The crisis of power in Brazil

Brasil Observer - Apr 11 2016
Brasília - Para evitar confrontos entre manifestantes pró e contra impeachment a Secretaria de Segurança Pública do Distrito Federal definiu divisão de espaço na Esplanada dos Ministérios (José Cruz/Agência Brasil)
José Cruz/Agência Brasil

(Leia em Português)


Thousands of people have gone to the streets in favour and against the impediment of the president Dilma Rousseff. In the short term, the scenario is confrontation, not negotiation


By Silvio Caccia Bava*

In 2011, the Brazilian government adopted countercyclical measures to tackle the global economic slowdown. Its goal was to strengthen the internal market and ensure the value of wages and full employment. The commodity boom was over, as well as the win-win game in which no sector was punished for the benefit of others.

The government strongly reduced the return rate of public debt bonds, the Selic interest rate; imposed through public banks a reduction in interest to the consumer; frozen administered prices, expanded credit, boosted public investment etc.

In addition to the defence of income and employment for the majority, on the whole, these initiatives expressed a developmentalist national policy, with a leading role for the State and especially the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) in the strengthening of some strategic productive chains, such as oil and gas, petrochemical, shipbuilding. A policy that is contrary to the interests of the financial system and international capital. For the first time, the control of economic policy did not coincide with the interests of the financial system and large corporations.

Countercyclical measures have reduced the earnings of the private financial sector and large corporations, strengthened the State and put an insecurity factor for these entrepreneurs. They realized they had no control over economic policies, and this was unacceptable.

In response to these measures, the financial elites have managed gain the support of all big business that from the end of 2012, united, began to stand against the Dilma Rousseff’s government, to support the neoliberal opposition and destabilize the new government even after its election victory in 2014.

With a new Congress in which 70% of parliamentarians were financed by ten large business groups, a parliamentary initiative to try to promote the impeachment of president was underway.

Liberals, after the “developmentalist test” of 2011, want to regain control of economic policy and submit the State to private interests. In contrast to these interests there are mobilizations and popular campaigns for political reform, for example, to build a State increasingly public and oriented to serve the interests of all. These terms already express the nature of the dispute for the institutional order.

The crucial factor was the organization and politicization of important oppressed social sectors, which refused to be submissive to the political system. In Brazil, the richness and diversity of civil society organizations made a difference, mobilizing broad sectors and channelling their political strength for the construction and election of PT (Workers Party).

The fact is that the right-wing parties failed to provide, in Brazil, a country project to dispute the preference of the voters in 2014. The neoliberals lost the presidential election for the fourth time in a row. They focused their campaign in the production of economic terrorism and the need to avoid a catastrophe. And they attacked the government and the PT accusing them of incompetency and corruption.

Unable to win the vote, the elites in Brazil set off for heavy game, attacking democracy with a coup attempt, buying Congress, mobilizing the media to a huge campaign, starting an open war against the government and the PT.

The Brazilian elite made use of economic terrorism, catastrophic projections for the Brazilian economy, distorting a reality in which the macroeconomic indicators did not suggest the need for an adjustment. Now the crisis is real, unemployment hits 10%, the economic forecasts terrible. The opposition willing to overthrow the government presents as a solution the same austerity policy the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank have imposed on Greece, where the adjustment led to a regression of 30 years on social rights.

The success of media mobilization in the war against the government was a demonstration of the immense power of these media companies. In the communication war, the central issue is the choice of the agenda and featured topics, the range of allowed opinions, the unquestioned assumptions that guide the production of information and comments, the worldview that structure these arguments

Renowned Brazilian neoliberal economists publicly state that it is necessary to promote recession and unemployment to lower the cost of labour. It is a declaration of war on workers.

With Congress controlled by big business and the demonization of the political system, parties included, Brazilian democracy is in danger. Much of the population does not feel represented, and so it opens space for the emergence of a new conservative wave and new authoritarian practices in society, as seeking to make justice with their own hands and criminalize the poor for the violence in society.

The right versions monopolize the conservative media, taking much of the population to blame the government for a crisis that, in fact, was engendered by economic power. Their experts work with public opinion to create the necessary illusions: emotionally powerful simplifications that attach to the government and the PT corruption, “misrule”, risks of unemployment, inflation, and loss of purchasing power. “The media no longer covers events. It generates versions and tries to turn them into truth”, warned the sociologist Laymert Garcia dos Santos.



Allegations of corruption, all selective because they ignore the opposition parties, serve to mobilize the population against the government and manipulate public opinion, especially the middle classes who do not understand why the good times are over.

The political crisis is radicalized; personal offenses show the intransigence of these middle classes and their revolt with the economic crisis; an unpredictable field is open. In this scenario, new right-wing NGOs and parties that traditionally defend the elites seek to mobilize public opinion in demonstrations against the government and the PT. And the workers now join the opposition, but for other reasons; they are unhappy with rising unemployment and the government, which reduces the income transfer policies.

Without the mobilization of society, opponents estimate that “there is no climate” to promote the impeachment of the president. With increased support from the streets, as in the demonstrations of 13 March that gathered 3.6 million people, they keep the process of articulating the bloodless coup, that is, the condemnation of the government and the PT for torts that actually do not exist. Large sections of the Congress, the judiciary, the Federal Police, traditionally linked to the interests of elites, promote an offensive to overthrow the government, criminalize PT (only PT) and prevent Lula’s presidential candidacy in 2018.

The neoliberal forces formed a committee of the parties that are against PT and the government and plan, in coordination, to call demonstrations in various capitals.

As a reaction to the initiative to promote broad mobilization in favour of impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the democratic and popular forces also mobilize and convoke marches and demonstrations in support of the government, democracy and against the coup.

Thousands of people have gone to the streets in favour and against the impediment of the president. In the short term, the scenario is confrontation, not negotiation. Brazilian elites, with their international partners, are joining the conservative tide that befalls the continent and throws their weight in the pursuit of destabilizing the government and the fall of the president. In Congress, the opposition benches catch all government initiatives and put the “bomb agenda” (to increase public spending) in the strategy of the worse, the better.

It is this confrontation that creates the impasse of the present situation, which exacerbates the economic crisis and its adverse effects on the population. How it will unfold we do not know, but what will happen in the streets, in the coming weeks, may indicate where the winds blow. Remember that there is a large majority which is currently silent, but can also go to the streets, as in June 2013.


  • Silvio Caccia Bava is a sociologist, director and editor-in-chief of Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil newspaper