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The Brazilian Workers' Party (in Portuguese: Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT, pronounced /peˈte/) is the most influential political party in Brazil. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, both being members of the PT, served as president.[note 1]
The PT represents one of the largest left-wing movements in Latin America. Although officialy a party of democratic socialists, it has openly supported (and financially aided) authoritarian regimes such as Cuba and Venezuela.
Its supporters claim that the party's social assistance programs saved millions of starving Brazilians (which is highly debatable, even among the Brazilian left), while its opponents emphasize on the party's corruption scandals since Lula first came to power.
Founded in 1980, after the end of suppression of political parties under the ruling anti-communist military regime, the PT gathered followers among trade unionists, left-wing intellectuals, artists and even religious groups. Its head figure was Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or simply Lula, the leader of an ironmasters' union. He ran for president in 1989, 1994 and 1998, becoming the second most voted in each of those elections, but he would only win in his fourth attempt in 2002. Meanwhile, internal branches of PT with diverging ideology split and formed new parties.
Despite its involvement in several corruption scandals since Lula first came to power, the PT won all presidential elections from 2002 to 2014: Lula was re-elected in 2006 and one of his ministers, Dilma Rousseff, was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, by a very narrow margin. An economical crisis and a large corruption scandal fueled protests against Dilma, who was then impeached in 2016 In 2018, Lula was arrested for his involvement in some of the aforementioned corruption scandals. The next year, however, he was released from prison.
Support for the PT decreased severely afterwards, to the point that in the 2018 presidential elections, a majority of Brazilians decided to go the other extreme and elected a far-right racist, sexist and homophobic nutjob as their next president. Apparently, Brazilians have skewed priorities.[note 2]
In 2021, a justice of the Brazilian Supreme Court dropped all charges against Lula. He wasn't exactly acquitted, his trial being postponed, but this returned him his political rights.
In 2022, Lula ran for president again and defeated Bolsonaro by a very narrow margin. Lula became president again on 1 January 2023.
Here is a summary of some major scandals the PT was involved in.
Bingo scandal (2004)
This scandal consisted of PT Chief of Staff member Waldomiro Diniz bribing and extorting businessmen to finance the party's next campaign. The name comes from the main document proving his involvement: a leaked recording of Diniz extorting Carlinhos Cachoeira, an owner of bingo houses.
Mensalão, meaning "big monthly payment", referred to the bribe of 30,000 reais (around US$12,000 at the time) paid for each of a number of congressmen to vote for legislation favoring the PT. The scheme was whistleblowed by Roberto Jefferson, who did it in retaliation for his exposure in a previous scandal related to postal services. One of the involved even hid dollar bucks in his underpants! Many key advisers to Lula resigned and the accomplices were forced to either resign or accept expulsion from congress.
Upon investigation, Chief of Staff José Dirceu (also a PT member) confessed that he was the leader of the scheme. Many believe he did so to prevent investigation from going further and connecting Lula to the scheme, which would probably bring down his government. Nevertheless, most Brazilians seemed to have forgotten about the scandal as Lula was re-elected the following year.
Petrobras scandal (2014)
This was by far the biggest and most harmful scandal, not only in Brazil, but in all of Latin America. In 2014, banker Alberto Youssef was investigated after accusations of using a gas station for money laundering. When he was offered a plea deal in exchange for more information, he revealed a huge national scheme between Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras and politicians from the PT and other parties.
Petrobras would hire one of competing engineering companies to build an important oil refinery in Rio de Janeiro, but the companies instead formed a cartel to fix prices and take turns for different stages of the construction. This allowed Odebrecht, the ring leader of the cartel, to profit much more than expected. Odebrecht money laundered its earnings via gas stations and bribed politicians and Petrobras top executives. The politicians enjoyed the bribe since it was useful for financing their campaigns.
Since Petrobras had many offices not only in Brazil but in several countries across Latin America, the scandal caused severe unemployment. On the other hand, it prompted the creation of Operation Car Wash, a massive corruption investigation system that kept arresting several corrupt politicians and businessmen until its termination in 2021.
- Lula served during 2003-2011, and began another term in 2023; Dilma served during 2011-2016
- Though to be fair, if the 2016 U.S. presidential election has taught us anything, this isn't too different from how American voters prioritize the economy over any other issue.
- Estatuto do PT. Article I of the party's statute reads: O Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) é uma associação [...] com o objetivo de construir o socialismo democrático, meaning "The Workers' Party (PT) is an association [...] with the goal of building democratic socialism".
- Archive from PT's official website The headline reads: "Venezuela: once again an example of democracy and civic participation"
- From PT's official website A tribute to Fidel Castro by the PT's Secretary of Foreign Affairs.
- Cuba-Brazil relations
- Samuels, David. "From Socialism to Social Democracy: Party Organization and The Transformation of the Workers’ Party in Brazil". Comparative Political Studies. p. 3.
- See the Wikipedia article on 1989 Brazilian presidential election.
- See the Wikipedia article on 1994 Brazilian general election.
- See the Wikipedia article on 1998 Brazilian general election.
- See the Wikipedia article on 2002 Brazilian general election.
- See the Wikipedia article on 2010 Brazilian general election.
- See the Wikipedia article on 2014 Brazilian general election.
- Jonathan Watts, "Brazil's Dilma Rouseff impeached by senate in crushing defeat", 1 September 2016 The Guardian.
- Manuela Andreoni, Ernesto Londoño and Shasta Darlington, "Ex-president 'Lula' of Brazil surrenders to 12-year jail term", 7 April 2014, The New York Times.
- BBC. "Q&A: Brazil's 'big monthly' corruption trial". 21 November 2012. Retrieved on 10 March 2013
- The biggest corruption scandal in Latin America’s history by Vox. YouTube.