Easter: Take it slow Brazil

 

Over the weekend, Pope Francis tweeted in Portuguese:

Imprime, Senhor, em nossos corações sentimentos de fe, de esperança, de caridade, de dor pelos nossos pecados.

And

Jesus Cristo ressuscitou! O amor venceu o ódio, a vida venceu a morte, a luz expulsou as trevas.

Here is my somewhat less than beautiful, but faithful, translation of the tweets:

Impress, Lord, on our hearts feelings of faith, hope and charity and pain for our sins.

And

Jesus Christ is risen. Love overcomes hate, life overcomes death, and the light has driven away the dark.

The message is of hope. But in Brazil, in spite of Spring in Rome and the northern hemisphere, the feeling is that the end is near, Armageddon approaches, impeachment inevitable with break down, decline, disaster and disease. “Meu Deus”, or OMG looking at Brazil from a distance, things seem bleak. Reading the Brazilian news and social media, you cannot help but being impressed by the enormous and increasing polarization between reds (supporters of the government and yellows (opposition). Millions marched against and perhaps less than a half a million came to the streets in her support. This week the normally sedate The Economist put the President on the cover of the Latin American edition and called for her to resign. According to polls, over two thirds of the population would accept impeachment. But do we really want catastrophe? The government accuses the opposition of thinking worse is better. The market moves up as Dilma weakens and then drops on any sign of her strength.

In this volatile situation, I think the expression should really be“Calma gente” or let’s go slow because we need to be careful of what we want as we may well get it. Everyone can agree on Dilma’s lack of popularity and her decline in competence. But there is little thought and agreement on what comes next. If Dilma is impeached, Vice-President Temer of the PMDB will become President and House Speaker Eduardo Cunha (also PMDB) will be next in line in the succession process. To me, this does not look like an improvement. What if something happens to Temer? Temer is suspect and Cunha is up to his next in the Swiss bank account and illicit spending scandal. What will be the posture of the PMDB, the most opportunistic of Brazil’s political parties, when it is formally in power?

Some of us are old enough to remember our last PMDB President, who took over on President to be Tancredo Neve’s untimely death. Sarney, conniving with the corruption inherited from the military regime, was only tolerated because he was at least a civilian in power. However, Sarney let inflation run totally out of control and we had to live through numerous currencies and multiple economic shocks and plans to no great avail. Corruption grew unabated and Sarney’s cronies in the PMDB were major beneficiaries.  There was a sigh of relief with direct election and then great frustration with President Collor, impeached for corruption.

Now again, with another impeachment looming, we have talk of a “unity government”, but instead of a grand coalition of bringing together the PMDB and Tucanos (PSDB), it is more likely that we will have a power struggle between groups who want to punish the PT while seeking to escape their own malfeasance. It seems clear now amidst all of the revelations and related plea bargains that virtually all the political establishment is tainted and this includes leaders of the opposition such as Aecio Neves (Furnas scandal), Jose Serra (health ministry ambulance scandal) and Geraldo Alckmin (Sao Paulo subway and school lunch scandal). I have to hasten to admit that these accusations have not been proved in Brazilian courts but neither have the accusations against Lula and Dilma.

As it is Easter, and if the Pope were not so busy cleaning up the Vatican, it would be wonderful to call upon his holiness to run Brazil. But, in his absence, it is, frankly, still more productive for Dilma to remain in power. To do so she needs to take the reins and become a leader. In the last few days, she seems to have started reacting, albeit only as her base of support has declined. She made a perhaps fatal mistake in trying to bring Lula into the Cabinet. His situation remains undecided but Dilma vows to hang on in spite of the losses and onslaught.

Here are some things that I would advise her to do:

  • Stop trying to buy off leaders in Congress. It is a hopeless and thankless task.
  • State a program of government with a focus on resolving the immediate economic problem of fiscal control. Dilma must state clearly and show that a pending explosion of inflation will be most harmful to the poor and the new middle class from which she drew most electoral support. Even Lula, as President, recognized the need for being business friendly and somewhat fiscally prudent.
  • Continue to emphasize the social and economic gains of the “new middle class” but also teach the need for responsible economic policy to preserve these advances.
  • Set up a Truth Commission similar to the one that investigated torture and other crimes committed during the military dictatorship and give politicians a chance to open up their past misdeeds. For those who fail to take the opportunity, the risk would be further investigation by the Federal Police and prosecution with judges like Sergio Moro. Such a Commission must have authority and will to investigate both the left and the right. Those found guilty of major crimes should be barred from politics and public administration.
  • A new cabinet shake up is in order but it should aim not at quid pro quo votes against impeachment but rather the new cabinet members should be experts in their areas of administration with little political leaning. We used to call them technocrats.
  • Step away from the groups in the PT that refuse to give her support and put Lula in charge of reining in such fickle supporters. And, if Lula is charged, she must let the Brazilian justice system run its course, just as Lula did in the Mensalao where he put Jose Dirceu into the fire.
  • Prove that the crisis is more political than economic in nature by supporting the measures that Joaquin Levy started and Nelson Barbosa has been forced to continue. In the past, the President’s support has been wavering, indecisive or luke-warm at best, partially out of fear of alienating sectors of the PT.

The current political class both to the left and the right already disdains the President. Only a small group is loyal. However, the impeachment will be a “golpe” or a coup d’état if it fails to prove a serious crime committed by the President. If indeed, she is as honest as claimed, she could step forward and accept some of her past missteps such as lack of oversight when she chaired Petrobras. If she can’t forthrightly take these steps then it is likely that evidence will eventually emerge justifying her removal.

Brazil needs leadership. It also needs as the Pope states: faith, hope and charity along with confessions. It also needs love and solidarity rather than the growing sentiment of hate which is a trap that both the left and right have succumbed to. For now Dilma is the elected President of Brazil and she needs to act with this legitimacy or lose it. And if she loses it, I fear that the days will indeed become darker.

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