Brazil is in a crisis, that’s for sure.
But general Western media portrayal of the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff seems only to have presented a simplified, one-sided picture of events.
Dilma Rousseff’s supporters call the impeachment process nothing less than a coup.
The impeachment effort against Rousseff has been mostly orchestrated by the political, media, and economic elites in Brazil; though corporate media in Brazil and foreign media in the West has largely portrayed it as more of a populist movement of the Brazilian people.
Brazilian journalist João Estrella de Bettencourt wrote a few weeks ago in the Huffington Post, ‘It’s a coup. And don’t deceive yourself… it will result in brutal battles in Brazilian society. The Dilma government was democratically elected and, despite the accusations, it has a legitimate right to fight back’.
We should note that this move against Rousseff – which can fairly convincingly be portrayed as an operation by Brazil’s elites to remove a Left-wing government from power (though admittedly the scenario appears more complicated than being put down to just one thing) – occurs against a conspicuous backdrop of multiple long-term Left-wing governments in Latin-America being replaced by right-wing governments.
Argentina has also just replaced a longstanding Left-wing government with a right-wing government and essentially ceded its sovereignty to Wall Street, despite years and years of staunch resistance to Washington. Venezuela, of all places, now also has a right-wing government backed by Washington, which had previously tried to overthrow the Leftist government with US backing. The right-wing state in Venezuela has been accused of violence and attacks against its own citizens. The Left-wing government in Honduras was ousted in a military coup backed by Hillary Clinton in 2009.
And now Brazil – one of the biggest countries in the world, with one of the biggest populations and economies – appears to be going the same route, albeit via a different, more complicated detour.
Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, also suggests that the current spectacle being played out in Brazil is being portrayed in Western media as something very different to what might actually be going on. He noted a few months ago that ‘much of this Western media coverage mimics the propaganda coming from Brazil’s homogenized, oligarch-owned, anti-democracy media outlets and, as such, is misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete, particularly when coming from those with little familiarity with the country‘.
In its coverage of the crisis in Brazil, Western media appears to have massively oversimplified the nature of the situation, focusing almost exclusively on big street protests and depicting them in idyllic terms as a popular uprising against an unpopular or corrupt government. Of course, we know from the ‘anti- Gaddafi protests’ in Libya in 2011 how easily public gatherings and rallies can be repackaged and misrepresented by the international media depending on which way the wind is blowing.
But as Greenwald argues, ‘That narrative is, at best, a radical oversimplification of what is happening and, more often, crass propaganda designed to undermine a left-wing party long disliked by U.S. foreign policy elites. That depiction completely ignores the historical context of Brazil’s politics and, more importantly, several critical questions: Who is behind these protests, how representative are the protesters of the Brazilian population, and what is their actual agenda?‘
Some call the program by select Brazilian politicians to oust Rousseff via impeachment an act of “a political character”, and criticise the lower chamber for failing to provide Rousseff with the necessary means to defend herself. Ernesto Samper, Secretary-General of the Union of South American Nations, has told teleSUR that Dilma Rousseff remains “the legitimate leader” of the Brazilian people. He also maintains that Rousseff still has full “democratic legitimacy”, having been re-elected in 2014.
Samper warned that the decision of the Brazilian Congress to initiate an impeachment trial against the President is “compromising the democratic governability of the region in a dangerous way.”
While accusations of corruption or wrongdoing against Rousseff’s party appear – according to all accounts – to have validity, there is still a question as to whether Rousseff herself has actually done anything illegal. She has not been accused of any corruption – but of disguising the size of the government’s budget deficit in the lead-up to her re-election.
More importantly, the entire political class in Brazil appears to be rife with corruption – a fact openly acknowledged by the majority of the population.
And the elites in Brazil – the plutocrats and their major media corporations – appear to be using the impeachment to, as Greenwald puts it, ‘achieve what they have failed for years to accomplish democratically: the removal of PT from power’.
The absurdity of the entire situation seems fairly obvious.
Five members of the impeachment commission are themselves under criminal investigation for major corruption. Paulo Maluf, for example, faces an Interpol warrant for his arrest and has been unable to leave the country for several years (and has been sentenced in France to three years in prison for money laundering).
In fact, of 65 members that make up the ‘House impeachment committee’, 36 of them are reportedly awaiting pending legal proceedings.
The entire thing therefore seems farcical.
The Globo media conglomerate – Brazil’s biggest media organisation – has been central in stirring up the support for the impeachment; it has run highly biased coverage of the corruption allegations against Rousseff’s Worker’ Party and simultaneously afforded vast media platforms for right-wing demonstrations and commentators.
The media complicity in general seems to have played a substantial role.
Greenwald illustrated it effectively in the same Intercept piece from March; ‘To provide some perspective for how central the large corporate media has been in inciting these protests: Recall the key role Fox News played in promoting and encouraging attendance at the early Tea Party protests. Now imagine what those protests would have been if it had not been just Fox, but also ABC, NBC, CBS, Time magazine, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post also supporting and inciting the Tea Party rallies. That is what has been happening in Brazil‘.
Globa media in fact used to be a supporter of and propagandist for the old (and Washington-backed) right-wing military dictatorship in Brazil.
If this is a coup – whatever else it may be disguised as – it certainly wouldn’t be a new phenomenon in Brazil.
In 1964, an earlier democratically elected left-wing government was overthrown by a military coup. United States officials denied any role; but documents have subsequently showed that Washington directly supported and helped enable the coup. The pro-American, right-wing military dictatorship then lasted for 21 years and engaged in systemised, long-term and brutal crackdowns against Brazilian dissidents. Shamefully, a 2014 report highlighted the extent to which British and American government agencies assisted the dictatorship’s interrogation and torture techniques.
Curiously enough, one of the many Left-wing figures tortured by that dictatorship was the very same woman currently being impeached – Dilma Rouseff (who was at the time a Marxist guerrilla).
It is also not a secret that Rousseff has been unpopular with Washington and Wall Street. When Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been tapping her phones, Rousseff went to the United Nations and accused the US of violating international law and “the principles that must guide the relations among… friendly nations.” There is clearly no love lost between her and the United States.
Far from this being a simple issue of ‘corruption’ (which is endemic in Brazilian politics and by no means limited to Rousseff’s party), Glenn Greenwald puts the 1964 coup – and the current impeachment of Rousseff – in terms of both class and racial warfare. He writes, concerning that period, ‘The coup itself and the dictatorship that followed were supported by Brazil’s oligarchs and their large media outlets, led by Globo, which — notably — depicted the 1964 coup as a noble defeat of a corrupt left-wing government (sound familiar?). The 1964 coup and dictatorship were also supported by the nation’s extravagantly rich (and overwhelmingly white) upper class and its small middle class. As democracy opponents often do, Brazil’s wealthy factions regarded dictatorship as protection against the impoverished masses comprised largely of non-whites‘…
As Donna Bowater writes on Vice, much of the working class are pro Rousseff’s government. “For many of us,” one supporter says, “it’s about a government that brought dignity to those people who were excluded their whole life by society.”
Regarding the possible nature of the present situation in relation to that, Greenwald noted that ‘when massive anti-Dilma protests emerged in most Brazilian cities, a photograph of one of the families participating went viral, a symbol of what these protests actually are. It showed a rich, white couple decked out in anti-Dilma symbols and walking with their pure-breed dog, trailed by their black “weekend nanny” — wearing the all-white uniform many rich Brazilians require their domestic servants to wear — pushing a stroller with their two children.’
I have to admit that I’ve examined lots of images of the protests and I’ve struggled to spot any darker-skinned protesters, even though this is Brazil.
This paints a very different picture of the Rousseff impeachment to the simple idea of an almost unanimous society rising against a ‘corrupt’ leader that most Western media has been suggesting.
Again, this ignoring of class or race issues in the mainstream narrative has echoes elsewhere, such as with Libya in 2011 when international media completely ignored the persecution (including some ethnic cleansing) of Black-African Libyans that NATO/Western-backed militias were engaged in. In the case of Brazil it isn’t as severe (or violent) as that by any means, but the international media is nevertheless failing to note the race/class divide that appears to be relevant in this situation.
For whatever its flaws or misdemeanors may be, it appears that Rousseff’s party has been much better for the lower classes and the poor and hated by the upper classes and elites, having ushered in economic and social reforms that have helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty. The socialist, Left-wing government, has among other things instituted the ‘Bolsa Familia’ social welfare program, the increased promotion of human rights, significant scholarship programs and things like campaigns for university inclusion programs.
Some amid the poorer section of Brazil’s population believe that the future of this more inclusive and democratic Brazil, and any further chance of upward mobility (or even inclusion), is being sabotaged or destroyed in the present crisis, which will likely see the wealthy elites taking back control of the state. A poor and unemployed 26 year-old tells Vice, “Brazil’s poor were ‘forgotten but bigger’ than the protesting elite calling for impeachment”, though she also admits that “life for the poor was even harder under Rousseff than it was before. The problem,” she said, was that she “saw nobody else who might provide a better alternative”.
There are reports that some factions at these “anti-corruption” protests against Rousseff have even been openly calling for the end of democracy – and, one would assume (by implication), a return to a military dictatorship.
Michel Temer, the opposition leader who now steps in as the interim president, appears to be a spectacularly unpopular figure in Brazil – and also happens to have strong links with Wall Street.
Thanks to Wikileaks, we also know that Temer recently met with US embassy officials in Sao Paulo; supposedly to provide his assessment on the political situation. It should be borne in mind that such meetings aren’t unusual and can’t be taken as proof that Termer is a Wall Street or Washington proxy; though it does raise suspicions, given his Wall Street connections and domestic unpopularity.
Given Washington’s well-attested history of supporting right-wing coups against Left-wing governments in Latin America (including Chile, Guatemala and El-Salvador), one really does have to wonder what the US involvement may be in this impeachment of Rousseff. It may be that there’s no involvement from Washington – and I’m not aware of any clear evidence to suggest it – but the proven US backing of the 1964 coup in Brazil makes it fair to raise the question.
And it is also possible that this move to undermine a Left-wing government in Brazil is entirely unrelated to the surprising emergence of a right-wing government in Argentina this year and the even more surprising emergence of a right-wing government in Venezuela. But as with Brazil, we know for a fact that Washington fully backed previous attempts at a right-wing coup in Venezuela, and we know that the US backed the brutal right-wing coup in Argentina in 1976 (which led to the deaths of over 30,000 Argentinians). Indeed, President Obama has recently apologised to Argentina for the horrific consequences of US interference in the past.
And Washington can’t really claim that all of this underhanded backing of right-wing coups is a thing of the past either: because, for example, in 2009 Hillary Clinton secretly backed the right-wing coup against a democratically elected government in Honduras – a coup that has resulted in a murder spree in Honduras that continues to this day.
More adamant about it than someone like myself is willing or able to be, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts appears to be in no doubt about US involvement, however. Dr Roberts links Rousseff’s impeachment firmly with the removal of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.
‘Having removed the reformist President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Washington is now disposing of the reformist President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff’, he writes. ‘Washington used a federal judge to order Argentina to sacrifice its debt restructuring program in order to pay US vulture funds the full value of defaulted Argentine bonds that the vulture funds had bought for a few pennies on the dollar. President Kirchner resisted and, thus, she had to go. Washington concocted a story that Kirchner covered up an alleged Iranian bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994. This implausible fantasy, for which there is no evidence of Iranian involvement, was fed to one of Washington’s agents in the state prosecutor’s office, and a dubious event of 22 years ago was used to clear Cristina Kirchner out of the way of the American looting of Argentina‘.
I should make clear that there isn’t any proof in this instance that Washington had anything to do with the impeachment crisis in Brazil – or that what has just happened in Argentina is necessarily anything other than Kirchner’s government simply not winning the popular vote (and likewise that people in Venezuela would support a right-wing government after many years of questionable left-wing politics and mismanagement).
Whatever’s really going on, it’s almost certain that Rousseff’s impeachment represents the beginning of a major crisis in Brazil and not the end of one.
Some recommended reading: ‘Soft Coup in Brazil – A Blow to Brazilian Democracy‘ by Juan Sebastian Chavarro, Raiesa Frazer, Rachael Hilderbrand and Emma Tyrou (Council on Hemispheric Affairs), ‘Dilma Rousseff Close to Impeachment But Not All Brazilians Hate Her‘ by Donna Bowater on Vice, ‘Brazil Engulfed By Ruling Class Corruption and a Dangerous Subversion of Democracy‘ by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.