Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the predictable consequences of President Dilma’s election campaign was that, if elected, she would sooner or later have to turn her back on almost all her electioneering rhetoric. Everyone, save the true believers, knew the economy was stagnant, inflation had been artificially stifled, and government spending was out of control.
Elected she was, after a successful populist plea to be allowed to continue what she had done in her first four years. Dilma herself is a true believer — she really thought her PAC program, encouraging massive construction projects, was the Second Coming of FDR’s New Deal, and would bring prosperity to the huddled masses.
She may not even have known about the corrupt cartel that has turned the phrase “public/private project” into undeserved disrepute, as private contractors get rich alongside their “public” partners — governmental officials, both executive and legislative.
Or, perhaps she knew, but didn’t care. After all, these projects do generate many jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers, at least during the construction phase; jobs are at the forefront of Dilma’s social and economic goals.
That attitude would be a “laissez faire” corollary to the old saw “rouba mas faz”: it’s okay to let contractors steal a bit from the government; leave them alone as long as they continue to hire large numbers of voters (oops! “workers”). Dilma’s government has put immense pressure on government audit agencies CGU and TCU to impede their blacklisting the large construction companies.
This strategy is not working. The Ministério Público, bless its vindictive heart, is coming down loud and hard against anything vaguely smacking of letting crooks off scot-free. Mainstream media, equally vindictive, are fully supportive. The more that comes out about non-Petrobras scandals — the useless North/South railway built at Sarney’s behest and the huge white elephant Belo Monte dam, to name but two — the more the press bays for blood: Dilma’s blood.
So, what’s a poor girl to do? She has hired a Rock: a Chicago-school capitalist Finance Minister, who has told her (and Congress, and international bankers) that budget cuts have to occur everywhere, including her favorite projects, and that government-owned companies will have to hive off non-producing assets to the private sector.
The Hard Places are, amoeba-like, starting to subdivide and multiply. One hard place is Congress which, for entirely the wrong reason, has decided to show backbone and initiative in the lawmaking process, once left to the President. The wrong reason, in case you haven’t guessed, is that without Mensalão and Petrolão funds greasing the wheels, nobody in either house of Congress needs the President any more.
An even harder place is Dilma’s fellow true believers. Large numbers of partisan groups took her campaign pledges seriously, and are now trying to hold her feet to the fire so she won’t back down. Foremost among these are MST, aka “Stedile’s Army”, strident student union UNE and the giant labor unions (CUT & Cia.), all egged on by her former mentor Lula.
Dilma’s unhardened heart is with these latter; she would love to soften them, for she too believed most of what she parroted on the campaign trail. Caught between the rock and the hard places, however, she’s rudderless, spinning in a whirlpool of her own making.
The Curmudgeon fetched up on these shores around 40 years ago, and still enjoys them and his favorite spectator sport, politics.