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Will the Calls for Impeachment Grow in Brazil?

Will the Calls for Impeachment Grow in Brazil?

63 percent of Brazilians favor the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. (Photo by Eraldo Peres/AP)

The calls for the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may not be fading away anytime soon, after allegations by a convicted currency dealer recently surfaced as part of a congressional commission. The commission is looking into alleged corruption at Petrobras, Brazil’s state-run oil company, which transpired during the ten-year period Dilma served as chairwoman of the national oil company. Brazilian prosecutors accuse Petrobras executives and two dozen engineering firms of inflating their service contracts as much as 6.2 billion reais ($2.1 billion) so the excess funds could be transferred to personal bank accounts and also to political parties. Thirty-four politicians in office are also being investigated by the Supreme Court in Brasilia on suspicion of receiving bribes.

The currency dealer, Alberto Youssef, alleges Dilma and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva knew about the alleged scheme, “It is my understanding that [they] knew everything.” Last month, Youssef was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to three years in prison — a reduced sentence given his cooperation with investigators. Youssef came under investigation after prosecutors uncovered evidence he had given a luxury automobile to a Petrobras executive. Youssef has also implicated the Brazilian unit of Toshiba, the Japanese conglomerate, of paying bribes to win contracts with Petrobras.

Nestor Cerveró, a former Petrobras director, has also been arrested and charged with money laundering and bribery.  Last week, Cerveró declined to answer prosecutor’s question while denying all charges against him.

Will these latest allegations by a convicted money launderer be enough to topple the President?  The majority of Brazilians are likely to believe the allegations by Youssef, as close to 70 percent hold  President Rousseff responsible for the corruption. Recent polls show 63 percent of respondents favor impeaching the president, and 65 percent rating her government’s performance as negative.  In March, the corruption scandal at Petrobras brought out the largest demonstrations since those which helped topple the military dictatorship in 1985.

Earlier attempts by an opposition party in March to put forward a petition to investigate President Rousseff resulted in being overturned by the Supreme Court due to “technical errors.” The opposition is also looking at allegations Dilma violated a fiscal responsibility law to splurge on her reelection campaign. Many analysts believe the likelihood of Dilma being impeached are low, as Brazilian law states impeachment can only occur if the alleged offense takes place during the current term of presidential office.

As always, many political events are being driven by economic considerations. Brazil’s Finance Minister Joaquim Levy is doing his best to avoid a credit downgrade through austerity programs intended to reduce the government deficit by increasing revenues and cutting spending. Yet Levy is facing growing opposition from a Congress who believe his programs will fail to stem the recession and will only harm the population. Levy’s attempts at trying to rein in one of the world’s most generous pension systems, which spends over 10 percent of GDP on retirees, suffered a major setback last Wednesday, after the lower house of Congress passed an amendment to increase pension outlays by 40 billion reais ($13.34 billion) within ten years. The amendment is yet to clear the Senate and a potential veto by Dilma, who saw lawmakers from allied parties and from her own Workers’ Party vote for the amendment.

Public anger has also been fueled by an outbreak of dengue fever — some 229 have been killed by the mosquito-borne virus so far this year — an increase of 45 percent from this time last year.  Over 750,000 cases of the virus have been reported and are serving to remind Brazilians of the sad state of their health care system, which has been highlighted in recent polls as the country’s biggest problem. Last June, in a nationwide poll by Datafolha, over 87 percent of those polled were unhappy with the health care system.

With many Brazilians still struggling financially because of the economic downturn and angry about the poor state of their health care, the calls for impeachment could grow louder should the new finance minister not be able to quickly turn the economy around. If the direct link of Dilma to the corruption alleged by Youssef is firmly planted in the minds of Brazilians, and former President Lula, himself implicated by Youssef, fails to back Dilma, the opposition and the masses could again turn to the streets in protest, and force Dilma to make a graceful exit.  Yet before taking to the streets with calls for impeachment, Brazilians would do well to ponder the bagunça (mess) this would create afterwards, and carefully consider the alternatives.



Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Twitter@ForeignDevil666