Monthly Archives: December 2014

Brazil 2014 in review: what I got wrong and why

Almost one year ago I made my 14 predictions for Brazil in 2014. Most of them were spot on: no free trade agreement with the European Union, economic growth was unimpressive, a lot of anger came out after the 50th anniversary of the coup, millions wept for the 20 years since driver Ayrton Senna died, Brazil went to the World Cup semifinals (I predicted that, not the 7-1 thrashing), football’s extravaganza was an organizational success and YES, Brazil is more international than ever. But there are other expectations that either proved to be misguided or went just half the way to completion. Here are they:

1 – “Jobs and income will still be fine.” Those two are not terrible, but they were far from fine in 2014. There was a technical recession that clearly hit consumer and business confidence. The hit on jobs wasn’t gigantic, but it was only because many youngsters chose to stay longer in school or, in the worse case scenario, do absolutely nothing. Income was affected by inflation. That was one of the reasons why the presidential race was so close.

2 – “Brazilian club football will be in a gigantic crisis.” Not even the 7-1 hammering against Germany shook the Brazilian FA, who also runs Brazil’s national league. Sports courts were more prominent than ever. The Judiciary has found evidence of manipulation in the 2013 Brazilian championship, let’s see how that goes. In 2014, unfortunately there was no crisis off the pitch.

3 – “There will be protests, but nothing like June 2013.” Anti-World Cup protests were a massive flop. Even smaller than I expected. But Brazil’s conservative wave has produced big protests after the tournament ended. Some had more than 5,000 people, which is more than anyone expected. Of course part of that is thanks to the presidential election and a crazy claim for impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. But these movements are not small and I didn’t see that coming.

4 – “Once the World Cup is over, Brazilians will be mad about the wasted opportunities.” It wasn’t even a topic after the World Cup ended. Not even opposition presidential candidates brought it up. When I made this prediction, I was listening too much to critics that believe Brazil is a poor country that couldn’t afford stadia. That is not the case: Brazil is unjust and the matter with the venues was of priority, not of being able to pay for them. It wasn’t a matter of building arenas or hospitals.

5 – “Rating agencies won’t downgrade Brazil.” Investment grade is still here, but the outlook is very different. Brazil’s new Finance Minister is a desperate attempt to keep the highest regard of rating agencies.

But the worst prediction I made, by far, is this one.

Sorry, folks. These things happen.

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Brazil is becoming Venezuela. But not in the way some radicals think

The opposition actually looks stronger than the winners of this year’s presidential election. They still give a hard time to President Dilma Rousseff, who won reelection by the tightest margin ever in our young democracy: 1,5% or 3 million votes. It has been weeks since the results were announced and the defeated candidate Aécio Neves continues to enjoy his time in the limelight, now at the Senate. Their improvement is so clear that the 2018 race has clearly begun for him and São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin, his likely rival for the top of the next anti-Lula ticket. But there is a risk in the strategy of keeping the ruling coalition and the Worker’s Party (PT) on the ropes until then: their moderate PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) became a target for conservative activists.

When PSDB’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected in 1994, he coopted right-wing parties to make reforms that Brazil needed (although some of his allies say that he was actually coopted by those groups). The liberalizing agenda he always pushed for was the North for his administration. As a sociologist, he was also for social programs, modest ones. He eventually got what he wanted. But this time there is a bigger group of conservatives that go much beyond Congress and demand much more from the opposition. They might be liberal when it comes to fiscal policies, but their politics are outrageous. They believe there is a communist dictatorship taking over in Brazil, that those who were tortured by the military regime deserved what they got and that Cuban doctors have come to indoctrinate children.

Yes, all these things sound pathetic. And these are just a few of their groundless ideas. But these are the people driving the political debate in Brazil today. Stupidity has run unopposed since the protests of 2013, even more than it did when leftists insisted there was a coup plot against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a few years ago.

The corruption scandal at Petrobras, which dates back to 2000, is deservedly all over the news. It adds the pressure on the political group led by PT that is also marked by the mensalão scheme — a kickbacks for political support scandal exposed in 2005. A clever judge is likely to implicate more than 60 politicians this time, including ministers, and dozens top-ranked businessmen. In short, it is bad news for the current administration, even though all political parties are likely to have members involved in this. But radical groups are on the streets to say that a president just-reelected should be impeached — there is no evidence she is involved at all. PSDB politicians are going along with it because they fear losing those votes.

Many of those radicals say that Brazil is drawing closer to Venezuela’s flawed democracy. I have often begged them to answer how that could ever be possible, since Rousseff has so many right-wing parties in her cabinet and alliance. I always ask those critics to compare Brazil’s independent Judiciary and media to Venezuela’s controversial approach in those two areas. No credible answer. All I heard were improper comparisons, some kind of tropical McCarthyism as if the president’s rebel past influenced her administration. They sounded just like the Venezuelan opposition, except that we have no Hugo Chávez in Palácio do Planalto. That can hurt the ruling coalition, but it can also stall the alternative where it doesn’t want to be.

Neves has mentioned Venezuela and Cuba repeatedly in his speeches and debates, which basically feeds these crazy people. When he, a known moderate, chooses to embrace the wackos he is actually giving away part of his power. Those angry conservatives are imposing a tea party wannabe agenda to PSDB and liberals that invented the party are shying away from the decision making. After some of their members accepted the bizarre comparison of Rousseff to Chávez, they silenced after an extremist Congressman said he wouldn’t rape one of his colleagues because “she doesn’t deserve to”.  They don’t seem to mind radicals endorsing crimes committed by the military dictatorship. Some PSDB members are even showing up in the impeachment protests.

Leftists that still believe in the PT are quiet (there aren’t many leftists there anyways). But now liberals are also on the corner, and won’t even recognise it. The most vocal group in Brazilian politics now is made of extremely ignorant conservatives that are fed by pathetic columnists and social media trolls financed by God knows who. If liberal politicians don’t react, both in the left and in the right, Brazil’s political debate can go from bad to worse real quick. And if it does neither of the traditional camps will be a choice for most voters in four years time. Our Venezuela-style crazy opposition gang wants to take over and they have brought a lot of misconceptions along.