Monday, April 18, 2016

"Soft coup" in Brazil

The impeachment vote on Sunday against left-leaning Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff could be an important turning point in Latin America.

Whether it's a good one or not is not only a matter of perspective. It's also a matter of what happens going forward.

Dilma's supporters, and the democratic left in Latin America more generally, are calling this a coup. The press talks a lot about "corruption" in Brazil, corruption being both a real thing and a sneer word applied to nations whom the speaker doesn't favor. (Blanket, reflexive accusations of corruption have been a common attack on Greece by their EU "partners" in northern Europe.)

But this impeachment move didn't bother to put much of a fig leaf on what they were doing, charging the President with mismanaging the budget. Not as in stealing money, but as in they didn't like her budget. So it's legitimate to call it a coup. Terms I've seen used for it recently include soft coup (golpe blando), institutional coup, and parliamentary coup.

Dilma is in her second term as the elected President of Brazil. First elected in 2011, she became Brazil's first female President, and was reelected in 2014 as the candidate of the Workers' Party, Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT).

With the new economic slump in much of the world and with the drop in oil prices in particular, Brazil has been hit hard economically in the last year. A significant part of Brazil's strong growth in prior years has been business with China. And now China's economy is slowing down.

The impeachment process there has some similarities to those in the US Constitution but there are important differences. The vote on Sunday was an impeachment, which is a kind of indictment. And it required a 2/3 vote in the lower house of Congress. Next it goes to the Brazilian Senate, the upper house, for trial and a decision on the charges. If she is convicted on the impeachment charges, she would be permanently removed as President.

However, the Senate must first vote by a majority on whether to conduct a trial or not, a vote that comes May 11. If a Senate majority decides to conduct the trial, Rousseff will be suspended as President for 180 days and Vice President Michel Temer, who is opposed to Rousseff's economic policies and in favor of the IMF/Washington Consensus approach favored by the Brazilian oligarchs (cutting government services, selling off state property, deregulation of local and international corporate activity, lower wages, the usual prescription). If there is anything in economics that has been empirically demonstrated on a grand scale since 2008, it's that such Herbert Hoover policies of governmental austerity and retrenchment in a recession is a pro-cyclical policy, i.e., it makes the recession longer and deeper.

Eric Nepomuceno in the article cited below reports that it's very likely that the Senate will vote yes to the trial, effectively removing Dilma from power in three weeks or so from now. "En pocas palabras: Dilma Rousseff está liquidada" ("In short: Dilma Rousseff is liquidated.") Dilma, who was arrested and tortured as a young woman because she was part of the opposition to the military dictatorship, certainly appreciates the difference between being "liquidated" politically and "liquidated" physically.

Dilma was arrested in 1970 when she was part of the Comando de Libertação Nacional (COLINA), which Ian Epstein in the article linked below describes as "a left-wing guerrilla group that fought the right-wing military dictatorship that ruled Brazil until 1985." The Reuters article linked below describes her as "a 68-year-old former Communist guerrilla." Actually, FWIW, the main guerrila group during that period that identified itself as Communist was called FOGUERA.

This piece from Heather Arnet from just after her reelection gives a glimpse of what the political differences are in Brazil that resulted in the impeachment:

Ronald Reagan famously coined the phrase, “Are you better off now then you were four years ago?” For millions of Brazilians the answer is a resounding yes. But from the coverage of the Brazilian presidential race in the U.S. and European media you could easily have had the impression that Brazil was teetering on the edge of economic collapse. How could an economy, which resulted in lifting 40 million people out of poverty and into the middle class, and with historically low unemployment figures,be considered a troubled economy? It all depends on whose economic interests define your perspective. ...

As other nations fell into recession and declared strict austerity measures, cutting social services, education, healthcare, and government jobs, Brazil invested in all of these. In addition to expanding Brazil’s economic subsidy program, Rousseff also led efforts to successfully pass legislation mandating that income from national oil and energy reserves be reinvested in expanding education and healthcare opportunities for the poor.

But investing in the people of Brazil meant that there were less profits for international investors. The one percent in Brazil and the one percent internationally were still making profits on their Brazilian holdings, because the Brazilian economy was still growing. But they were not making enough profits, as the rate of growth had slowed as Brazil invested in the welfare of its own people. And so the elites demanded that it was time for change.

It was striking to see that nearly all media coverage of this year’s Brazilian presidential election focused on how the “markets” and “investors” were strongly behind Rousseff’s fiscal conservative competitor Aecio Neves. And how investor confidence would fall drastically each time Rousseff rose in the polls. These same articles would cite in the sixth or seventh paragraph that while it was true that tens of millions of families were lifted out of poverty by Rousseff and her party’s economic policies, broad national growth and inflation had suffered under Rousseff. What the articles failed to mention was that it is only the extremely rich who were not benefiting from these policies. [my emphasis]
Yes, Virginia, there is an oligarchy. In Brazil and elsewhere.

The TeleSUR article below reports suspicions that the US is involved in the current golpe blando in Brazil. Which is easy to believe. Hard not to believe, actually. But it will probably take Wikileaks or a new Edward Snowden to provide details.

At the very least, the Brazilian oligarchs' parties would not likely have tried such a blatant "soft coup" if they hadn't assumed that the Obama Administration would at least be passively sympathetic. The initial State Department reaction to yesterday's news was to express confidence in the durability of Brazilian institutions.

It's definitely clearly relevant in this context that the Obama Administration during Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State supported both the military coup in Honduras in 2009 and the "soft coup" in Paraguay in 2012. The Paraguay coup is definitely a very similar event to what's happening now in Brazil.

Given the United States' policy of keeping itself as the dominant world power and in doing so to ward off the development of any "peer competitor" nation or alliance, the Obama Administration would no doubt be happy to reverse some trends of the last 15 years or so in Latin America. Like the increase in business and closer diplomatic relations between China and several Latin American countries, including purchase of Chinese weaponry. And Brazil is the "B" of the BRICS group which has been challenging the "Washington Consensus" of neoliberal development policies.

But this is very serious stuff. The oligarchy in Brazil is barely pretending there's any kind of legal reason or democratic procedure for removing Dilma from the Presidency. They want her and her policies gone, and they're abusing the existing institutions to nullify the results of the 2014 Presidential election in which she was elected with 54 million votes. This is not something parties and leaders genuinely interested in strengthening democratic institutions would do.


Heather Arnet, What Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff Can Teach Hillary Clinton Daily Beast 10/29/2014

Henrique Gomes Batista, Governo dos Estados Unidos afirma confiança nas instituições brasileiras O Globo 18.04.2016

R. Evan Ellis, La aparición de China en las Américas Military Review Enero-Febrero 2015

Ian Epstein, Brazil's Next Outlaw President Daily Beast 10/02/2010

Janína Figueiredo e Aline Macedo, Aliados latino-americanos manifestam solidariedade a Dilma: Argentina, Chile, Paraguai, Colômbia e Peru optam pela discrição O Globo 18.04.2016

Foreign Military Studies Office: Alvaro de Souza Pinheiro and William Mendel Guerrilla in The Brazilian Amazon July 1995

Martín Granovsky, El golpe de los esclavócratas Página/12 18.04.2016

Joe Leahy and Samantha Pearson, Brazil’s crisis takes on carnival atmosphere Financial Times 04/18/2016

Mercedes López San Miguel, Por presidenta y por mujer Página/12 18.04.2016

Eric Nepomuceno, Un golpe que se vio en vivo y en directo Página/12 18.04.2016

Darío Pignotti, Dos Brasilias separadas por un muro Página/12 18.04.2016

Michael Ray and Jeff Wallenfeldt, Dilma Rousseff Encyclopædia Britannica (article updated 04/18/2016)

Maria Carolina Marcello and Alonso Soto, Brazil's Rousseff to fight on after heavy impeachment defeat Reuters 04/18/2016

Open Society Archive: Radio Free Europe, Brazil's Urban Guerrilla in Theory and Practice 06/16/1970

TeleSUR: Juicio a Dilma es una operación mundial dirigida por EE.UU. 18.04.2016

No comments: