Exploring the Brazilian Crisis

July 1, 2016
By Jim McCarville


Speakers and attendees at the TMC Brazil Potluck. Photo by Jim McCarville.

A Thomas Merton Center (TMC)  potluck, June 15, explored the political, economic and social crisis wreaking havoc in Brazil. Three speakers participated; Carolyn Kazdin, a United Steelworkers representative who lives in Brazil; Michael Drohan, a TMC Board member, who did economic research about the Amazon jungle in Brazil; and Haydee McCarville, a native of Brazil.

Kazdin praised former President Lula da Silva and his Workers’ Party. “Lula displayed great political skills as he rose from factory mechanic to national president in 2002. He promoted programs of racial equality and university quotas. He spread access to housing, automobiles, electricity and education with direct ‘family scholarships’ to keep kids in school. It bypassed the traditional political distribution system. It won him many enemies among the elites, but it helped credit him with raising 40 million people out of poverty.

“Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s handpicked successor, continued his policies, but lacked Lula’s political skills. Still, she won a second term in 2014. When Brazil was hit with the commodity crises of 2014, however, the opposition smelled blood and began investigations to discredit the Workers’ Party.

“The Lower House brought charges of impeachment against Dilma for manipulating budget figures. The Senate has 180 days to complete the impeachment trial. In the meantime, Dilma has had to step down. Vice-President Temer, not of the same party, formed an interim government and immediately began to try to dismantle the Lula legacy with investigations. The investigations, however, took on a life of their own as they discovered widespread and systematic kickbacks and payoffs. All of the political parties became implicated.

“The interim government was immediately wracked with scandal. Temer, who is under investigation himself, is not popular. People are now demonstrating against him in the streets. Students are seizing high schools where the government was cutting lunch programs,” she said.

“Eduardo Cunha, President of the Lower House that led the impeachment charge, was part of a caucus implicated in diverting evangelical church collections for political corruption. He has since been removed from office on ethics violations.”

Michael Drohan, a TMC Board Member, spoke about the authenticity he saw in the Brazilian Workers’ Party movement when he worked there in the late 80s and early 90s. “It was a powerful force of democracy from the bottom up” and he expressed great hope that it will rise up again. “The charges against Dilma are not impeachable offenses, but a ‘political coup,’ done, almost, with the support of the US” and a “lack of an official US criticism”.

Haydee McCarville addressed the societal crises Brazilian people are going through. She spoke proudly of the Brazilian culture and way of life. But she warned against looking for simplistic solutions to a very complicated situation. She surveyed her large family still living in Brazil, a cross section of political, economic and social classes, and spoke about how people were coping with the crisis. She related some comments from her survey, posted here anonymously:

  • “Construction has stopped. I’ve laid off 70% of the people that worked for me and I am now a ‘consultant,’ but lucky to be one. The only options are more taxes/less spending. There will be a lot of suffering before we get through this.”
  • “People have stopped spending. No money. I don’t see who or what could get us out of this. There is a Brazilian Trump named Bolsonaro. He is misogynist, homophobic and ignorant. He grows more popular every day.”
  • “With layoffs, the market price for my work has fallen by 30%. I live in constant fear of re-negotiating my salary. It is worse for domestic workers. We talk all the time about the instability, but we are not so good at talking about politics. Each person seizes on a trickle of information and declares it the absolute truth. People don’t seek to find solutions, only to ‘win’ arguments.”
  • “When they removed Dilma it was like removing Ali Baba and leaving 400 thieves. We need more jails.”
  • “People distrust the entire body politic. The disarray is driving away capital, families are losing income, tax revenues needed to support social services, infrastructure and quality of life are in decline.”
  • No more of this ‘poor me’ stuff. We get the government we deserve. We will never fix this until we take responsibility for ourselves.”

Haydee summarized what she found as “a sense of permanent disappointment. Even many supporters of the Workers’ Party, those who elected them to clean up the government, felt betrayed and disillusioned. What remained was anger, frustration, fear, loss of faith and loss of hope.”

On the brighter side, she said, “for the first time, corrupt politicians and fraudulent company owners are going to jail.” She sensed a growing rejection “of the tradition of impunity that has tolerated political corruption in the past, along with rejection of the admiration cult of the ‘espertalhão,’ the ‘cool kind of swindler’ who gets away with his con jobs. It is small consolation for such a long-term problem, but maybe it’s a silver lining.”

Jim McCarville is a member of the Editorial Collective. He is also the spouse of Haydee McCarville, cited in the article.


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