DISCLAIMER: Some of those that made the list are in the wrong job. Others have nothing to do with the platform on which President Dilma Rousseff was reelected. But quite a bunch are plain shocking. For many experts, they are part of the worst cabinet since the end of the dictatorship (1964-1985). That could be true. We will find out in the next few months, but those names help explain why even more Brazilians are frustrated with politics. It is too conservative, too full of very suspicious people and full of political foxes. Perhaps it is because she expects difficult times at Congress due to the multiple scandals at Petrobras. Still, this bunch is inexcusable.
10 – Joaquim Levy (Finance) – Financial markets bet against Rousseff all over 2014. And she was elected under the promise of making adjustments to the Brazilian economy without hitting jobs and income even more. That is a tough task, no doubt, and a little pain is unavoidable when balancing budgets and primary surplus are untouchable dogmas. She could have picked someone that is market friendly in her ranks. Instead, she went for Levy — a neoliberal that studied in Chicago and nicknamed Scissor-hands. His austerity package deeply contradicts the promises of no unpopular measures. Instead of making Brazil’s tax system more progressive or taxing dividends to get fiscally healthier, Rousseff and Levy went after consumers. Energy prices, banking costs, you name it. If Levy were on opposition’s Aécio Neves team there would be no surprise. It is as if Rousseff had given the economy for a rival to run.
9 – Eliseu Padilha (Aviation) – There are so many accusations against Padilha that just the fact he is in Congress is shocking enough. He was minister of Transportation under president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002) and was in the opposition until 2006. A big friend of Vice-President Michel Temer, he denies all the accusations that gave him the nickname Eliseu Quadrilha (literally Eliseu of the Gang, which sounds much more fun in Portuguese because this is not a nice gang we are talking about). He will now be the leader of the modernization of Brazil’s airports.
8 – Antônio Carlos Rodrigues (Transportation) – This guy is a city councilor in São Paulo and a key member of a Palmeiras ultra group called Mancha Verde. That means no political leverage at all. His party is involved in every single corruption scandal in the last decades. Transportation is one of the ministries with the biggest budgets — we will know how much he will have after Scissor-hands does his job, but it should be no lower than US$ 8 bln. He will be a target of the media for the sheer fact it is too easy.
7 – Pepe Vargas (Institutional Relations) – What do you do when you have difficulties in Congress and you need someone that can whip votes, bridge differences and reach across the aisle for some meaningful reforms? President Rousseff answered that question by bringing in as her main man for political tasks someone that was never a leader in any role and that has no influence in Congress. Vargas’ merit is to be close to the president. Not tough to predict where that will end.
6 – Helder Barbalho (Fishing) – The man himself isn’t such a great problem — yet. But the family name Barbalho rings a bell to all Brazilians. His father Jader is a synonym of corruption in the North of Brazil. It was him that appointed his son. This ministry has one of the lowest budgets in the cabinet, but it is a shock to see someone of the Barbalho family is actually being groomed by Rousseff to be the next governor of the state of Pará.
5 – Jaques Wagner (Defense) – Two-time governor of the key battleground state of Bahia, a skilled political insider in Congress and a presidential hopeful for 2018. So why is he in Defense? Probably because the president doesn’t care about the Armed Forces and can use him as an informal congressional leader in his spare time. Wagner surely isn’t there because he is a specialist — he is far from that. And he isn’t in a better position because Rousseff’s Chief-of-Staff Aloizio Mercadante is also a presidential hopeful. Wagner’s presence in Defense hints at a bigger issue: the Worker’s Party is already torn apart and that could affect governance.
4 – Aldo Rebelo (Science and Technology) – Our former minister of Sport was keen on Rio-2016. He worked well as a buffer between Rousseff and FIFA’s leaders. But now this man who doesn’t believe in global warming is taking care of Brazil’s scientists. A man that refutes English speaking as if it were selling out to foreigners. As in many other cases, Rebelo doesn’t know much about science and technology. He will have about US$ 4 billion to work. Will any of that go to the fight of greenhouse effect, Mr Rebelo? He was the only minister to have earned a profile in The New York Times.
3 – Kátia Abreu (Agriculture) – Just like Levy, she is not what Rousseff voters expected for that job — despite the fact everyone knew she would take it long before. She is the former head of Brazil’s very conservative National Confederation of Agriculture and seen as an enemy by every single movement that defended reelection for the incumbent. Abreu is also accused of having workers in slavelike situation on her farms, which she denies. The extra sauce that makers her appointment even more outrageous to many Brazilians is that the new minister and the president have become great friends. So close that former Marxist guerrilla Rousseff is going to be landowner and cattle raiser Abreu’s maid of honor in her wedding later this year.
2 – Gilberto Kassab (Cities) – This ministry, which deals one-on-one with mayors from all over Brazil, comes with a US$ 8 billion price tag. When asked about his ideological orientation, this guy actually said he is “neither in the right nor in the left.” The political party he owns since 2012 is no different. By some bizarre force of nature, he was mayor of São Paulo for six years and left with the worst job approval ever. But he is a skilled political tactician; Rousseff and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva owe it to him; Kassab dehydrated the opposition since he started his non-ideological party. Now he has one of the biggest forces in Congress. Not only Kassab has leverage, but he also has plans. Will he get the worst job approval ever as São Paulo governor in a few years? Could be. President Rousseff is surely helping him to.
1 – George Hilton (Sport) – He was actually booed by the crowd in front of the presidential palace at the moment he took office — I can’t remember of that happening in any of the inaugurations I covered since 2003. He naively admitted in front of his colleagues and the press that he doesn’t understand much about the job he just took. His main gig before being elected Congressman was as pastor. He was appointed by his make-believe political party, which is actually a very suspicious evangelical church in disguise. He is the running joke even among other ministers. In every bet, journalists pick him as the favorite to be thrown away first. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if that happened, since Hilton is now the federal government’s face on Rio-2016. Before this, people had only heard of him due to his arrest alongside suitcases full of suspicious money. He denies any wrongdoing, of course. And so does the president for appointing such a Frankenstein cabinet.
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.