We are witnessing today in Brazil the melancholic end of the Lula-PT cycle, the exhaustion of the economic model of social inclusion and, most important of all, in a broader historic arc, the end of the long political cycle of re-democratisation that, to tell the truth, has not been completed, in that the crimes of 1964 have not been punished and the dictatorship has not been totally purged.
The right has managed to become the hegemonic force in the recent large-scale protests against corruption. It is possible that Dilma will be impeached because this was the dominant slogan (although not the majority one) in the demonstrations and also the proposal of the overwhelming majority of the entities that promoted, or were helping to promote, the protests. Two political parties are also calling for it – the PSDB (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira/ Brazilian Social Democratic Party), headed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, which has petitioned the Supreme Court to order an enquiry into Dilma,; and the PPS (Partido Popular Socialista/Socialist Popular Party), the heir to the Brazilian Communist Party and a historic enemy of the PT.
To demand impeachment is a strong, simple slogan, which seems to offer a way out of, or an end to, the crisis, suggesting that the protests will have achieved their goal if the president is impeached. But this is an illusion because the legal replacement for Dilma would be Michel Temer [the vice-president] who is much worse than Dilma, since she at least is personally honest, which is by no means guaranteed with Temer, and in this change for the worst the representative political system would remain the same.
What is more likely, however, is that Dilma and the PT will be left simmering away under a gentle heat so that all that is left of the PT is completely destroyed and the way is cleared for the advance of the right and the extreme right in next year’s municipal elections. Among the right will be new small parties of the extreme right, one of them headed by Bolsonaro [Jair Bolsonaro, a federal deputy] in alliance with the evangelicals. The next step will an overwhelming victory for the right, perhaps hiding behind a PSDB mask, in the 2018 presidential elections
The numbers of the scandal are frightening and this is why it has become an institutional crisis: it’s not millions of reais syphoned off but hundreds of millions. It all began in 1977, if not before, grew from 2000 (during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government) and became systemic and wider from 2003 (the beginning of the Lula government). It is being reported that 2.1 billion reais were diverted from Petrobrás alone. One of those implicated – just one – has offered to return 330 million reais deposited abroad. At times I have the impression that there’s been a typo, that an extra zero has crept in. But then there are more disclosures: a few days ago dozens of valuable paintings were found hidden in a secret room in one of the houses.
A task force made up of federal policemen and prosecutors is in charge of the investigation, which is somewhat similar to the “clean hands” operation in Italy (which brought Berlusconi to power). It’s a huge body that acts like an avenger. If Sérgio Moro, the federal judge of Curitiba who is head of the task force, is so inclined, he can denounce Dilma and have her impeached. It’s clear that Dilma’s campaign must have received illegal money, so nothing is stopping him. Indeed, very recently the newspapers reported on money being syphoned off in this way and the PT treasurer was mentioned. The near future doesn’t depend on Dilma, or Lula or FHC but on Sérgio Moro.
This task force has become a kind of fifth power, acting in total autonomy in synergy with the fourth power (the big press). It works this way: through selective leaks to the press, it is inflating public opinion, which in turn is giving it the support to continue the operation and to deepen it, despite the pressures that must be coming from within, from politicians and some business sources. Another characteristic of this fifth power is the discretionary way it acts. In this sense we are witnessing the birth of our FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), which would not have existed in the USA had it not been for Prohibition.
Everything began with the mensalão trial [the trial of certain PT politicians charged with making secret payments to federal deputies in return for votes] when the Supreme Court used the principle of domínio do fato, never used before or after in Brazil and rarely used in other countries, to convict Zé Dirceu [a former PT president and coordinator of Lula’s presidential campaign in 2002]. Under this principle, a court can determine that, even if there is no proof of the accused’s involvement, it was impossible for him or her not to have known. The arbitrary powers used today are different: providing selective leaks to the press of unproven accusations or even mere suppositions and suspicions; preventing lawyers from seeing the charges; and holding suspects in prison for long periods before their trials (some for over three months) in clear violation of the legal conditions for refusing bail.
Leading businessmen have been held and subjected to pressure to force them to collaborate with the authorities in return for shorter sentences, which is why there have been such remarkable revelations. The scandal in itself is huge and will continue to grow. Powerful players are involved – the large engineering companies, seven political parties (but mainly the Partido Popular, PMDB and the PT), and about 50 former and current members of Congress. And the other large state companies may also be involved, along with those involved in the building of big infrastructure projects, such as hydroelectric dams in the Amazon, as has already been leaked to the press.
In the streets the mood is one of anger towards the PT and of aggression towards the left and Dilma. In one small town the PT headquarters were burnt down. In another they dangled figures of Dilma and Lula as if they had been hanged. If you were to go on to the street in São Paulo with a little red PT star on your lapel, you would almost certainly be attacked. I was told very recently that my website had been invaded by Nazi and extreme right wing hackers.
It has been a great ideological victory for the right and I fear that it has come to stay. It stems from years and years of steady, gradual poisoning of public opinion by the media, which insisted on publicising the corruption of the PT while hiding or minimising that of other parties, such as the involvement of the tucanos [the name given to PMDB politicians] in the train cartel in São Paulo and the Valerioduto in Minas Gerais.
This time the corruption gained a strategic importance because of the barefaced effrontery with which PT leaders and Petrobrás directors adopted the corrupt practices they themselves said they were going to combat. The “Fora Collor” (Collor out) campaign, which reflected grassroots disenchantment with the hypocrisy and cynicism of the way the president had promoted himself as Collor Caçador de Marajás (Collor Hunter of Maharajas), has turned into a much bigger “Fora Dilma” (Dilma out) campaign, because Dilma was elected by a party that claimed to be different from the others, to have an ethical code of behaviour. The right is appealing to the old Christian moralism of the middle classes, which elected Jânio Quadros and Collor.
There are isolated pieces of good news: the poorest classes (those earning less than three minimum wages) did not take part in the protests, and the organised working class, though fearful of the direction in which the Dilma government is heading, especially the threat of a neo-liberal “adjustment”, has said “no” to impeachment. And many young people share their unease and repudiate any open attempt at a coup against democracy. But in my opinion the coup has already happened, on the ideological and press level, and it was victorious. The left has died in the most shameful way possible, buried by accusations of cynicism, venality and corruption. The PT is certainly finished. Perhaps a new left will emerge from the cinders but I have my doubts. And the left that already exists – PSOL and PSTU – is tainted from having emerged from yesterday’s PT.
Main image: ‘Dilma out — and take the PT with you’
*Bernardo Kucinski is a highly respected Brazilian journalist and writer. He has published numerous books on politics and journalism, along with an award-winning novel, entitled “K”, which has been translated into English (published by LAB in 2013), Spanish, German and Hebrew. He helped set up the PT and worked as a presidential aide during the first Lula administration.