Monthly Archives: July 2015

Top 10 reasons why Rousseff’s impeachment is so unlikely

Foreign media doesn’t get nearly as much of that talk, but if you are in Brazil all that you hear in the political debate is based on to impeach or not to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. After all, her administration’s popularity has sunk to 10% in the most recent Datafolha poll, the Petrobras scandal is still at full steam, a recession will make the country’s economy dip at least 1% this year and her support in Congress has been shattered by conservatives.  A few decades ago that could have been enough for her to be ousted. Brazil today is much more complicated than that. Japanese holding Nomura, which is usually spot on in Brazilian affairs, believes there is a 30% chance of the incumbent being removed in the first year of her second term — she won reelection in October last year. Of course revelations can change those figures, but I believe them to be even lower than that. Here is my list:

10 – Corrupted funds used as donations is just a theory — The main accusation against Rousseff in Electoral Justice was made by the head of a constructor. He said he was pressured into making a R$ 7.5 million donation that came from funds embezzled at Petrobras. But until recently those very donations were considered licit. How could there be proof that donations are actually a result of bribery? Specially when opposition candidates did fund raise similar amounts with the same constructor? Members of Electoral Justice have already leaked that invalidating Rousseff’s and her vice-president Michel Temer’s register for that reason would look like a coup.

9 – If Rousseff’s ticket is invalidated, all bets are off — Let’s assume Brazil’s Electoral Justice decides, for the first time ever, to remove a sitting president and her Vice-President. The Speaker of the House, conservative and very very controversial Congressman Eduardo Cunha would take over for 90 days. Then there would be an election, the Constitution says. Sure? That is a man who has bulldozed every opponent since he became Speaker in February. No one believed that he would get to that position, specially because he has been involved in dozens of scandals in the last 25 years. He introduced loads of legislation to embarrass Rousseff and he has counted on the support of the opposition. Why wouldn’t he, as President, use his conservatives in Congress to define electoral rules that suit him? How much damage could there be with this highly suspicious and anti-civil rights politician at the Palácio do Planalto? Even those in the main opposition party, PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), believe that can a very big risk to run. If Cunha left after 90 days and there were an election, surely senator Aecio Neves, defeated last year, would be the favorite. But former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could run and win. A recent poll puts Neves ahead of Lula, but it also says 50% of voters think Lula was Brazil’s best president ever.

8 – If there is a new election before 2018, PSDB will have big fight — Neves was narrowly beaten by Rousseff last year. Too bad for his supporters. Even worse for him: he lost the administration of battleground state Minas Gerais to a close friend of Rousseff’s. And his main adversary in his party is Geraldo Alckmin, reelected governor of São Paulo, the richest state in the land. Alckmin ran for president in 2006 and was widely beaten by President Lula. Neves strong challenge to Rousseff would surely made him be considered for the 2018 presidential spot. But there is no doubt that Alckmin has an upper hand for the next campaign. If Rousseff and Temer are ousted and new elections come, Alckmin would have to resign as governor of São Paulo so he could be eligible. He would have to fight Neves’ recall. And he would lose the advantage he would almost naturally get in the next 3.5 years. Also in 2006, a similar fight took place. Alckmin was already governor and he was behind São Paulo mayor José Serra in the polls. The standstill lasted a year, with Alckmin emerging victorious in a dangerous game of patience. In the end, PSDB was not really united around him. They lost to Lula.

7 – Federal Court of Accounts rulings aren’t clearly impeachable — Brazil’s Federal Court of Accounts (TCU in Portuguese) is part of the Legislative branch. Their audits on Rousseff’s books are said to consider irregular the fiscal manoeuvres adopted last year to fix deficits. Their decision should come in the middle of August, when another anti-Rousseff protest is scheduled to happen. TCU experts suggest that Rousseff’s administration violated the law of Fiscal Responsibility — a ruling that they have never reached in any case until today. Government ministers refuse the accusation and say other administrations used similar accounting tricks. Some members of TCU already discuss publishing a report that doesn’t openly reject the manoeuvres, but give just enough grounds for Congress to debate the matter. If Congress decides to do that, they would have to follow one of two paths: to vote accounts of previous administrations until they get to hers or vote to audit Rousseff’s accounts before all others. Not a simple task. In case the TCU ruling is used by the rebellious congressmen, they would argue that Rousseff alone is responsible for the manoeuvres. That would open the possibility for her to be impeached and Vice-President Temer to stay. The new election would still be in 2018, which some think is more gregarious (!!!). Temer is also involved in a series of scandals, some of which originated the current Petrobras investigation. In any case, it is a long road to drive.

6 – Former President Lula is still a player — A recent Ibope poll shows Neves beating Lula if there were an election today. Lula would be tied with Alckmin. That means the head of the Worker’s Party (PT) is still competitive despite all the recent turmoil. A coup could turn his party, which is deeply engulfed in the Petrobras scandal, into victims. In 2005, after a huge kick-backs for political support scandal in Congress, Lula went through the same threats of impeachment and, unlike Rousseff, he thrived on them to be reelected. Until 2018, with Rousseff being so unpopular, Lula might have more difficulties to consider running again. If her protegee is impeached, there is no doubt he would run. Bear in mind that the opposition fears the former president so much that they helped Cunha pass legislation to end reelection — a measure that PSDB created in a very suspicious and controversial operation in 1998, so Fernando Henrique Cardoso could get a second term as president. In the words of a conservative friend, “it is probably best to make them bleed until the next presidential election.”

5 – Most businessmen want stability — Even some of those that voted for Neves have come out in defense of Rousseff’s mandate. One of those is Rubens Ometto, owner of biofuels conglomerate Cosan. “The administration is on the right track. We have to hold our anxiety. I am a capitalist, I like to see the direction she is taking in her second term.” Another one, a much bigger that I promised not to name said in a recent meeting with other businessmen that he is “100% against” Rousseff being impeached. Of course they would adapt if new circumstances came out. But they seem to prefer business friendly measures from a government that is stable. A shaky political environment doesn’t help much in a recession year in which Petrobras and major constructors are not as active because of investigations. Those that operate internationally also care about Brazil’s young democracy not being questioned by foreign counterparts — specially right after Rousseff visited U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

4 – The Worker’s Party has a base — When President Fernando Collor was impeached in 1992, he had lost all his friends in politics. Despite her job unfriendly budget cuts and the corruption scandal involving key allies, she has kept the support of so-called leftist parties, Brazil’s biggest union and the most organic and traditional social movements. If she is at real risk of impeachment, the country would boil. Neither the opposition nor businessmen want that. Her low approval ratings could be easily forgotten — and Brazilians are that volatile, she had 80% job approval before the June 2013 protests. PT is surely nothing like it was decades ago. Their ethics are substandard, to say the least, their partners in crime are the same conservatives that want to see Rousseff out and their dependency on Lula has become crippling. But PT still harbors politicians who have a real relationship to their base. That is not a detail in moments like this.

3 – Those that want Rousseff out are involved in scandals themselves — There is no doubt the investigations on Petrobras can lead to new information that makes the president completely nonviable. But every Brazilian knows it is more likely to see that happening to the Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, and the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros — both new adversaries to the administration. Brazil’s Attorney-General is already investigating both of them. Congress experts say they only remain in power because they bet on looking independent from the Palácio do Planalto so that the opposition doesn’t want them out. How long can that friendship last? If the Cunha and Calheiros had been indicted years ago, opposition leaders would be demanding for them to leave. What if those two become even more compromised in the investigations? If the opposition is silent, Justice can remove both from their offices if there is proven proof of their involvement in the Petrobras scandal. Another potential adversary, the head of the Federal Court of Accounts, conservative Aroldo Cedraz, was implicated in the scheme this week. His son was accused of leaking TCU information to constructors

2 – It is not simple to show a president out — Sorry to my friends of countries that recently experienced coups, but it is a fact that Brazil has built a steadier democracy since the end of the military dictatorship. Flawed, but vigorous. Many of those who voted for the opposition are against impeaching Rousseff. And their reason is simple: she won a clean election. In 1992, when Brazil’s democracy was much younger, it took a long process for President Collor to be impeached — and he had no political support. This time the bets are much higher. Brazilian media is surely printing loads of stories to suggest otherwise, one of them said that Rousseff could be out by September, but these stories are often a product of a Brasilia-oriented mentality that doesn’t count the rest of Brazil. So far the only open anti-impeachmment statement Rousseff has provided was a challenge. “Come and try,” she said to Folha. It is not as trivial as some suggest.

1 – There is no smoking gun against Rousseff — It all comes down to this motive. Everyone, even in the opposition, knows that the president is not corrupt. Those who say otherwise are often sore losers. Even those in opposition who initially pointed at her because she chaired the board of Petrobras don’t even make that point in Congress. After all, chairing the board of Petrobras is far from meaning she had any control over it, since that is the Petrobras president’s job. Aecio Neves running mate in the last elections, Aloysio Nunes, has said that himself that Rousseff is “respectable.” When President Fernando Collor got impeached in 1992, everyone knew that he was personally embedded in the scandal. The key piece of evidence was a car paid for with funds derived from corruption. Not even Rousseff’s staunchest adversaries believe she made money in the Petrobras scandal.


One year on, Brazil still struggles to wake up after 7-1 Mineirazo

One year ago, Brazilian National Team players got up early at the Ouro Minas hotel to have their pictures taken with “Força Neymar” caps. The only star of the team was injured at his home. At least three of those said they had dreamed of going through the German defense to score the winning goal in the semifinal. “They say that all the time,” assistant coach Carlos Alberto Parreira admitted. Brazilians in that young squad were so confident that they would be in the World Cup final that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari chose winger Bernard for the clash in Belo Horizonte instead of a more conservative midfielder. It didn’t matter Joachin Loew’s squad were the favorites. Seleção’s dream for a sixth title started crumbling only seven minutes after the match began. The final whistle was surely blown, but to all of us present at the Mineirazo it is as if it was still going.

The disbelief of that day was built goal by goal. When Thomas Muller scored the first, and it happened not far from me, everyone but the Germans gasped — despite the fact Brazil was just average during the tournament. Immediately afterwards Brazilians started chanting. It didn’t last because a few minutes later Klose nailed the second. As local fans screamed in horror, Tony Kroos hit a perfect shot from the edge of the box to score the third. Some tears appear, but many Brazilians still believed. After Fernandinho slipped and allowed Kroos to net another, there was weeping and anger. Stewards feared a pitch invasion and police were sent inside. As they entered, Sami Khedira made it 5-0. There were still 60 minutes to play.

I was never confident in that Brazil side, but Germany were so unconvincing in the two previous matches that I believed in a miracle. It might look simple, but it wasn’t: I was one of the few to bet in Germany vs Argentina final. But in less than 30 minutes into the match, it was all over for the hosts. The 5-0 scoreline made the Brazilian crowd split into two groups: one was feeling crushed and hopeless and the majority started poking fun at the players, by singing “oleee” as they would to a Spanish bull and by ironically cheering for Germany. The initial anger was replaced by the feeling that none of those players actually represented them. There was support only until the second goal was scored. That lack of empathy is very typical of Seleção fans: they are not hardcore at all and most of them are more fond of the happening than of the sport itself. This might come as a shock, but Brazilians that care about soccer care much more about their clubs.

When Miroslav Klose, the new all-time World Cup top goalscorer, was substituted, every Brazilian applauded. His predecessor, Brazilian Ronaldo Nazário, was booed whenever he appeared on the screen. Seconds after Andre Schuerrle scored the seventh, the same round of applause appeared. Oscar’s consolation goal minutes before the final whistle was welcomed with chants of “I still believe” and laughter. Those that cried in the first half were somehow joining the trolls in the second. In the end, as I move to the press conference, I see the image that has stayed with me: a Brazilian couple hugs a German fan and shows their ticket to the camera. They knew they had seen history. Yet, it wasn’t enough for them to be quiet and take their fall.

The Mineirazo is nothing like the 1950 Maracanazo. The first was a sad comedy and the second was then a national tragedy that symbolized for many Brazil’s failure as a people. That is why Brazilians still joke about it, as the hashtag #7x1day shows. Yes, it was a colossal humiliation. But a tragedy? Not many Brazilians will use that word; they prefer to say it was an sporting embarrassment. Some say that because they expect it all to be different in the next World Cup. Others assume it as all wrong with Brazilian soccer and nothing was changed since July 8th 2014. In either case, losing in 2014 after five World Cup titles is surely a different experience from losing one without having any in 1950.

Today’s lack of talent, the inexperienced players, the dependency on Neymar, the better rivals… Under coach Dunga, it is more of the same. That is what annoys Brazilians the most about Mineirazo Day. Since that July 8th, Brazilian football TV shows never fail to mention the 7-1 beating whenever something very wrong is detected. It could be in politics, economics. Even in soccer. When the Brazilian FA makes a mistake — including the one of having a former president in a certain Swiss hotel visited by the FBI — fans and journalists are thrilled to repeat: “and Germany scores yet again.”

One year on, Brazilians know it is mandatory to go back to that game to talk about anything related to the Seleção or the players that were trashed by Germany then. Only Neymar has been preserved, since he wasn’t on the pitch. The feelings, though, are as bipolar as on that day; some think Brazil has nothing else to offer to football and others believe that the disaster could be a fresh start.

On 8 July 2015, the fans split among few believers, many disappointed and cynical and just as many upset with boring performances and lack of flair in the new Brazil. This time they don’t have as much reason as a year ago: Neymar is a better player, Oscar showed he can be special, Philippe Coutinho has shown potential at Liverpool, Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa have just signed for European giants for a huge amount of money and the defensive duo of Thiago Silva and David Luiz is not mandatory anymore, good options have emerged in Miranda and Marquinhos. That might not be enough to win in Russia 2018, but there is more Brazilian talent now than in the Mineirazo days.

Watching Germany become world champions was less worse for Brazilians. Not only they stopped archrivals Argentina from celebrating in the Maracanã stadium, but also brought to the locals a sensation that a national conversation on football organization, tactics and academy systems would be key to make the Seleção great again. There is a huge round table to discuss that in December this year, with coaches and experts from all over. We just don’t know who is going to be on the top that, since Brazilian FA executives are under heavy suspicions of corruption and could leave.

Coach Muricy Ramalho, who rejected the Brazil job in 2010 and also got rejected over Dunga, candidly sums up what most Brazilian football fans and professionals feel in these post 7-1 days. “Everyone criticized the team, and that is fine. But so what? What are we going to do to improve? Nothing at all,” he said. “They just got a new coach and then played the following match. Dude, we had to stop everything. We had to lock ourselves somewhere for ten days, bring in important coaches, fitness coaches, the media, people in marketing. And only then decide what we are going to do with Brazilian football.” Dunga disagrees. He doesn’t think there are deeper issues in the Mineirazo and insists “Brazil are not as behind as everyone says.” “What happened in the World Cup was unique. People talk about us getting back, but we are still a reference, we are admired,” he said.

Brazil worries now lie in World Cup qualifiers. South Americans believe Chile and Argentina are definitely in for Russia 2018. Colombia is a likely one there too. There would be 1,5 spots left (fifth position will play the fifth in Asia in a playoff). Brazil, Uruguay and Ecuador were in the last World Cup. Peru and Paraguay were in Copa America semifinals. Playing against an Asian team for a place would already be a massive embarrassment for Brazilians. They will have to start fighting in October this year — and Neymar will be suspended for the first two matches. The key for the recover should be a change in style, in finding roots.

After the Mineirazo, the Seleção is less popular than ever, at least in Brazil. Results off the pitch are already disappointing: TV ratings to watch the Seleção are lower, the yellow shirt is rarely on ads and fewer of them sell (also due to the country’s sluggish economy). Recent political campaigns, which would love to cash in the organizational success of the World Cup, avoided talking about it so no one remembered the 7-1. Sure, Brazil can win again. They have overcome difficulties before. They could even be world champions in 2018. But Brazilians seem more depressed than ever about their national team. They don’t have jogo bonito and they are trapped in the crazy dreams their players had before that 8 July 2014 night.