Brazilian leader hangs on despite graft scandal

A corruption scandal centred on Brazil’s governing Workers Party has been gathering momentum on a daily basis since it broke two months ago.

There have been several resignations of members of government as well as Workers Party officials in the wake of the revelations.

The work of the government has been hindered, and social welfare and reform policies are progressing slowly or have been put on ice.

The scandal even appears to have affected the mood of the nation. Roman Catholic Church officials have spoken about a feeling of “great dejection in the population”. Psychiatrists say the scandal has boosted the number of people coming to them for treatment.

But the great paradox of the situation is that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvas’s grip on power seems undiminished.

Lula has said he had no knowledge of illegal payments to allied parties in return for their support or the use of undeclared election funds.

However, few people believe this denial.
Even an emotional speech by Lula in the presidential palace, during which he shed tears and mentioned the strength of his mother’s character, failed to alter the opinion of many.

The newspaper columnist Clovis Rossi, writing in Folha de San Paulo, said: “No one can stand the president’s empty and chaotic speeches any more.”

Lula’s predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has asked: “If he really knew nothing about everything that went on, how did he become president?”

But Cardoso did not go as far as to call for Lula to step down.

He said Lula’s resignation would have negative consequences for Brazil.

“It is very likely the government will complete its mandate [December 2006], but it will be in a very bad state,” said Cardoso.

Just a few days ago, Cardoso’s Party of Social Democracy along with other opposition parties rejected the possibility of introducing an impeachment Bill into Congress.

They believe Lula’s Workers Party will be routed in elections scheduled to take place in October next year and that the “government of the people has failed”.

“It’s obvious the Workers Party will collapse,” wrote Thomas Skidmore, a well-known American historian and expert on Brazilian issues, in Sunday’s edition of Folha.

Skidmore also wrote about what he called the “personal tragedy of Lula, who appears oblivious to the situation that he and the country are in”.

He accepted the corruption of the politicians as a “normal matter”, Skidmore wrote, and went on to say that because Brazil’s economy is performing so well, the opposition has decided to leave him in office but isolated and without any real power.

Skidmore believes Brazil will “govern itself in this manner” until fresh elections next year and that Lula will be a “decorative figure”, or merely a “ghost”, that travels abroad to represent the country.

The opposition’s plan has been helped by the fact that Lula—in contrast to his predecessor Fernando Collor, who was impeached in 1992—is not morally tainted. Lula is more a victim of his inexperience in administration.

Skidmore believes there will be two consequences for what has developed into the worst crisis in Brazilian politics in decades.

“The people will not vote another populist into power again but will choose a safer and dependable candidate who represents a small part of society rather than the whole country,” wrote Skidmore.

He also believes the Constitution of 1988, which is responsible for Brazil’s weak political parities, will be swept aside.

Even Lula’s close allies and advisers have given up almost all hope that the outcome of the scandal will be positive for the president.

“Lula’s government is finished,” believes Fernando Gabeira, a politician with Brazil’s Green Party.

“We are witnessing the collapse of a myth,” says sociologist Helio Jaguaribe.

The author Luis Verissimo is even more pessimistic.

“Brazilians no longer trust the politicians. That is not really a crisis of the left, but a crisis of capitalism. The country is ruined.”—Sapa-DPA

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