Brazil is a country filled with black and brown people. Rarely are they seen at the recent wave of protests demanding the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff. How does the country’s mainstay allure, its racialized democracy, deflect and misinform us about the current wave of protests against the only aspect of brazilian life that is truly democratic … political corruption.
The genocide of much of the indigenous population and almost 400 years of chattel slavery have resulted in a mass concentration of wealth and power, controlled by political and economic elites and the large landowners of Brazil. Unbreakable ties exist between the ruling class and corporate media conglomerates. Consequently, disinformation is a common thread in everyday Brazilian life.
Brazil, with the largest African-descendant population outside of Africa, prides itself on being a racial democracy. Basically, this term means that, despite the country being the last place in the western hemisphere to legally (and I say legally with handfuls of coarse salt) abolish slavery (in 1888), racism no longer exists. Racial democracy has long been used as Brazil’s societal bulwark, a term used to camouflage the violence directed at people of color. In 2015, in stark contrast to this seductive appeal to racial harmony, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, observed that 50,000 people are killed in Brazil every year. The overwhelming majority of the victims are black or brown people. Historically, racial democracy has acted as sleeping gas, pacifying discontent for the many pervasive forms of racial discrimination.
Unlike the past, most Brazilians no longer identify as white. In 2014, The Brazilian Geographical and Statistic Institute reported in a national census that 53 percent of the population identified as Black or multiracial. However, if one trains her or his eyes on any popular Brazilian soap opera or corporate media programs, in general, that person would get the impression that Brazil is a country filled with people of European descent. Traditionally, people of color just so happened to grace Brazilian TV screens as maids, nannies, garbage collectors, drug peddlers, hoochie-mammas … you get the picture. US president George W. Bush, during a visit to Brazil and unaware of the country’s demographic makeup, asked former Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, “Do you have blacks, too?” Yes! Protests are taking place throughout Brazil in 2016. Why all the discontent? Corruption.
What is corruption as it pertains to Brazil? Corruption is the only aspect of Brazilian life that’s reached the coveted status of being truly democratic. Corruption permeates the entire Brazilian political landscape, without preference for any particular political party or persuasion.
Now we’re getting to the crux. If corruption is, and has been, so widespread, why are so many protests taking place at this specific point in time? Take a second look at the protestors. Who do you see? Brazil emphatically states that the majority of the Brazilian population is composed of black or brown people. Rarely do you see this demographic majority marching in protest against the government. You’re more likely to catch a glimpse of a black nanny who’s obliged to accompany her employers, in this case a man and a woman wearing green and yellow shirts. That man is, Claudio Pracownik, the vice-president of finances of the famed Brazilian football team, Flamengo. He’s hit the streets to protest the government of president Dilma Rousseff and, more importantly, ex-president Lula.
Who is Lula? Why is it important to understand his two-term presidency (2003 – 2010) in order to comprehend the current wave of protests? Lula is the charismatic, left-leaning leader who co-founded the Worker’s Party. He grew up in abject poverty in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. In the mid-1970s, during the height of the military dictatorship, Lula was elected president of the Steel Workers’ Union of São Bernardo do Campo and Diadema in the state of São Paulo. He was jailed for a month as a result of leading protests and strikes for improved workers’ rights. After the military dictatorship ended in 1984, Lula unsuccessfully ran to become president of Brazil in 1989, 1994, and 1998. Finally, he won the 2002 presidential election and was reelected in 2006. During his presidency, popular political policies were implemented in order to improve the lives of the poor, working class, mostly black and brown population. University, media, and employment quotas were implemented, guaranteeing opportunities to those who had long faced discrimination in these areas. Lula and the Worker’s Party didn’t equalize the playing field, however, more black and brown people attended university, became doctors, lawyers, engineers, public officials, or were hired as TV newscasters than any other time in Brazilian history. Also, one of Lula’s flagship public policies, Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance), was implemented in 2003. This internationally recognized social welfare program provides a monthly stipend to families who prove that their children are vaccinated and attend school. The program has received a symbolic vote of approval by the World Bank and also been described by the Economist as being an “anti-poverty scheme (that’s) winning converts worldwide.” Several countries in southern Asia, Turkey, as well as the municipality of New York, have all implemented similar versions of Bolsa Familia. Redistribution of wealth and privilege had reached its apogee during Lula’s presidency. Minimum wage had risen by 70 per cent and more than twenty million new jobs had been created. Lula’s approval rating had reached 90 percent when he left office and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, also a member of the Worker’s Party, was elected. The ruling elite and their corporate media cohorts, many of whom are responsible for conjuring an image of Brazil as being a racial democracy, were hysterically outraged as a result of these democratizing policies.
Brazil’s ruling class, as white as the eye can see, unable to defeat the Worker’s Party in democratic elections, has had enough. They’ve opportunistically latched onto the latest series of corruption scandals—tax evasion, money laundering, personal enrichment and some—to try and impeach president Dilma Rousseff, destroy the image of ex-president Lula (there’s a possibility that he will run for a third term in office in 2018), and undermine the Worker’s Party. Like the opposition parties on the center to right, certain members of the Worker’s Party have been implicated in, seemingly, endless corruption investigations, none of which have incriminated president Rousseff. Big name politicians, even CEOs of multi-billionaire dollar corporations, have been hauled off to jail.
So many officials across the political spectrum have been accused in the current corruption schemes that, if president Rousseff is impeached, there’s no scandal-free political party to assume the Brazilian government. In fact, all of the political parties heading the impeachment process have committed even worse crimes than the politicians in the Worker’s Party.
Corporate media elites have branded the recent protests in Brazil as being a just fight against corruption. Nobody questions if there’s corruption in Brazil or a widespread political crisis complicated by an economic recession. But to really appreciate the untold factors boiling just beneath the surface of the current wave of protests, one must understand that Brazil is a rich nation filled with poor black and brown people. Rarely do you see them slamming pots and pans together on public streets, adding to already high levels of noise pollution, demanding the impeachment of president Roussef and smirching the image of ex-president Lula.
— Agente Z9R conducts clandestine analyses of the unspoken truth in Brazil. Sometimes they pen articles about their findings.