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What's happening in Brazil?

Brazil is well-known for its beaches, breathtaking views, drinks and parties; however, last year it made international headlines due to the impeachment of its former president, Dilma Rousseff. This is Brazil's second impeachment within its 27 year old democratic history, a turbulent process which causes great political division, made worse by the economic crisis. To fully understand what is happening in Brazil, we have to take a look at its complicated past.

um país mudo não muda

Photo credits: Marcos Santos/USP Imagens

Brazil's political history

Two years after the infamous Cuban Missile crisis, Brazil suffered a military coup in 1964, resulting in a dictatorship that only ended in 1985. The transition to democracy was difficult as most of its population had no voting experience; therefore, the 1988 Constitution made voting mandatory in the hope of forging a politically active and conscious population.

During Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first term in 2005, the situation began to change when Mensalão – a monthly allowance granted by government official to deputies so they would vote as the government wished – was unveiled. After investigation, the scheme was discovered to be nationwide, involving almost every political party in the country, and dated back to 1998. Although several perpetrators were arrested, many Brazilians felt that some had managed to get away unpunished.

In 2010, Lula’s popularity and approval rating was 87%, allowing him to elect his political heir Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff’s first term seemed promising - the country's economy was growing, unemployment was low and Brazil was in line to host the World Cup. However, the atmosphere changed completely in June 2013. The city and state government of São Paulo followed the trend of other cities and raised their bus and metro fares from R$3.00 to R$3.20. This 6.7% price increase enraged the population, causing many to participate in street demonstrations, which were strongly repressed. By the end of the month, the marches evolved and extended to question corruption within Brazilian education and health systems, and government spending in preparation for the World Cup.

Lead up to the impeachment

Rousseff was publicly booed during the World Cup in 2014, and soon after it the presidential run began, creating huge division within Brazil for 5 months, a situation similar to that of the US presidential race. The election resulted in Rousseff being appointed for second term; however, she only won by a narrow margin of 3.28% after her party (PT) formed a coalition with PMDB, whilst 40 million eligible voters either did not turn up to the ballots or had their votes annulled . This further tore the country apart, both politically and ideologically.

In 2015 Operation Lava-Jato reached the news. This is an ongoing investigation into what it is believed to be Brazil’s biggest corruption and money laundering scheme to date (with studies showing fgures between 3 and 7 billion dollars). In March, Eduardo Cunha (PMDB, elected as Congress President in February 2015) was quoted in Lava-Jato, and he accused the government of conducting the operation. Cunha started to retract his support for Rousseff's proposals, despite the coalition between the two parties. This further lowered Rousseff's approval rating, which by mid-July, was cast at 8%. In August, a third march against her government occurred, and two months later, TSE (the agency responsible for elections in Brazil) accepted PSDB's for Rousseff to be impeached, accusing her of various crimes.

The impeachment of Rousseff

By December 2015, Cunha accepted the request. Rousseff was then prosecuted for changing a series of acts that resulted in the opening of additional credits, without the authorisation of the National Congress, constituting to 'crimes of responsibility'.

The largest protests occurred on 13 March 2016, as millions took to the streets, supporting the impeachment. Furthermore, two parties (PP and PSD) withdrew their support for Rousseff, whilst Michel Temer (Rousseff’s vice-president) and National President of PMDB announced the party’s departure from government.

In April, Congress voted in favour of Rousseff's impeachment live on television. Deputies declared they were voting for their family, God, the 'Brazilian family', 'peace in Jerusalem' and for the militaries in 64'. Cunha was also targeted during the vote, as deputies said he was corrupted and called him a thief, whilst 273 out of 513 Congress members had been previously cited in court cases or Courts of Accounts. The process of impeachment was approved one month later.

The aftermath

Michel Temer became Brazil’s official president on 31 August 2016. Those included in his Cabinet were all rich, old Caucasian men, causing a huge outcry from the population. Temer later appointed Grace Fernandes, making her the only female minister in his Cabinet. His support from Congress and the Senate meant that he was able to enact various unpopular legislations, such as PEC 55 (an amendment to the Constitution that freezes public spending in areas such as education and health care for the next 20 years). His new proposal for retirement was also critiqued, as it set the retirement age at 65, despite Brazil's average life expectancy of a mere 73.6 years.

Cunha was expelled from Congress amid accusations of corruption, as federal investigators believe he received bribes that amounted to more than 40 million dollars. Many also speculated that he was taking advantage of his position as Congress President to delay Lava-Jato. On 19 October, Cunha was arrested.

In spite of such obstacles, Lava-Jato is still under way. Unfortunately, on 19 January 2017, the Supreme Court judge overseeing Lava-Jato died in a plane accident, raising suspicion as he had been preparing to ratify testimonies from Odebrecht executives, which included the names of many Brazilian politicians such as Michel Temer.

Brazil now face a time of uncertainty in the coming months. The dire economic situation will unlikely improve due to continued political instability, whilst the enduring crisis has damaged the country's reputation internationally. More importantly, many Brazilians doubt that the situation will improve, causing many to lose hope in it's recovery.


Luiza has lived in Belo Horizonte, Brazil her whole life but has moved cities (and states) 3 times. She is passionate about global affairs and film. Her aim is to highlight important issues in Brazil that don't always reach mainstream media. She is also working on other projects such as Pen In a Box and Limpajuda.

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