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Opinion, by Simon Thomas

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – There is so much is being said about Brazil, its government and its politics in the name of various ideologies right now that I felt the need to make a few ‘as-objective-as-possible’ points about the situation.

As a foreigner who has been living in Brazil since 2007 and observing the current political and economic situations with particular attention I feel reasonably qualified to comment on this, and as someone who doesn’t vote yet pays (many) taxes and suffers from the major malaise this country continues to wallow in, I have some right to speak my mind.

To begin with, in this text, I would like to discuss the impeachment.

Reading a number of recent articles with mysterious titles such as ‘Yes it´s a Coup’ and ‘The Cheerleaders for Impeachment’ I can’t help but get a little peeved at the blatant misrepresentation and straight out lying going on in English language coverage of Brazil and in unmistakably ideology-driven rants, albeit almost always dressed up with intellectual whipped cream and sophisticated sounding phrases like ‘legislative maneuvers’ and ‘conservative social and economic agenda’.

Out of all the ridiculous aspects of Brazilian politics right now one of the only things that is clear cut is the fact that the ongoing impeachment process is completely and utterly based on solid evidence and legal guidelines. To assert otherwise is not only wrong but is extremely irresponsible and somewhat arrogant, given it suggests that a whole chunk of reasonably intelligent people from various parties and spheres of Brazilian public life are simply making things up.

Yet many articles such as those mentioned above do just that, citing the idea that they have to point these things out because the Brazilian media is just so completely right wing that it can’t be trusted at all and that foreign media is either copying the biased Brazilian versions or driven by some conspiracy theory type USA-led propaganda machine. There is no room for fact, apparently.

So shall we look at some of the facts? Before the impeachment process began at the beginning of December there were 34 formal calls for impeachment, all from different groups and individuals. The one accepted and used as the basis for the process is that of the co-founder of Dilma’s workers party Helio Bicudo, as well as two co-authors.

Now you can say what you want about the majority of Brazilian politicians (especially the one who accepted the impeachment order), about their pasts and possible shady dealings, but Bicudo is none other than the former president of the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a role that followed on from his famed involvement in exposing the ‘death squads’ of Brazil´s military dictatorship, as well as years of public service in Sao Paulo state and federal governments, so seems like a fairly reasonably guy.

At any rate, since leaving Dilma’s party in 2005 during a corruption scandal (that he was not involved in) he has remained party-less, although he did side with environmentalist candidate Marina Silva during the 2014 Brazilian elections. Last two paragraphs: all facts, as far as I know.

Surprising isn´t it? A human rights proponent of the highest degree, a supporter of an environmental-issues driven presidential candidate, calling for the impeachment of social democrat President Dilma. He´s not exactly Aecio Neves (centre-right opposition leader, almost certainly corrupt), Eduardo Cunha (centre-centre opposition leader, almost certainly corrupt) nor Rupert Murdoch, I think it´s clear.

Maybe some conservatives got to him during his time in Washington leading the region´s highest human rights organization? Or perhaps there is more to the ‘outlandish’ calls for impeachment than many would have you think…

Whatever your opinion on the latter and whether of the other 33 impeachment orders all were driven by crazy, indoctrinated right wing poor-haters, Bicudo´s call was accepted and will be the basis for the ongoing investigations.

Now then to the ‘pedaladas fiscais’, the fiscal maneuvers that are the key point of the Bicudo impeachment order. Do they exist? Yes, not in dispute, as far as I know. They happened and have been proven to have happened by the body that monitors the government´s accounts.

OK, so what’s the problem? Well, many feel they are not that big a deal, not serious enough to get in trouble for, not worth worrying about, and, for god’s sake, have been done plenty of times before, by all different types of folk!! Well Hallelujah!!

No worries, nothing to see here, move along, it´s wrong but not that wrong and they were just copying others anyway. I´m glad they didn’t take that line of approach when it came to, oh, segregation, women´s rights, slavery, etc.

But even if you think that there is some degree of leeway when it comes to the degree of a crime, especially when it comes to the president (and a clearly pious, non-corrupt one at that), the pedaladas performed by the Dilma government were (are) incredibly exaggerated. A simple bit of research (that even left-leaning ‘journalists’ could do) reveals very big numbers and impressive time-frames for the pedaladas. R$40 billion and three years respectively (the final year just happened to be that of the government’s re-election, BTW).

OK, some might say, but the R$40 billion was not like stolen money or anything that sinister, was just a temporary loan to the government, some might say. Yet with Brazil’s fantastic interest rates that still involves many billions in interest to be paid back by the taxpayer, interest that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

Neither the Congress nor the taxpayer had any say on that little matter, although I am damn sure that most would advise to never, ever take on credit in Brazil given the whopping, world-beating interest rates in place.

And as for the comparisons to the use of such ‘pedaladas’ in other governments? Well, let’s just say that none went even close to passing a few percent of what is being discussed now and certainly paid back the amounts soon after, from what I have researched.

Regardless, is the argument in favor really as flimsy as “they used to do it and, although I knew it was wrong, why couldn’t I do it as well? I’m just the one that got caught, is all…” Try that one in a court of law….

Without getting in to too much more detail, is it not clear to see that this is some pretty serious maneuvering and has cost Brazil some pretty serious cash, not to mention the time that could have otherwise been available to address the shortfalls and blowouts that are happening right now? And, again, this all happened in an election year!

But even if the cost itself is not enough, if you fell for the idea that because the pedaladas were only used for social programs they are therefore reasonably legitimate, as the government itself pointed out on a number of occasions (even if that was OK, especially in an election year), it has become evident that a number of big and medium businesses were also beneficiaries of the hidden, illegal spending, via loans with the National Development Bank (BNDES). And did I mention that this all happened in an election year?…

“Oh, but 2014, the election year you so readily mention, was not in the current mandate, and therefore not relevant for an impeachment,” I hear some say. Really! Wow… Despite the fact that some of the pedaladas have now shown up in 2015 as well, I must also rebut that the freakin costs of the 2012-14 pedaladas are most certainly being dealt with in this mandate, as you well know. But no, the strategy of “if you can´t find what I’ve hidden by the time I count to 10 it´s mine” should certainly be the relevant ruling in this one (especially after an election year).

“Oh, but Dilma didn’t even know about it, the treasury did it all right under her nose, without her knowledge” others may sputter… Hahahahahaha. R$40 billion. Spending on the Bolsa Familia. Election year. Hahahahaha….

To finish up, let’s try a little thought experiment.

Imagine a company, any company with shareholders, as big or as small as you like.

The CEO, wary of his or her job given the company (not necessarily through any fault of his own) is not performing well, decides to ‘hide’ a big slice of costs via some slightly illegal backdoor maneuvers, costs that will show up at some point in the future, and greatly magnified at that, but hopefully only after the company’s performance is back on track, at which point he or she will be able to re-introduce the costs in a less confronting way.

During his or her annual review a small majority of shareholders (let’s say 51.64 percent, many of whom actually gained some extra dividends thanks to the CEO´s backdoor maneuvers), confronted with reasonable looking financial performance figures, which include no mention of the backdoor maneuvers, accept that he is doing an OK job in what have been difficult conditions and, despite some opposition (around 48.36 percent), keep him in his position for the foreseeable future.

But then the shareholders find out about the hidden costs, not to mention the additional expenses, all of which they themselves will subsequently be financially responsible. And they realize what he did, and wonder why he lied about it. “What were you doing, why not just tell us the truth in the first place?? This has not been good for the company at all, and you had no right to decide on our behalf anyway!! That may have changed my vote! This is going to cost us a fortune!”

Tchau CEO. Tchau…

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1 COMMENT

  1. Simon, right on!
    I do disagree with your comparison of governments to companies. Company officers are not elected for fixed terms, they serve at the pleasure of the Board and ultimately of the shareholders. Presidents of countries using the presidential system of government are elected for fixed terms and can only be removed for “crimes de responsabilidade” — which do not have to be crimes listed in the Penal Code. The meaning of “responsabilidade” is far more “accountability” than “liability”.
    Accountability is political. If 1/3 plus one member of the Senate feel that what Dilma did was not sufficient grounds to remove her from office, she will not be removed.
    Now, if Brazil were a parliamentary system, like most governments in Europe, and Dilma were the Prime Minister rather than a figurehead President, there would already have been a vote of no confidence and Dilma would have been removed. That would have meant new elections.
    But Brazil chose the presidential system in 1988 and again in the 1993 plebiscite. So it’s impeachment or nothing.
    Unless, of course, she resigns.

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