Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon asks his readers to put yourselves in President Dilma’s shoes and ponder what you would do if you were President now. You know your political support has almost vanished. You know your economic austerity program (which you personally loathe) has no chance of success without that support.

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

Except for one thing. You know that, if you revert to the corrupt spoils system begun by President Lula back in year 2002, you might, just might, survive the next three years in office.

Once elected, Lula took several steps to ensure he and PT would remain in power. The first step was to create a number of Cabinet Ministries that were manifestly unnecessary. His predecessor FHC left office with only 21 Ministers; Lula increased that to 35 during his two terms in office. Dilma in 2010 raised that to 39, where it has remained.

Lula distributed these ministries to representatives of the political parties forming the governing parliamentary coalition. In many (if not most) cases, the appointees knew absolutely nothing about what the ministry did. What they did know was how big a share of the federal budget the ministries received — the big budget ministries were always the most coveted.

Worse yet, Lula reinstated a practice begun by former Presidents — he raffled off, to those politicos faithful to his legislative program, the principal positions in government agencies and state-owned companies – think Petrobras. These positions included first, second and third level officers and directors. Once again, many (if not most) of the appointees had no professional qualifications for the jobs.

And, of course, there were the “mensalão” and the “petrolão” schemes masterminded by Lula’s principal henchmen in order to ensure support in Congress by illicit means. But, of course, these are now all in the past (we live in hope).

Dilma, to her credit, hates all this. She’s philosophically a socialist and a technician, who believes that the government can best run the economy by appointing only persons technically qualified for their jobs. Eight months into her second term, there are some 200 to 300 lower echelon positions still awaiting appointments, and Dilma has resisted the urging of Ministers and Congressmen to distribute these “spoils of office” to unqualified party hacks.

One reason to resist is because many of those seeking appointments for their protégés are under investigation for corruption. When the Lava Jato prosecutors formally charge prominent politicians, Dilma will be able to tell them “No!” when they come begging for alms.

The deciding factor may be Vice President Temer. He has been one of those begging her to open the floodgates and pass out administrative positions to people championed by powerful members of Congress. Dilma knows that if she resigns, Temer will have no qualms about kowtowing to the parliamentary sharks.

So, what do you do if you’re Dilma? Do you hold your nose and pander to your parliamentary base, to save the austerity program? Do you remain steadfast to your ethical principles while supporters desert you en masse? Or, do you resign and let Temer do the dirty work?

The Curmudgeon will emit more dismal columns opportunely. Keep those cards and letters coming!


  1. And that’s the problem in a nutshell. Better the devil we know.

    As much as I dislike her socialist politics and economic policy, I do respect her apparent integrity when it comes to clean government and pursuing the investigations of the corrupt.

    I just wish that at some point she’s let Levy impose more of his Chicago School economic policy in areas that will help Brazil grow over the long term.


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