and laws, in addition to a new generation of investigators and judges who are not as easy to corrupt as before. The state institutions survive . The economy is far more robust, and the population is much less divided than in neighboring Venezuela.
An optimistic reading of today’s Brazil says that now the old, corrupt leaders are being swept out. It could pave the way for a new generation of people with better intentions . But an equally likely scenario is that frustration and disappointment open up for a reactionary populist, not unlike a Donald Trump in the United States.
In October 2018, there are presidential elections. One year before the election, the old but faded star Lula leads all the polls. But he has been convicted of corruption, has appealed and may not be allowed to stand. In the next places follow the arch-conservative and racist Jair Bolsonaro and the evangelical former Minister of the Environment Marina Silva. The range is huge. Brazil’s future is uncertain.