Impeachment or ‘Soft Coup’?: The Revenge of the Right and the state of democracy in Brazil and Latin America today

By Ana C. Dinerstein

For Latin Americans, hearing the words ‘corruption in the government’ on the radio or TV activates a regional collective memory of economic and political crisis. In the past, these have been underpinned by corruption by political elites and resulted in massive citizen mobilisations that on many occasions have led to the departure of heads of state and ministers before their time. For example, former Brazilian President Collor de Mello (1990 to 1992), who resigned in order to avoid an impeachment trial.

But the current situation in Brazil is different. The argument that the president and her entourage have committed corruption is untenable. The impeachment process is the real threat to democracy. Over the past few months, many regional organisations (e.g. FLACSO, CLACSO, OEA, UNASUR), social movement and activists’ networks (e.g. PasalaVOZ, MST) and independent scholars, have signed a number of declarations and petitions repudiating the blatant attempt of the right to destabilise democracy by plotting against the democratically elected president. The plot was denounced by the Argentinean Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel in his speech at a special session of the Brazilian Senado. Even The Economist –a permanent critic of President Rousseff’s politics and policy, has maintained that ‘in the absence of proof of criminality, impeachment is unwarranted … looks like a pretext for ousting an unpopular president’. [1]

While there is no evidence that can be used to convict President Rousseff of corruption, Eduardo Cunha -the speaker of the lower house of Congress presiding over the impeachment process is being legally prosecuted, accused of corruption regarding offshore funds stolen from Petrobras, together with 37 other MPs who are members of the impeachment commission’. [2] Michel Temer, vice-president from the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement- PMDB who would replace president Rousseff now that the impeachment is going ahead, is also suspected of doing an illegal deal regarding the selling of Ethanol. Many other politicians who voted against Rousseff are involved in the Operation Lava Jato.[3]

Is this a bad joke? Not at all. The president has given the impeachment process another -more appropriate, name-: it is a ‘coup’, she said. To be sure, this is not a military coup but a ‘soft coup’. Those coups d’etat in Argentina (1977), Chile (1973), and Brazil (1964) are no longer an option (for now). Those dictators had a mission: to physically annihilate and uproot the revolutionary politics of the left which, right or wrong, engaged millions of young activists and were spreading through the region. Massacre, assassination, kidnapping, torture and incarceration became essential tools for the implementation of economic and labour policy, a policy that deeply transformed the countries’ economies through the destruction of national industry and the import substitution strategy, liberalisation, indebtness, poverty, and the return to the agro-export model which attributes Latin America the role of exporting raw materials to the North.

Today, Brazilian democracy is not threatened by a military coup but by a ‘Parliamentary’ coup. This has already happened in Honduras and Paraguay. The revenge of the right is lurking behind the parliamentary coup. Politicians and business people, with allies in the judicial system and the media, followed by the ill-advised middle classes. They are promoting and supporting a ‘soft coup’ that perversely makes a distorted use of democratic institutions and procedures to defeat a legitimately elected president.

The mistakes of the PT in government should be acknowledged. But the impeachment process in Brazil is a political strategy and victory for those who have tried for decades to defeat the PT-CUT alliance and have now found a ‘legal’ way to do it. Their revenge was always latent. Today, the desire for revenge is no longer a secret but an open and celebrated statement. The Latin American right cringe when they hear the names Lula, Dilma, Cristina, Evo and Hugo. They want to reverse the gains of the last decade made by the popular and working classes (however insufficient they were), and make sure that there will be no more interruptions in the process of transformation they are seeking to accomplish. The downfall of the PT in this demeaning way, i.e. a process full of lies and intricate betrayals, signifies the defeat of one idea that they think must be erased from the regional political horizon: hope.

Even worse – the ghost of 1964 is haunting Brazil. Many demonstrating in the streets did not simply support the impeachment, as the plotters want us to believe. In the ‘confluence of dissatisfactions’ [4] those who were disappointed with the PT government policies were joined by the confused middle classes who hate Lula Da Silva and the PT’s populism, and those who are taking the opportunity to get their anti-communist and Fascist messages across: the dictatorship of 1964 should have killed them all.[5]

Carl Schmitt’s definition of the sovereign as the one ‘who decides on the state of exception’ makes sense. And the ‘state of exception’, as Agamben suggests, is now the rule. ‘The party is over!’ [6] They think that the other party, Timer’s party, the celebration of the right, with the media, the oligarchies, and the always-puzzled middle classes, will keep on going, until the end of the short period of rehearsal of populist/neo-developmentalist/socialist policy is definitely over.

They are missing one important point: That the hatred of the popular and working classes is inexorably a hatred of democracy. The revenge of the right that has begun in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela – and will surely spread throughout the region, will have to face a long-term process of mass mobilisation and struggle. What we should expect in the years to come is not less democracy, but a struggle over the meaning of democracy, not only in Brazil but in Latin America.

[1] Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fishman and David Miranda, ‘After Vote to Remove Brazil’s President, Key Opposition Figure Holds Meetings in Washington’

[2] Carolina Mattos, The Conversation, president-56819

[3]Bea Whitaker, João Machado, ‘A Complicated Situation for the Radical Left’

[4]Alfredo Saad-Filho, ‘Watch Out for Judicial Coup in Brazil’

[5] Euan Gibb, ‘The Political Crisis in Brazil

[6] This is the title of an article published by The Economist that refers to the crisis of the economic strategy of the governments of the pink tide based on the boom of commodities

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