Monday, August 29, 2016

The "soft coup" in Brazil goes after Lula de Silva

Eric Nepomuceno looks at development in the ongoing "soft coup" in Brazil. (Lula es el verdadero blanco del golpe Página/12 29.08.2016)

The headline is a word play on "golpe blanco" (soft coup), also called golpe en blanco. Blanco also means "target." So the headline reads, Lula is the real blanco of the coup.

Elected President Dilma Rousseff (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores) of the Workers Party was removed from office in impeachment proceedings driven by the opposition on trumped-up corruption charges. The credibility of the whole proceeding isn't enhanced by the fact that the interim President Michel Temer is currently restricted banned from running for any public office in Brazil as part of a legal penalty related to corruption charges.

Nepomuceno reports on a new development in which the Policía Federal, the Brazilian version of the FBI, has made a report implicating former President Lula de Silva in what sounds like another very shaky corruption charge having to do with an apartment he and his wife had bought while it was being constructed. According to Nepomuceno's report, Lula had pulled out of the arrangement and his attorneys had asked the construction company to recover the money. Since apparently Lula and his wife stood to lose money on the deal, it's kind of hard on the face of it to see how this functions as some kind of a bribe for him. In this way, it's reminiscent of the Whitewater pseudoscandal in the 1990s in the United States.

The successive governments of Lula and Dilma were part of what has been called the "pink tide" of left governments in Latin America which challenged the neoliberal "Washington Consensus" in various ways. Lula was President 2003-2011, succeeded by Dilma until she was removed from office in this year's "soft coup."

Corruption is a part of life in business and in government, but that's certainly no reason to be complacent about it, much less accepting.

Corruption accusations are also part of politics. And accusations of corruption are not the same as real corruption. The long history of pseudoscandals is an excellent reminder of that.

But politics is also involved in even legitimate investigations of corruption, particularly when it involves the head of government. The impeachment of Bill Clinton is a great example of that, too. The charges against him were essentially trivial in the end. And the partisan motivations were painfully obvious. Which is why a solid majority of the public supported him in his fight against impeachment.

The other Presidential impeachment in the US, that of Andrew Johnson, was also intensely political and partisan. The underlying political issue there was a substantial one. Johnson's opponents were seeking to have a democratic Reconstruction in the occupied South that would protect the right of black citizens instead of the planter-friendly "Presidential Reconstruction" Johnson had implemented. The formal charge against him is still debated. But, at best, it involved a big judgment call on the part of those Senators voting unsuccessfully for his removal from office related to the Tenure-of-Office law which Johnson was impeached for allegedly violating.

John Kennedy in his 1957 Profiles in Courage, written before he had his touch encounters as President with the intransigence of Southern segregationist Governors like Ross Barnett and George Wallace, selected Kansas Republican Sen. Edmund Ross (1826–1907) for one of his profiles based on his voting against convicting Johnson in the Senate. It was a decisive vote, since conviction failed by only one vote.

In the Brazilian case, there are real problems with corruption, many of them stemming from the state oil company Petrobras. Brazil isn't as exclusively a petrostate as Venezuela. But it is a petrostate. And corruption is one of their chronic problems.

Still, the superficial and strained nature of the corruption charges against both Lula and Dilma is an indication of how insubstantial the actual evidence against them is. The conservative parties in South America share a common program of opposing left governments and defending the neoliberal political and ideological project.

And "soft coups" have become a common approach to unseating left governments. (See my post The art of the "soft coup" 04/12/2016 for more details.) Paraguay served as a kind of test case for a golpe blanco in 2012. Outside of Latin America, Ukraine in 2014 also experienced a "soft coup" with a destructive upshot in the conflict with Russia. That is one of the options being attempted by the opposition in Venezuela.

What the exact American role was in those coups, we probably won't know for years. But in Paraguay and Ukraine, and apparently now in Brazil, the Obama Administration has been sympathetic to the soft coups. And presumably would be sympathetic to one in Venezuela, as well.

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