Monday, January 20, 2014

Dilma’s Dilemma

article from August 16, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

There is no denying it; Brazil has become an emerged nation. Current President Dilma Vana Rousseff was handed the country on a silver platter by her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who she served as chief of staff. Lula served two terms, the limit the constitution allows, and then, unlike his contemporaries in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Honduras (well, that guy got the boot), he gracefully stepped aside without trying to rewrite the constitution.

Lula truly was the people’s president. He took a country that was fiscally and morally bankrupt and established it as model for other Latin American nations. While there were some corruption scandals under his administration, it appears the fourth-grade-educated president was true to his oath of office.

Dilma, the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant father and a Brazilian mother, rose through the ranks of the military dictatorship’s successors. She, like her contemporary in Uruguay, José Mujica, had been imprisoned and tortured by the military regime ruling her nation. When Lula was elected, he chose her to become his minister of energy, and after a corruption scandal led to the resignation of the president’s chief of staff, she assumed the coveted position, in which she served faithfully until resigning to run for the office of president of Brazil, which she won in a runoff election. She took office January 1, 2011, and has steered the ship of state through relatively calm waters, up until a few week ago, when the red-hot Brazilian economy began to be endangered by the unfolding double-dip US recession that is threatening to go worldwide.

Brazil’s economy is purely export driven, from commodities to high-tech items such as electronics and aircraft. The Brazilian real has come from being a shunned developing-world currency to being the equivalent of South America’s Swiss franc, gaining against the US dollar to a degree that is hurting the nation’s exports. Being the smart woman that she is, President Rousseff immediately declared a tax holiday for corporations that export goods, to keep them competitive. To my thinking, this is a stroke of genius, and she did not have to go to a terminally bickering Senate and House.

But now cometh her own corruption scandals: Several ministers already have resigned, and now, Deputy Minister Frederico Costa has been arrested by the federal police, along with 37 other officials from the tourism ministry, for corruption and graft. Tourism Minister Pedro Novais Lima was called on the carpet by the president to explain the behavior of his underlings. Lima, a member of Congress’ ruling coalition, is no friend of Dilma’s. His party, the PMDB, has been doing everything in their power to block all of her initiatives in the Brazilian Congress.

In anticipation of the 2016 Fútbol World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, the Brazilian federal government has begun an ambitious program to educate and train the hordes of service personnel, from waitresses to taxi drivers to the people who will turn down the hundreds of thousands of guests beds every night, to make sure that the festivities will go off without a hitch. But the bureaucrats just couldn’t resist the temptation to dip their hands in the pot.

This is just the opening salvo to what may become far-reaching investigations into corruption allegations reaching deep into the bureaucratic establishment of a country that has earned a well-deserved reputation for corruption, ranging from the cop on the corner to the highest levels of government.

There are also accusations of corruption, nepotism, graft and cronyism having been leveled at the agriculture and other ministries. Several major pieces of legislation dealing with important matters relating to foreign investment in areas such as the mining sector and the oil business are languishing in Congress, with not much sign of urgency to pass them.

The Olympic Committee as well as FIFA is deeply worried about the lack of infrastructure improvements, which were promised when Brazil snared the two top sporting events in the world. Stadium construction is lacking, along with the upgrading of the transportation and hospitality sectors.

No doubt, Dilma is still a very popular president, but the loss of three or possibly four of her cabinet ministers is not helping her prepare for a second term, where she may be challenged by her predecessor, a very popular figure who still enjoys high approval ratings. Were elections held today, Lula would beat her handily.

My wish for Dilma and the people of Brazil is that they stay the course, defeat the ingrained corruption, raise the standard of living for the poor, better their education and infrastructure, and showcase what the energetic spirit of Latin America can really do.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza
Where the weather is warming up!

[Image of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.