Opinion by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One week ago today, December 14th, the Curmudgeon wished “many happy returns” to Dilma Roussef, President-elect of the Federative Republic of Brazil, who turned 63. She desperately needs well-wishers, for she faces a most difficult four years, starting with her inauguration on January 1st. The principal reason for her future difficulties, predictably, is the “once and future” (?) President Lula.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

After her election, there were a few signs that Dilma would not be completely under Lula’s thumb — but not that many. Lula has personally appointed most of her cabinet, insisting on retaining almost all of his cabinet who were not elected governor or senator or federal deputy. Lula has publicly told a new ministerial appointee that she will never do a better job than his appointee did (this in the area of human rights).

To compensate, Lula has sanctioned the invention of several new Secretariats with the status of Minister, and has allowed Dilma to choose these newly minted Secretaries. Brazil is now up to no fewer than 37 Cabinet-level positions in government. 37!

Perhaps the creation of these new positions, and their exalted rank giving them direct access to the President’s ear, will mean the projects move towards timely completion. After all, Dilma’s name and fame are due to her administrative talents. However, the road ahead is filled with potholes.

First, there is the problem of the existing cabinet ministries, which have seen many of their fiefdoms disappear. The Ministry of Transportation, once an extremely coveted appointment because of the huge number of patronage appointments available to that minister, has now “lost” Ports, Airports and Trains and so is a less desirable plum.

Second, there is the problem of allocating patronage positions amongst competing factions within the party coalition that successfully captured large majorities in both houses of Congress. PT has competing internal factions, PMDB, PSB likewise, so it will be impossible to please everyone, even by creating new cabinet level positions.

Third, it is possible that Dilma will wind up with several very hot potatoes left behind by Lula. One is the impending veto of the re-distribution of the oil royalties, which may be overridden by Congress. Another is the extradition (or not) of Cesare Battisti to Italy, where any decision will be controversial. Another is the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice, which may directly affect the composition of Congress. Lula has promised to do all these things, but does not seem in any great hurry. If he doesn’t, Dilma will be forced to do so; if he does, she will still have to administer the decision.

POSTSCRIPT. Speaking of birthdays, Oscar Niemeyer celebrated 103 years last week. He’s still working, and yesterday, December 20, the cornerstone of a building, whose design he donated to UNE, the national college student union, was laid on the Praia do Flamengo.

Ironically, Lula (who never completed primary school and never fought the good fight against the military) reserved for himself, rather than Dilma (who has a master’s degree and did fight the good fight and was tortured) the honor of inaugurating a building dedicated to encouraging university student activists to protest policies and governments they don’t like. On the other hand, when the government is as leftist as the student activists, what can they possibly protest about?

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


  1. Happy to see a new building going up, I was there when the old one was demolished. we’ve run from the police and a friend who was taking pictures was arrested and most films taken. However he managed to keep 2 films on him and these are a piece of history the dictatureship did not manage to block.

    here are those pictures: http://www.bricabrac.com.br/une1980/fotos.htm

    try to spot me in one, hahaha, sweet seventeen!


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