An economy crisis, a political turmoil, a footballing nightmare and cultural emptiness. That is Brazil these days. One of the few things President Dilma Rousseff got right this year is that the country is experiencing a moment of crossing. From third world nation to… nobody knows exactly what. The time for quick and easy answers to Brazilian woes is definitely over.
In politics, it is hard to make predictions that live through one week. The model of presidential coalitions has definitely died with the current crisis. Since 1992, presidents made their best to secure support from most political parties so they could stop investigations and pass their reforms. After only one tight presidential election, Brazil’s first in that scenario, the current presidential coalition is destroyed. And there is no sign anyone can make that kind of arrangement work again. Corruption investigations will free Brazil from many of those who profit in those coalitions, but that doesn’t mean there will be leadership to put party politics in another level.
In the economy there is no clear path after the super consumption pathway seems finished. With a cyclical crisis, consumer confidence has dropped to record lows. So how can Brazil take a better and more sustainable road? The problem is clearly related to politics too, but the timing for politicians and economists will always be very different. Some will say Brazil needs to get rid of the absurd interest rates that stall the economy and others will insist in cutting government expenses. Whichever is the option for the next few years, it is hard to say anyone without strategic planning will be able to hit the bull’s eye. There are no bull’s eye left in Brazil.
Since democracy was reestablished in 1985, Brazil had major challenges to tackle. Challenges that seemed urgent. First we had to consolidate our democracy. Then it was all about fighting inflation. In this century there was a quest against extreme poverty. At the end of the day, Brazilians won all those disputes. But now what? Education, public security, healthcare and infrastructure are clearly important areas in which Brazil has to improve, but that urgency hasn’t quite sunk in. Most programs in those fields are quite basic and fail to confront important interest groups that have halted improvements. Will that happen now that Brazilians feel that malaise? Hard to know.
Even in football Brazil seems exhausted. Coach Dunga is the archetype of a pragmatism that Brazilians reject. Fans are fewer and fewer not only because the team was destroyed by Germany in the 2014 World Cup, but also because there is no fun. The Brazilian creativity that used to compensate for all the flaws and hardships seems to be gone now that Brazil isn’t as troubled — despite the current crisis — as it once was.
In other arts it is no different. Take the last edition of festival Rock in Rio as an example. Most of the Brazilian bands playing there exist since the 80ies. Not much has happened in the last two decades, except for record label-sponsored rockers that have little food for thought to offer. The cinema industry could be a good exception to the rule, but even that one, despite recent successes, is dominated by pasteurization. Just like Brazil’s economy for a while, it is a success for consumers, not so much for serious critics. And all that confusion will still be seen when Rio de Janeiro hosts the next edition of the Olympic Games.
Since politics tends to guide all the other fields, the future of President Rousseff will probably have a big impact on Brazil’s final stop after this gruesome crossing. A crossing that is nowhere near the end.
In January 2013, a decision in Brasilia impacted dramatically on the World Cup preparations. In an attempt to stem inflation, President Dilma Rousseff asked São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro mayors to delay a transport fare rise that would necessarily come on the following month. That increase was postponed to June, which gave students months to prepare for a wave of nationwide demonstrations. At first they were a few thousands on the streets. As the Confederations Cup unfolded a police violence broke, hundreds of thousands started protests against politicians at all levels, corruption, the expenditure in the World Cup or anything else that sounded potentially controversial. If only that change in the prices of public transportation had taken place when kids were on vacation… Maybe her superpopularity, at about 80%, would not have dropped so much.
In January 2015 another decision in Brasilia impacts dramatically on Rio 2016 preparations. It was made by a highly controversial Congressman that had been looked down on by Rousseff — deservedly, I must say. Eduardo Cunha, a man surrounded by accusations in the last 20 years, was poised to become speaker of the Lower House. Knowing his background, the President gave him a competitor, but Cunha still won. Since then, he has given the opposition the opportunity not only to pressure the President, but also to look for reasons to impeach her only months after she was reelected. His attitude plus mistakes in economic policies crafted by Rousseff have put Brazil closer to the loss of investment grade — although the Senate can work as a counterbalance in all those issues. Still, Brazilians are more interested in the next few months than in the next year. The Olympics seem to be years away.
Truth be said, Brazilians mistakenly believe that the World Cup is bigger than the Olympics and that also counts. They also don’t see Rio 2016 as being as connected to the unpopular federal government as the football tournament is — they would probably be more vocal if they saw the existing link. These are issues that impact the national conversation. But with an economy crisis at full steam, political uncertainty in Brasilia, demonstrations scheduled for later this month and an ongoing corruption scandal at Petrobras involving the ruling coalition, including the speaker himself, how could it be any different? The level of interest and engagement in the Games here is far from gigantic at this point. Rio Olympics still need more volunteers, for example. The recent reports on water pollution and unbelievable police violence have caused little stir among Brazilians.
The atmosphere in Rio 2016 depends on the political arena too. Rousseff’s popularity is very low, at about 10%. That rejection includes many of those who reelected her and saw her turn her administration to the right after winning with a leftist campaign. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the vast majority of Brazilians want to impeach her, despite her being blamed for the fact the country’s GDP being about to lose 2% this year. If Cunha succeeds in a staging a coup with a democratic appearance, Brazil could be in an even bigger turmoil than one year before the World Cup. The mess in politics would drag the economy down, as numerous rating agencies and businessmen have pointed out. It is hard to believe such an environment would be pacified because of a sporting event that Brazilians still don’t get — bear in mind these are the first Olympics held in South America and the continent doesn’t care for it as much as Americans and Europeans do.
There surely are things to celebrate one year before the Olympics. Politicians and businessmen are going to jail as a result of Operation Car Wash and many others are soon to be indicted by the Supreme Court. Prosecutors don’t seem afraid to indict powerful people and companies have already hinted they will adopt better compliance to avoid corruption scandals. But investigators have already said this process will take another two years. That can engulf Rio 2016 when it comes to public support. Or make it a target to those that see the balance of power flip to the opposite side. In Brazil, the Olympics have never had the bonding power that the World Cup has. It might be different for cariocas this time, but not nationwide.
No wonder not many in Brazil are paying much attention to polluted waters, a delay in the construction of the tennis venue or the potential contamination at the equestrian arena. Not even the price tag yet to be published is under discussion. The leftist protesters of 2013 have become conservative Congressmen in 2015. The priority for Brazilians in August is to find out whether Rousseff will be in the Opening Cerimony next year.