Photo Jonathan Blair

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dilma Rousseff: That sinking feeling...

From the outside, Brazil looks set for smooth sailing through the current crisis. In its web edition today, The New Republic has a little slideshow called "Economic Crisis? What Economic Crisis? Eight countries doing just fine." Brazil, with little surprise, is on the first slide.

Well, the country's economy certainly looks fine, but its politics are taking a turn for the bad and if hard decisions have to be taken, one really wonders who will be there to take them. In the last week or so, in the midst of ever-juicier corruption scandals, President Dilma Rousseff appears to be losing control.

Two developments look particularly disturbing:

1) After quite openly discussing the coup with Lula, Rousseff decided to keep the minister of Agriculture, Wagner Rossi, opting instead for getting rid of the people that surround him and that he has chosen personally... She thus retreats from a confrontation with the PMDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement Party], vice-president Michel Temer's party and the most important of the PT's  partners in the Congress. Even this, by the way, was not enough: she accepted a whole slew of Congressional "amendments," worth more than $1bn reais (more than U$600 million) to calm down her supporters in Congress. Obviously, she was under pressure: the PR [the Party of the Republic], another significant--though less weighty--ally had defected from the governing coalition after various of its leaders had lost their position in government as a result of the Ministry of Tourism scandal. If the PMDB were also to declare its "independence," the President would for all practical purpose loose control of the Congress.

2) Rousseff complained to her Minister of Justice for not having been informed in advance that a number of high-level officials from these two ministries would be arrested by the Federal Police... Doing so clearly suggests--though it proves nothing--that she wanted to be involved in police activities that affect her relationship with parties in Congress, not an easy thing to reconcile with democratic accountability and the political independence of the police.

These developments weaken Dilma in three important ways:

- Relative to Lula, who appears to have pushed her to a more lenient attitude than the one she had adopted previously (against the PR);

- Relative to the PMDB, which cannot but read this as a licence to binge on public funds, both over the counter, through budgetary "amendements," and under it, through nominations and contracts;

- Relative to the opposition and more broadly the informed public which, seeing her as a weak and easily swayed leader, won't have much incentive to compromise with her or to give much weight to her personal views, values or conviction.

The loss of respect is readily perceptible in the tone in which she is addressed in the media. A recent op-ed, about Brazil's--along with India and South Africa's--admittedly dismal show of subservience to Syria's Bashar--demeans her to the second-person "tu" in its very title: "Atenção, Dilma, ele assina em teu nome."

So, if --or is it when?-- push comes to shove in the next four years, who do you talk to?