What Is Brazil Fighting For?

I work on Avenida Paulista. That means that I can not ignore the current political situation in Brazil even if I wanted to. Until the next political scandal hit, I had already become quite successful in avoiding conversations with Brazilians about politics. I had made the mistake a couple of times before and managed to offend some of my conversation partners thoroughly with my views on the Brazilian political system and how it looked like it was steering far from democracy.

Since then I have learnt the lesson. It is always good to know that even though Brazilians may complain a lot and speak badly about their own country, criticism from foreigners hits a soft spot and, therefore, is frowned upon. The rule goes: if you are not a Brazilian, then you can agree with what has already been said, but you should not add on top of it yourself.

Try Working in the Nucleus of Protests

Nevertheless, let us come back to the situation on hand. Namely, Avenida Paulista, the former business center of São Paulo, is the place where most protests take place. For the last couple of weeks the protests for and against the government have been happening almost daily. They are noisy and they last for hours, sometimes even days. There are people camping outside in the street as we speak. I hear they are planning to stay there until the president resigns. Or is taken down.

And the little foreign introverted me works right here, in an office on the 19th floor of a tall and slim glass building straight in the middle of the Avenida Paulista hotspot, that doesn’t quite offer a full view of the street nor manages to block out the noise.

I tried to ignore writing about the situation as long as I could – politics just is not the topic I want my blog to focus on, nor do I actually enjoy talking about it. However, co-habiting for 8 hours daily with all the honking, drums, whistling, megaphones, helicopters going round and round have finally broken my will.

It All Started with a Car Wash

To those who do not know what is going on, I will sum it up very quickly:

Several Brazilian businessmen and politicians are being investigated for corruption. Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), carried out by Judge Sérgio Moro, started as a money laundering investigation. Soon, however, it turned out that the state-controlled oil company Petrobras was involved in a huge corruption scheme. The testimonies of the people being investigated in turn lead to widening the scope of investigation to major Brazilian construction firms, as well as politicians involved with Petrobras.

One of the politicians questioned as part of a huge fraud inquiry, was the former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (mostly referred to as Lula), a very good friend from the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT)) of the current president Dilma Rousseff (mostly referred to as Dilma). Police thoroughly searched his house and said they had evidence against Lula’s (and his family’s) participation in the scheme and receiving illegal benefits.

What the police found in addition to that when searching his house almost sounds like an urban legend. One version going around claims that Lula stored some valuable art pieces missing from Brazilian museums in his basement.

Dilma & Lula against the World

While Dilma had chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, she denied knowledge of any wrongdoing, which is pretty hard for many to believe to be true. In addition, once it became a real danger that Lula was sentenced to prison after being charged with money laundering and fraud, Dilma decided to make him a minister, chief of staff, a position that gives immunity from all but the Supreme Court, delaying any attempts to prosecute him.

To make things even worse, a taped phone conversation was leaked to the public where Dilma informed Lula about sending him the document and telling him to use it in case of need. Although, they both dismissed any critical interpretations of the call and claimed that the recording was illegal, the country exploded with rage. Many were echoing the opposing party’s claim that the career move was meant to shield Lula from prosecution.

Red against Green’n’Yellow

While hundreds of thousand dressed in green and yellow go out on the streets day after day and demand loudly for Dilma to resign, another comparable amount of people dressed in red also go out on the streets in protection of the current government. They accuse the right-wing party and green and yellow protesters of attempting a coup d’etat.

Meanwhile, the president refuses to resign, saying that everything that is happening (including the charges against Lula) is the result of the opposing party’s violence against the government, which is both, illegal and unjustifiable.

While those against the government say that they are tired of corruption and the country being awfully administered in the personal interests of those governing, the red-shirts respond that they are the only ones protecting Brazil’s democracy by not letting an illegal overturn happen.

Confusion to the Maximum

I must admit, the whole thing is extremely confusing and frustrating. Apparently, you cannot trust any national media – they are all bought by someone and rarely independent or objective. The information that we do have is insufficient and people do not even seem to agree on the most obvious facts. Somehow, everything just seems to be a matter of interpretation.

Everything that is happening (or not happening), is automatically identified by someone as an attack against someone else in the war between the left and right wing parties. The rage in the streets, on the internet, in social media, is frightening. There is so much manipulation that I do not know what the truth is and what is not, whether there is actually anyone honest or at least a bit trustworthy among the policymakers at all.

In the meanwhile, the country is completely polarized, friends turn against each other, and everyone becomes an expert on the matter. The actual legal procedures and bureaucracies take time and no one knows what the outcome will be. Moreover, it seems that the ping-pong of propaganda or the constant honking and banging of pots and pans will never stop.

This is what I, a foreigner living in Brazil, am witnessing daily just by being present and going to work. And I just could not ignore it anymore.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Robson Silva says:

    As Shakespeare could say “Much Ado About Nothing”… err… nothing clear, at least. Anyway, that’s a pitty you become affraid of expose some particular opinion, but i really enjoyed the part ” criticism from foreigners hits a soft spot”. (We) brazilians carry lots of expectations about foreigner’s oppinion, too much sensibility. I love one brazilian TV Ad that show it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVXitPPsdIQ


  2. Robert Austin Kelly says:

    It is most certainly true that we foreigners here need to be extremely tight lipped with any opinion on Brazilian politics. I have accidentally offended friends and coworkers alike before learning this lesson for myself. Thank you for the breakdown… I think it it a relatively concise 101 class for those who are unaware of the political climate here.


    1. Daryl T Browd says:

      To Robert Austin Kelly: Not quite in the same context, but I’ve also experienced situations in Brazil where I unintentionally offended people. I remember once when I was in Sao Paulo during Carnaval, I was at a small gathering in an apartment and we had a view from the window of the Carnaval parade marching in the street below. So I’m looking at these marvelous dancers costumes, wild music, and I told someone in English how amazing it all was and how we didn’t have anything quite like this in the USA. One guy then tells me in English, “Maybe that’s because you don’t need this in your country”. He then went on to tell how for the poor, this was the highlight of the year for them, etc. etc. Anyway, it was not a friendly conversation, it was more like he was scolding me. It was really strange, and considering that it was Carnaval, this guy was a real downer! It was totally unexpected at that moment.


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