Brazil

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Brazil is the largest country in South America, not to mention the source of the world's most grueling steakhouse experience (the all-you-can-eat-and-keep-going rodízio de churrasco) and some of the hottest women living in Eastern Massachusetts in the world. They are the undisputed worldwide kings of soccer futebol. Also Tom Brady's wife. And a great Terry Gilliam film.

It is also the only country in South America, and in the entire Western Hemisphere (if we choose to ignore Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and fucking Portugal), that speaks Portuguese. This has been a frequent problem for the country, because the language barrier is likely the only thing keeping Brazil from being the regional hegemon of South America.

With its large population, enormous size, and status as a rising power, in addition to its unique language for the region, Brazil is practically its own continent; when you say "Latin America," Brazil frowns, because they don't like being lumped together with their Spanish neighbors.[1]

On the hand, the Portuguese language is also a fundamental element of national integration. It is spoken by virtually the entire population of Brazil, in contrast to the country's enormous regional diversity in terms of natural landscape, ethnic composition, culture, history, and level of social and economical development.

In 2010, they elected their first female president, Dilma Rousseff. In May 2016, she was suspended by Congress, and replaced by Michel Temer, who holds that office in an interim capacity until the Senate delivers its final verdict. Supporters of President Rousseff have since claimed the impeachment motion was a coup, even though it has followed due process and is duly approved by the Supreme Court. As disliked as President Rousseff has become, that does not mean Acting President Temer is popular by any stretch. Indeed, most people would like to have new elections ahead of time.[2] Since, however, new elections can only take place in advance if Temer is impeached before 2017 or 60% of Congress approve a Constitutional Amendment, and he holds sway over a large fraction of Congress at the moment, this is unlikely to happen.

Contents

[edit] History

Brazil, as many other countries around the world, is historically marked by political conservatism, violence against minorities, sexism and other disgraces, including dictatorships, slavery, absolute material misery for the majority of the population[3], elitism, political and business corruption, rape and racism (which eventually became matters of middle class “jokes” supposedly on the grounds of the right to freedom of speech[4]) and even fascism.[5] On the other hand, Brazil has won the FIFA World Cup five times -- certainly no disgrace (as conservatism has been deemed, along with slavery).[6]

Before 1500, Brazil was inhabited by a large number of different ethnic groups and comprised a gigantic linguistic and cultural diversity. A few years before the colonization, the north of Brazil was occupied by complex, densely populated chiefdoms with increasingly centralized authorities. The indigenous people of other regions had no systematic agriculture activity and depended mainly on fishing, hunting and horticulture.

Then, after civil war, famine and the Black Death, some Portuguese adventurers decided to expand beyond the Atlantic, eventually discovering the until recently unknown lands of the New World, specifically Brazil – much to the bemusement of the people who lived there already. For the next three hundred years, the Portuguese sought to solidify institutions such as slavery and vice-royalties in their New World colonies. They also implanted a European-like landowner’s aristocracy in the country, which is usually understood as the foundation of huge social disparities (which last roughly to our days).

During the Napoleonic wars, the king of Portugal and his family, friends and courtesans alike, feeling that things were about to get really hot in the Hispanic Peninsula, decided to escape and hide in Rio de Janeiro, one of the biggest Brazilian cities of the time. This led to an odd and indeed chaotic situation, where a colonized territory suddenly became the site of a European monarchy. There is an ongoing debate on whether the flight of the monarchy in 1808 led to more violence against the poor people of Brazil, or if it was only a way of impoverishing all other areas of the country except for Rio (a combination of both effects is equally plausible). The fact is that when the Portuguese liberal revolution of 1820 exploded, the Portuguese and Brazilians alike were summoned to a Constitutional Assembly. Apparently, Brazilians thought that their new constitution, which was very progressive and inclusive indeed (the freed slaves and Brazilians of African descent were granted many civil and political rights, while the monarchy would be subjected to a parliament), was way too liberal for them. Accordingly, they declared independence in 1822 and soon adopted a constitutional absolutist monarchy under King (more arrogantly “emperor”) Peter I, the son of the former King John VI.

[edit] Empire

King Peter II sleeps reading the news, demonstrating how active and fairly efficient the monarchy was.

King Peter I was a ruthless authoritarian. He was also a terrible diplomat and deplorable strategist, having been easily defeated by the Argentinean troops in the Cisplatine War (a creepy violent dispute for the possession of territories currently belonging to Uruguay), although Argentina had little military power and was facing great domestic instability. Incredibly enough, the Argentines proved to be even worse diplomats than Peter I ever was, since they agreed to transform Cisplatina into a buffer-state, instead of attaching it to their own territory, even though they had actually won the war. Not surprisingly, their president was assassinated after the agreement.

Peter I was so politically awkward that he was soon expelled from Brazil, considered to be more occupied with the Portuguese political matters than the Brazilian ones. Curiously, he came to be known in Portugal as a great hero, since his evil brother Dom Michael was even more conservative, and had restored an absolutist monarchical government (with no constitution) in Portugal after a somewhat grisly coup d’état, which Peter successfully reverted after defeating Michael during civil strife. But that’s another story.

Peter left Brazil in 1831. Thereafter, the country was run by a bunch of bureaucrats and clerks that served as regents during the minority of the future king (that is, till 1840). The regency, as the Brazilians themselves would call it, was a festa do caqui (literally, “party of the Asian persimmon” meaning “a great mess”) with civil strife, conflicting legislation and unstable cabinets. There was also some kind of dispute among liberal and conservative parties, although they had little (if any) ideological divergence beyond federalist or non-federalist purposes. In fact, they were so similar that people often said “a liberal resembles a conservative more than anything else”.

Slavery was Brazil’s main institution since the colony times and was hardly criticized, even after the intensive British propaganda and effective political measures against it. When King Peter II assumed the throne, things changed little, as the slave labour was essential to the Brazilian main economic activity, the production of commodities (first sugar-cane, then coffee). Many people find it hard to believe that such a vast and potentially powerful State could have dedicated almost itsentire economy to these extremely risky and dependent activities for so many years; however, after you get to know the Veja magazine (one of the most important medias of the country) or the Brazilian bourgeoisie, this is hardly the case.

During the reign of Peter II, Brazil fought a war against Paraguay, apparently due to the imperialistic projects of the Paraguayan president. The war, which was a never-ending savagery, was further promoted by the United Kingdom, for obviously equally imperialistic reasons. Finally, there came a time when the King himself found it extremely shameful to maintain slave labour, and began a series of orchestrated attempts to put a definitive end to it. The abolition of slavery took many years to happen (it is widely known that Brazil was one of the last countries to do it), but it was finally concluded in 1888. Peter II, along with his renewed cabinet, had also progressively reformed some of the country's institutions. Unsurprisingly, this led to a republican coup d’état in the next year, backed by the Brazilian armed forces, that instituted an even more oligarchic and conservative regime.

[edit] The Old Republic

The republican government was a club: the totality of its politicians counted no more than five hundred men, most of which were eligible by an active (voting) citizenry of less than two per cent of the total population. Once again, one wonders why it was still necessary to commit electoral fraud (a very common practice before 1946) in such a republic. At this epoch, a great mass of European refugees (especially from Italy, Portugal, Poland and Germany) came to Brazil. They had either been deceived by the Brazilian propaganda or, more commonly, were simply desperate for something to eat. The Brazilian tidy and crude middle classes often regard these ancestors as a reason for being greatly proud, and often claim they were of noble descent or other stupidities like these, whereas in fact they were just poor people or war criminals searching for food.

[edit] Vargas Era

The republic ended in 1930, when a so-called revolution took place (the reasons for this nomenclature are still to be explained). São Paulo, a very unimportant district of the country until the end of the nineteenth century, had become both an economic and political power during the republic and dominated the republican general elections along with Minas Gerais (another unity of the federation). This was surely regarded by many other unities of the federation as usurpation. In addition, a group of discontent low-ranking military (the tenentes) began criticizing and even affronting the establishment, as they thought the government was corrupt and the elections were fraudulent. Getúlio Vargas (by the way, a not unknown former minister of republican governments) conducted the military campaign against the oligarchs of the republic, and founded a new regime. During 1931 and 1932 the regime had no constitution, and sought to debilitate opposition, destroying even the forces of the proud and conservative Paulistas. In 1934 the president Vargas summoned a constitutional assembly; nevertheless, the new constitution seemed exaggeratedly liberal for the provisional president that never really obeyed its rules. Actually, he supported fascist groups inside Brazil (the Integralistas, also known as “green chickens”) for rather a long time before his coup d’état. He created a so-called state police that used torture as a mean of investigation. Vargas smashed organized opposition from the left (the National Liberation Alliance, for example, was deemed illegal less than one year after its creation), persecuted Jews and censored the press. In 1937, claiming that “agents from Moscow” were planning a takeover he instituted a dictatorship that lasted almost a decade.

Members of the Brazilian fascist movement, the hysterical "Integralistas". The "Integralistas" are still kicking around.

The dictatorship was nationalist, conservative and centralist. Although Vargas himself was no fascist, he deeply admired Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. However, under North American pressure, he decided to side with the United States in World War II, and lost considerable support from crazy right-wing fascists. In the last years of his government, Vargas created three base industrial complexes and tried to guarantee minimum labor rights for the gigantic mass of Brazilian excluded and explored workers. These acts were considered almost a miracle from heaven and Vargas is admired to this day (as the humble’s father by one hand, and the rich people’s mother, by the other).

[edit] The 1946-Republic

With the victory of the Soviet Union and democratic republics in WWII, the Vargas' dictatorship was quickly replaced by a more democratic republic, where almost ten percent of the population could vote. This was obviously a nightmare for the Brazilian oligarchs and the Brazilian middle classes, since a very small number of workers could therefore influence the final electoral results. This was indeed the case with the election of Eurico Gaspar Dutra in 1946. In 1950, Getúlio Vargas was directly elected president, as a big part of the Brazilian workers recognized him as their benefactor. Vargas’ nationalist economic policies (which were by no means revolutionary) faced intense opposition from the Brazilian conservatives. Vargas was particularly disliked by an abhorrent figure of Brazilian history, a journalist named Carlos Lacerda, whose writings must be read to be believed (it would not be an exaggeration to say that he has some successors in contemporary Brazil). Deeply depressed by the course of events, Vargas took his own life in 1954, causing some national commotion (some say that the high esteem with which Vargas is held by Brazilians to this day is more difficult to comprehend than the trinity). Actually, Vargas had faced an ever increasing interventionist ideology sustained by some branches of the armed forces and the Brazilian bourgeoisie, since these groups could not tolerate any political shift towards progressive economic or social policies. Conspiracies were loosely organized but were getting stronger, and there was an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the elected president Juscelino Kubitschek (aka. JK) from taking power in 1955.

Juscelino’s government was progressive to a certain extent and is remembered as the Brazilian Golden Age, although the Brazilian debts increased radically during these years, since the current Brazilian capital, Brasília, was built during his term. Legend says that he got the idea during a press conference where someone asked him if he was willing to obey the constitution, specifically the part where it said that the capital should be moved towards the center of the country. His catchphrase was "50 years in 5!", alluding Brazil would progress 50 years in 5. The national debt did, at least.

He was replaced by a psychotic professor called Jânio Quadros. Jânio stayed briefly in power and soon resigned, apparently because he was not only a freak and a moralist, but was also incredibly arrogant to think that the Congress would beg for his permanence. His successor, João Goulart (aka. Jango, the vice-president) took office in 1961, soon after the conservatives accused him of communism and forced him to accept a parliamentary government, where he would have no great power. The Congress supported this coup, but Jango prepared a referendum for 1963, when the citizens declared themselves in favor of a presidential system. Jango defended wide “base reforms” in Brazil, which had already been done in the developed countries such as Japan, the United States and so on. For the first time ever in the history of Brazil, a president was proposing genuine land reform, universal suffrage, fiscal reform and many other basic democratic ideas. Nonetheless, it was almost impossible to demonstrate to the Brazilian elite that land and fiscal reforms were not communism, since they live in an alternative reality. Jango was repeatedly accused of being against Christian faith, and the Catholic Church was overtly against his government. Businessmen, the middle class and the Brazilian press (concentrated in the hands of four to ten families, whose paranoic publications usually make you believe they were/are trapped in Sauron’s Mordor) united against what they called “the communist threat”. In fact, the conservative middle classes organized an amazingly sick demonstration against Goulart called “the march of the family on behalf of god and the fatherland”.

[edit] Brazilian military dictatorship

The dictatorship imposed by the armed forces was bloodthirsty, repressive, and moralist. Although censorship had already been instituted in the 1946 Republic, its scope became wider and dumber (believe it or not) after the coup. Torture was institutionalized immediately after the seizure of power. The dictator Castelo Branco, often referred only as “president” by the Brazilians themselves, tried to create a moderate center-right self-identity (so that he could be immortalized as an odonym); this was no hard task, for in addition to few Brazilians knowing what an odonym is, the ignoble and sordid (if not noble and odonymistic) far right was really worse, as they defended eugenics, genocide and the implosion of minorities along with any possible opposition group (in effect, for the Brazilian right-wing psychotic “citizens” as a whole, any sort of opposition are commies).

After Castelo Branco’s administration, the Brazilian dictatorship quickly degenerated into a more evil aberration. The Institutional Act number five, for example, issued by president Artur da Costa e Silva, suspended habeas corpus and judicial review, alongside with the virtual suppression of the Congress' deliberative power. Monstrous activities followed, such as the persecution and eventual suicide (aka. assassination) of congressmen, journalists and other civilians opposed (or not) to the government. Furthermore a bizarre “group” inside the armed forces called “linha dura” ("hardliners") promoted terrorist attacks against civilians during these years, as they thought this would fortify the dictatorship position. These practices consisted, for example, in exploding the site of the OAB (The Order of Attorneys of Brazil) and saying that this was a communist attack. In a parallel universe this would have worked.

Things became harder to sustain after dictator Geisel implemented a series of statist economic policies, which was Brazilian and foreign businessmen considered equivalent to a communist revolution. In fact, as Geisel himself reported, the Brazilian elite had never formally requested the end of torture and other atrocities like these, but they were concerned with the impact of economic policies on their profits. The same holds true for the Brazilian press, which never condemned summary killing and torture in general, and which have even provided assistance for the torturers and the political police. Golbery de Couto e Silva, for example, an éminence grise of the regime, said once that the newspaper “Estado de São Paulo” needed no censorship, as the Mesquita family (owner of the newspaper) was even more conservative than himself.

[edit] The New Republic

The return to democracy was a gradual and controlled process. Civil society was tired of the dictatorship violence; the economic growth had ended, inflation was rising, and even the middle classes were no longer happy with the regime they helped to establish. In 1988, Brazil promulgated a new particularly democratic constitution, assuring universal suffrage for the first time. In the presidential campaign that followed, however, the Globo television station (formerly allied with the dictatorship) and the oligarchic press massively supported the obscure candidate Fernando Collor de Mello for the presidency (much to the pleasure of the middle classes; for he was rich, conservative and handsome), who was soon deposed by the same political forces that had him elected. This utterly demonstrates that the Brazilian elites are deeply incompetent.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, considered by the intelligence (?) service of the dictatorship to be a commie (although his party, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, is liberal in economic policies), was finally elected president during a high inflationary crisis, and he succeeded to combat it, having being elected for a second term in 1998, although involved in a voting buying scandal to legalize reelection, which wasn't permitted by the Law until then[7]. In the next presidential elections, the Brazilians elected Lula (aka. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from the Workers' Party), who had been an important leader of syndicalism and an oppositional figure during the dictatorship. For the Brazilian press, his election was considered a catastrophe similar to, if not worse than, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in Ukraine or World War II. Repeatedly, Lula was represented by the media as a new version of Stalin or Fidel Castro, or simply as an “illiterate dumbo” (classism? prejudice? Nah! You are just being too politically correct about it, they would say). In reality, Lula did not make any attempt to systematically reform social conditions in the country, and he just instituted state-financed assistance to prevent people from starving to death (Brazil being Brazil, there is a considerable number of politicians and their relatives and friends who also receive it). He has not even promoted big changes in civil rights, although his economic policies were kind of progressive. In fact, Lula’s government was not social-democratic in any sense, and the sole change was a more nationalist approach to economic policies. The same holds true for his successor, Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla member from the Workers' Party, who has spread terror amongst the middle classes as never before during the 2010 presidential elections. She was re-elected by a narrow margin in second round of presidential elections of 2014 against Aécio Neves, from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party. In 2015, her approval rating dropped to 9% after corruption scandals in Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, were revealed by the Federal Police of Brazil and economic activity started to melt due to misguided economic policy. The country is in a serious political and economic crisis, where President Rousseff's government has been abandoned by almost everybody despite her party saying everything is just fine and criticizing opposition, calling them "bad losers" and "lackeys of neoliberalism" (the latter being common in Internet discussions).

An impeachment process against Ms. Rousseff was accepted by Congress in late 2015. Contrary to what people may think, she is accused of borrowing money from banks the Federal Government controls, which is forbidden by the Fiscal Responsibility law, as opposed to involvement in graft. Her administration failed to block the motion and, as a result, she was suspended in May 2016 as the Senate finally decided to judge the merits of the case and whether or not to impeach her for good. The final vote is expected to be held at August. Michel Temer, the Vice President, became Acting President, and immediately announced a series of austerity measures and appointments for Goldman Sachs associates and executives. For once, austerity might be justified, given that public debt/GDP ratio is climbining quickly and might reach an untenable level otherwise. For instance, in May 2014, gross public debt was 52.6% of GDP. By May 2015, it reached 61.2%. In May 2016, the latest figure as of this writing, gross public debt attained 68.6% of GDP[8]. All told, it will take a lot of time and effort to revert this escalation. President Rousseff did a great disservice to her country.

Austerity measures have yet to be seen, however. In fact, Temer has so far expanded the public payroll[9], boosted public servants' wages, frozen states debt payments to the federal government[10] and given some emergency cash to Rio de Janeiro state[11], raising questions about his commitment to austerity. (On a side note, Rio de Janeiro declared financial emergency state a couple of months before the Olympic games.) The only concrete proposal so far is to establish a public spending cap that determines that federal and states expenses in a year can only grow as much as inflation in the previous year[12]. It is still pending approval by Congress. Supposing it is enacted, though, it would still allow for some real growth in the next couple of years, since inflation is relenting.

The "Car Wash Scandal" (Operação Lava Jato, in strictly terms), an investigation that started in 2014 to inquiry a money laundering that used Gas Stations and Car Washers (duh) to clean money from political bribery, quickly escalated into a complex police operation, involving politicians, lobbyists, ministries, syndicalists and even billionaires (like Marcelo Odebrecht and Léo Pinheiro). Among the politicians implicated is Dilma Rousseff [13], Lula (refereed as the head of the scheme[14]), Eduardo Cunha (former President of Brazil Lower House), Michel Temer [15], Renan Calheiros (President of Brazil Upper Houser), Fernando Collor, Aécio Neves and lots of irrelevant deputies that you probably never heard of, even if you lived in Brazil. Basically, the Car Wash Scandal exposed the rotten root of Brazil's politics and corporations - and it was worse than expected. Seriously, take a look at this partial list of involved people (there's at least other 200 politicians cited, including the ruling president and the former. Literally, all the elected former presidents have an accusation somewhere in the scandal, not to mention the tons of ministries, deputies and senators).

It's expected that the scandal may put Lula in jail for some years, as desired by his opponents and the middle class since 2004. But the scandal is a bit more deeper and is heading to PT's opposition leaders like Aécio Neves and Eduardo Cunha. For these reasons, the scandal is profoundly shaping Brazil's economy, politics and culture, in a way that is still hard to describe.

US-style evangelicalism has fueled homophobia in Brazil in recent years, where gay and transgendered people have been tortured and murdered in ways equal or worse than what Matthew Shepard suffered.[16]

[edit] Brazilian politics

Brazilian politics can be quite difficult to follow. As a presidentialist regime with a fragmented Congress (the lower house of Congress boasts twenty-five parties, the biggest of which currently holds only 13% of the seats), the federal government is forced to establish coalitions by offering key posts in the administration and other benefits, legal and otherwise, to junior partners. Indeed, it is a reason why corruption is rampant in politics.

Here are the main parties of Brazil:

  • The Workers' Party (PT) - the current government party. Originally left-wing, now they are seen as center-left. Known for: a) saying that opponents are white elitists who hate poor people; b) calling opponents fascists regardless of political beliefs, and c) claiming that any center or right-wing party will end welfare programs because of a). Their leader is Lula, who poses as the "paladin of social justice", yet became as corrupt as his predecessors. The party has since refused to support President Dilma Rousseff's pledge to anticipate elections[17], effectively abandoning her. This is partly in response to an interview in which she blames the PT for illegal funding of her 2010 campaign. [18] In other words, they have thrown each other to the lions, "coup" gambit notwithstanding.
  • The Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) - despite the name, they were closer to neoliberalism than to social democracy. The guys who lost the last four presidential elections due to incompetence. Known for being the generic "opposition party" despite never being a true opposition at all - in fact, no one trusts them, not even the "elites".
  • The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), a loose confederation of regional parties with no particular political orientation. It is a centrist party, but ts main agenda is to be a coalition partner to whatever government is in charge and reap any benefits this affords them, and thus leans left or right depending on which way the wind blows. It used to be the main ally of the PT. Nowadays, not so much. It is currently the party with most elected members of Congress in both houses. It is also the party of Michel Temer, Dilma Rousseff's Vice-President and, as of this writing, interim President of Brazil. As mentioned above, it is currently pending to the right and pursuing austerity, albeit half-heartedly at best.
  • The other 32 parties are mostly irrelevant by themselves, but they nonetheless occupy most of Congress (more than half the seats in the Senate and nearly two thirds in the lower house) and should not, therefore, be ignored. The sole purpose for most of them is to support the government in exchange for favors - legal or otherwise. A few noteworthy exceptions are PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party, a name which was definitely created through the practice of doublethinking) and PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil), left parties still loyal to and more radical than the PT. Another exception is the PSC (Social Christian Party), a religious and conservative party, with everything it entails, and infamous for electing some truly distasteful politicians (as well as possibly some genuinely tasteful, depending upon whose taste buds are consulted).

[edit] Notas de rodapé

  1. Ever confused Japanese with Chinese before? That's basically how it is with the Spanish and Portuguese. Similar roots, different tree.
  2. Greenwald, Glenn, and Dau, Erick. "Brazil’s Largest Newspaper Commits Major Journalistic Fraud to Boost Interim President Temer". July 19, 2016. The Intercept.
  3. Extrema Pobreza no Brasil, Jayme Benvenuto Lima Junior,Lena Zetterström,Flávio Luiz Schieck Valente
  4. Brazil: Jokes about rape and the limit of humour
  5. [1] Integralism: Brazilian Fascism in the 30’s, Hélgio Trindade.
  6. Fifa World Cup Official Website
  7. "Brazil's Chief Wins Vote Despite Scandal". May 22, 1997. NY Times.
  8. [2] Brazilian Central Bank public debt data compilation, 2008 methodology.
  9. "Reajuste do servidor e 14.000 novos cargos: austeridade de Temer em xeque". June 3, 2016. El País.
  10. "Governo suspende dívidas dos estados até fim do ano". June 21, 2016. G1.
  11. "Governo federal socorre Rio para garantir segurança na Olimpíada". June 22, 2016. El País.
  12. "Governo propõe teto para o gasto público e limite na concessão de subsídios". May 24, 2016. O Estado de São Paulo'.
  13. [3]
  14. [4]
  15. [5]
  16. Influence of U.S. Evangelicals Is Seen In Epidemic of LGBT Murders In Brazil
  17. "Presidente do PT descarta proposta de Dilma sobre novas eleições" August 4, 2016. "Folha de São Paulo".
  18. "Dilma: PT é responsável por eventual pagamento de caixa 2 a Santana" July 27, 2016. "Valor Econômico".
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