By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – President Rousseff is demonstrating a desire to end a level of institutionalized corruption inherited from a long and often embarrassing past. A recent wave of corruption scandals and ministerial resignations has motivated Rousseff to take a stand against corruption, and the impunity that for years has characterized Brazilian governments. Her actions are dubbed “faxina“: the cleanup.
Rousseff proclaimed: “It is my duty as President of all Brazilians to see an end to the impunity which shelters many of those accused of involvement in corruption practices,” and added: “We will punish all abuses and excesses.”
After just eight months in office, the Rousseff administration has lost four ministers and a string of high government officials and advisers: a new record in Brazilian democracy.
Last week the Minister of Agriculture resigned, saying he was the target of “A hailstorm of false accusations.” According to news reports, a lobbyist allegedly paid bribes and influenced public tenders in order to put certain companies in favor with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Shortly before, the Minister of Tourism and his deputy resigned on suspicion of stealing public money intended for training hotel staff ahead of the 2014 football World Cup. The Federal Police have made over a dozen arrests in the face of ongoing investigations.
Corruption allegations also surfaced against Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento. Rousseff swiftly removed him from his post in July. Her Chief of Staff also stepped down in June in a scandal surrounding his personal wealth.
Amid the corruptions scandals, Rousseff also sent her Defense Minister home, after he publicly insulted some members of her administration in an interview. While not related to illegal activities, it showed Rousseff’s determination to run a tight ship.
Despite the fact that no criminal convictions have yet been made, Rousseff’s firm reaction has led political analysts to believe that there is indeed a change taking place in Brasília’s political power-play. “The most surprising element of all these scandals is Rousseff’s follow-through,” says Latin America-specialist, Canadian Gregory Michener: “In the past, scandals broke, leaders admitted no wrongdoing, insisted on getting back to the business of governing, and chastised the news media for its impudence.”
Rousseff’s reward for the “faxina” has been signs of mutiny in her multi-party coalition. The party of fired Minister Nascimento’s (Party of the Republic, PR) stepped out of the coalition. PR-member Portela said his party will now adopt a ‘critical support’ attitude towards the administration.
According to political commentator Rudolfo Lago, some influential members of Rousseff’s biggest coalition-partner, the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), consider the president as dangerously naive, and believe she may have started something she cannot stop. “[Like] something that happened to Mickey Mouse in the Walt Disney cartoon The Sorcerer’s Apprentice [Fantasia]: the brooms came to life and began to clean up on their own, with an intensity far greater than Mickey liked, or intended,” Lago says.
PMDB is the president’s key congressional ally: without it’s support Rousseff will probably not be able to approve legislation in Congress. The president has a reputation of being an excellent economic no-nonsense manager, but sometimes appears to be struggling with the diplomatic part of the job.
Many political analysts believe that much of Brazil’s social and economical development will depend on whether Rousseff can impose her authority on her allies and calm tensions within the coalition. If she succeeds the potential gains could be enormous for the “country of tomorrow.”