BY: ADAM THRUSH
August 2016 will go down as one of the most memorable in Brazilian history. South America’s first ever Olympics were hosted in Rio de Janeiro and, on the last day of the month, their president was impeached in controversial fashion. To say the least, both events have caused an uproar in Brazilian society for numerous reasons.
Leading up to the opening ceremonies, foreign news outlets in Brazil focused on the negatives. Reports on Rio’s high crime rates, the Zika virus, political instability, polluted water, and crumbling athlete accommodation filled the TV screens in Canadian living rooms. It seemed as if the massive public relations investment the government had made in the Olympics was floundering. Instead of showing off Brazil’s bright spots, foreign flashlights were snooping in some of the country’s darkest corners.
Despite the bad reputation Rio has for street crime and homicide (18.6 murders per 100,000 people), the increased military and police presence in Copacabana, Ipanema and other tourist hot spots ensured that, for foreigners, the Olympics were going to be as secure as possible (I did, however, witness a thief steal a woman’s cellphone in the popular nightlife neighbourhood of Lapa and sprint off with Usain Bolt-esque speed and determination in his eyes).
Many of the Olympics-related protests revolved around the high cost of hosting such an event, especially during a time of recession and only two years after having the World Cup (another competition that almost never turns a profit for the host country). Over 50 billion dollars will have been spent on the two events together, money that could’ve been put towards better public transport, social services, education, and health care needs in a country with over 16 million people living below the poverty line.
Jordan Wade, a Vancouver-based journalist, who has also covered the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Olympics, has been in Rio producing his upcoming documentary titled ‘Real Rio’, which focuses on the alternative side of the city and some of the social impacts the games have. On Brazilian spending for the tournament, Wade said “We are a much more educated world these days. There are many of us who are not that impressed with how luxurious your condos or shopping malls are if it means having to privatize public space or displace communities.”
Due to these social and economic hurdles, it has been said that the Olympics are “a games for the first world.” The atrocious spending needed to, firstly, win a bid to become host city, and secondly, to successfully pull off the tournament can cripple municipal and federal budgets.
Coincidentally, almost exactly in the middle of Rio’s respiration period between hosting the Olympics and Paralympics, another reason to protest occurred.
Throughout the year, alongside the Olympics build up, Brazil had been embroiled in a political crisis with their President, Dilma Rousseff (simply known as ‘Dilma’ in Brazil) facing impeachment charges for using illegal accounting tactics stemming back to 2014. The exact charge ‘pedaladas fiscais’ (fiscal pedalling in English), is when the government borrows money from state-banks and temporarily puts that money into their federal budget, artificially inflating the health of it in the process.
Here’s where it gets a little interesting (and possibly confusing). Dilma is the leader of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) previously led by the popular former two-term President, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva (simply known as ‘Lula’). They have both won two federal elections, keeping the Workers Party in power for the last 13 years. Michel Temer, however, is a member of the centre-right Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) with ideologies very different to Dilma and the Workers Party, but has acted as her vice president since 2011. Why would two opposing politicians team up like this? In Brazil, it’s common to create coalitions by selecting a vice president from another party in order to increase bargaining power in the senate, easing the necessary task of having bills passed through political enemies.
In the end, this coalition seemed to have backfired as many of the senators who had voted for Dilma’s impeachment also supported Temer as president. On August 31st she lost her impeachment trial and was officially removed from office, being replaced by Michel Temer.
Due to the undemocratic nature of impeaching a president based on the utilization of an economic tactic commonly used by previous governments without serious consequences, many political activists have labeled this event a coup (or ‘golpe’ in Portuguese).
Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, along with 22 other notable writers, actors, and songwriters had signed a statement to Brazil’s senate urging that they respect the results of the 2014 election, effectively condemning the political, rather than legal, motives of the impeachment. In addition, Temer is actually barred from running (but not from being installed) for office for eight years, while many top ranking senators have been charged with involvement in the same scandal as Dilma, many of whom voted for her impeachment.
Earlier in the year, tapes were leaked of planning minister Romero Juca, who had close ties with Temer, and former oil executive Sergio Machado. In the conversation Juca says “We need to change the government to stop this bleeding”, assuming he was referring to charges against additional politicians. Juca resigned the following day. Politicians from numerous other countries have also condemned the impeachment process, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In a statement on his website Sanders wrote “To many Brazilians and observers the controversial impeachment process more closely resembles a coup d’état”.
Temer, taking the place of Brazil’s first female president, has also been criticized for selecting the first all male (and all white) cabinet since the end of the country’s dictatorship in 1985. The refusal to select a cabinet representative of the country’s demographics (over 50% of which are not white, and of course, not male) hasn’t sat well with the people either.
Here in Brazil, activists took to the streets nationwide to display and vocalize their disappointment. Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro condemning the impeachment, asking for the removal of Temer as president, and criticizing the country’s media, specifically the largest news outlet ‘Globo’, for their part in the coverage against Dilma.
Marching through downtown Rio on the night of the impeachment, journalism student Carolina Lessa said “What makes me believe it was a coup was how the impeachment proceeded. Dilma was judged by a corrupt senate that voted on political interest instead of the actual accusation against her.” While on the role of the media, international relations graduate Lais Oliveira said “Its power to manipulate the masses was essential for persuading the population to support the coup.”
Dilma’s lawyer Jose Eduardo Cardozo filed a Supreme Court appeal of the impeachment vote, however Brazilians will likely have to wait until 2018 to have their chance at democratically electing their next president. The Temer government will surely be counting down the days until the end of the Paralympics, in the hopes that the global gaze dissipates and foreign condemnation ceases to exist.