In 2014, some members of the Brazil Club at Yale vowed to throw a massive celebratory party if President Dilma Rousseff did not win the re-election. At that point, Brazil had already fallen into a deep economic crisis — although not quite as dismaying as the one we are currently in. During her first term from 2011 to 2014, Rousseff managed to turn a booming country into an alarmed one, clocking in the third-worst average GDP number in the country’s history. Amidst corruption scandals and economic decline, Rousseff had proved herself a stubborn, uncompromising and ineffective leader. From allegations of her attacking domestic workers with hangers, to depositions accusing the governing power of pocketing around $200 million to finance political campaigns and around $6.2 billion of losses to corruption just within the state-controlled oil company Petrobras, many of us were done. We occupied the streets in the hundreds of thousands, calling for a change in government and more transparent, honest politics. But by a small margin, Rousseff prevailed in the election and won another four years in office.
There is a saying in Portuguese that aptly describes what happened next: “foi de mal a pior” (it went from bad to even worse). In 2015, Brazil suffered a historic 3.8 percent contraction in its economy (the worst shrinkage in a quarter century), leaving 9.6 million workers unemployed. President Rousseff’s approval ratings fell to below 10 percent. To say chaos ensued in the country is an understatement. While the possibility of impeachment seemed mildly far-fetched in 2015, it is an ever more likely future. On March 29, the coalition party, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), will meet to decide whether to officially withdraw its ties to the governing Workers’ Party. A decision in the affirmative would signal an acceleration of the impeachment process — Rousseff’s vice president, Michel Temer, is the national president of PMDB, and the next-in-line in the presidential succession chain should Rousseff be removed from her role.
If there is even a chance of recovery in the next two years, it will be if Brazil is able to regain at least some confidence in its future. While Temer is not the ideal president, he would serve as the convenient option for the next two years until direct elections are held. It would give parties a time to select prospective candidates and prepare for elections outside the context of absolute political crisis, ensuring a more democratic and effective electoral process. Meanwhile, a Temer interim presidency would offer some stability to Brazil, where its population overwhelmingly supports the impeachment of the current president. An indication of a future rebound can be seen through this past week’s improvement in numbers — once the impeachment proposal was officially submitted to the judicial branch, the real (Brazil’s currency) saw its first bounce-back and strengthening in years. Foreign investors, especially, need Rousseff to step down in order for Brazil to regain credibility.
That is why I say the following statement without an inkling of hyperbole: Dilma Rousseff ruined my country. Her ill-fated policy choices delivered a blow to an otherwise promising economy. By imposing price controls on gas and electricity and cutting taxes on other domestic industries, she essentially bankrupted Brazil’s public energy companies. She encouraged credit overstretch by reducing federal interest rates without any economic basis for it, triggering a loan crisis across the country. Rousseff also withdrew funds from banks to cover budget shortfalls, and Brazilian economist Antônio Delfim Netto argues that Rousseff “deliberately destroyed the public finances to obtain re-election.” She violated Article 85 of the Brazilian constitution by offering a legal shield to former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who is accused of money laundering, to the highest-ranking minister position in the country: Chief of Staff of Brazil. Brazil’s Lawyers Order, equivalent to the U.S.’s Bar Association, is presenting in front of the Brazilian Congress a new request for impeachment this week, citing fiscal backpedaling and obstruction of justice as its main motives.
Rousseff has affirmed that an attempt at impeachment would be considered a coup d’état, one that is “illegitimate and illegal.” This statement is false — impeachment processes fall well within the scope of the Brazilian constitution. Every democracy has in place mechanisms to regulate its executive power, and Brazil is no different.
I am so tired. I have had the privilege of studying at Yale and being fairly removed from the worst of the crisis, but I cannot say the same about the people close to me. My mother called me this weekend to tell me the government is not going to pay her retirement pension for the next few months because of the crisis. Had this happened during my junior year, I would have had to withdraw from Yale. Most of my friends back home are having a difficult time finding jobs and internships that pay appropriately. But this is merely personal evidence — the overall unemployment and recession numbers are what truly leave one aghast. I would like to one day be proud of being Brazilian and have confidence in the people I elect — for the past few years, I have not felt either.
Jéssica Leão is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .