American Interest

Discredited Brazilian Left Cries Foul

Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship

‘Leftist academics’ are calling the growing firestorm around President Rousseff and revelations of mass corruption in the ruling party a coup. They would — and so would the right in similar circumstances, to be fair. The Financial Times reports:

Concern is growing in left-leaning circles in Brazil and internationally that an impeachment of Ms Rousseff — which appeared to draw nearer last week after her party’s main coalition partner, the PMDB, abandoned the government — is putting democracy in Latin America’s largest country at risk.

In a country and a continent with a long history of coups, the potential removal of a president less than halfway through a four-year mandate is bound to create unease. Brazil’s last coup in 1964, backed by the military, lasted 21 years.

The army seems committed to remaining in the barracks this time but other alleged participants of the last putsch — such as Brazil’s heavily concentrated, conservative media and the business plutocracy in what is one of the world’s most unequal societies — remain active, say left-leaning academics.

However, calling a political firestorm a coup doesn’t make it one. President Rousseff’s fate will be decided as it should be—in the Brazilian Congress, where elected representatives will make their decisions, and voters will render their verdict on Congress’ decisions in the next election.

This isn’t to say that the Brazilian process isn’t messy, or that there aren’t some elements of truth in the charge that anti-PT media and others are doing everything to hype the story, and are doing it in a way to damage the PT as much as possible. Backscratching and backroom deals are deeply embedded in the DNA of Brazilian politics, and while one is glad to see a measure of judicial accountability beginning to appear, it’s naive to think that a few indictments will change the way political business gets done in South America’s largest economy.

But those on the Left who want to blame some kind of vast right-wing conspiracy for the collapse of the PT’s popularity are barking up the wrong tree. President Rousseff is in the doghouse politically because she and her party pursued a strategy of lies, budget hijinks and false promises in the last election campaign, and because the Brazilian economy is facing a meltdown as years of short sighted policies and cronyism take their toll. The hypocrisy of a leftist elite that lectures and speechifies endlessly about social justice while looting the treasury with the enthusiasm of the most backward ‘colonels’ and oligarchs richly deserves the scalding and scorching comeuppance that is now falling due.

When a democratic politician gets in the kind of trouble President Rousseff has gotten herself into, bad things happen and the opposition milks it for all it is worth. This isn’t a coup, this is democracy at work.

That said, a wise legislature won’t go the impeachment road lightly. It’s not for nothing that President Kennedy celebrated a senator who refused to vote to remove Andrew Johnson from office in Profiles in Courage. Removing a sitting president from office is only justified in extreme circumstances, and whenever a country is forced to take steps like that, its institutional framework suffers. Brazil’s democracy is not yet so venerable and well-established that an opportunistic impeachment of a sitting president wouldn’t weaken the country for years and maybe decades to come.