By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – From municipal elections to the mensalão, from dams to deforestation, for the slowing economy and the booming middle class, 2012 was big for Brazil. The year began with devastating building collapses in Rio de Janeiro, and ended with a farewell to world-renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer.
In between, Brazil saw Rio+20, gay marriage in São Paulo, a battle over oil royalties and one enormous corruption trial. Murders were up in São Paulo, deforestation was down in the Amazon, and President Dilma Rousseff was declared the world’s third most powerful woman.
Here are five of the year’s biggest political stories:
In June Rio hosted 130 world leaders and some 50,000 civil society representatives and business leaders for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, better known as Rio+20. With increased security and hotels over capacity, the conference was a trial run for mega-events Rio will host in coming years: the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 World Cup.
In this sense, it was a success; the city functioned with no serious hiccups. Yet in a practical sense, many critics claimed the conference to have been a failure with expectations diminished by the worldwide financial crisis and absence of the leaders of some of the most industrialized countries; David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel of Germany, Barack Obama of the United States.
2. Forest Code
The fiercely debated Codigo Florestal passed by congress in April sought to amend laws about forest protection and pitted ruralistas – the powerful farm lobby – against environmentalists. President Rousseff eventually settled on a compromise, vetoing some clauses but keeping others, and strengthening reforestation requirements along riverbanks.
A February police strike in Salvador, Bahia, lasted for twelve days and saw the homicide rate double, at the same time police in Rio threatened to strike during Carnival. Later in the year, strikes by public-sector employees from police to health workers, university professors to customs staff, wreaked nationwide havoc. Finally, in September most of the staff accepted the government’s offer of a 15.8-percent pay raise over three years.
Perhaps the biggest story of the year was the mensalão, a sprawling corruption case that saw high-level politicians, businessmen and bankers – including former President Lula’s right-hand man, José Dirceu – handed prison sentences for corruption and money-laundering.
Political impunity has historically been deeply ingrained in Brazil, but the sentences handed down in the mensalão were, for most commentators, a watershed, and proof that Brazil is making progress as a democracy. The tough stance of Joaquim Barbosa, was popular and by the end of trial he became the Supreme Court’s first ever black chief justice.
Rousseff has said little directly about the mensalão, but has strong anti-corruption credentials. After ousting seven ministers on suspicion of graft in 2011, the past year saw her launch the Lei de Acesso à Informação (Access to Information Act), pass a new anti-money laundering law and publish the wages of approximately 700,000 civil servants through a new Transparency Portal.
Following red-hot economic growth of 7.5 percent in 2010, Brazil’s stagnant growth in 2012 came as rather a shock. Market growth forecasts for Brazil’s GDP in 2012 were cut to 1.03 percent in December. Due in part to an over-reliance on commodity exports to China, also slowing, and in part to lack-luster investment, the slow-down has prompted a raft of government stimulus measures. As yet, they have had little effect.