For Brazil’s political elite, the August 31 impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff for corruption was a barely disguised attempt to draw a line between them and the crises that have kept their country in a straitjacket for much of the past two years. With Rousseff’s successor, Michel Temer, now formally in place as president, the new administration can finally take the bold steps needed to revive the Brazilian economy. Corruption investigations will continue, but they will no longer be a soap opera distracting from the day-to-day business of governing the country. More important, according to this view, is that just as former President Fernando Collor de Mello’s impeachment 24 years ago may have set the stage for the reforms that led to Brazil’s impressive growth over the past two decades—Collor’s ouster was followed by a macroeconomic stabilization program, the Real Plan, that ended decades of hyperinflation—Rousseff’s impeachment could set in motion a new cycle in the country’s economic and political life.
The reality is somewhat more complex. In the cacophony of arguments over the legality of the impeachment process, there has been little focus on deeper questions that will have a greater bearing on Brazil’s long-term prospects. The current crises have exposed the fact that Brazil desperately needs a change in leadership; the real question is whether its new class of politicians has the vision, and the ability, to provide it.
The immediate answer is “no.” To a large degree, the new administration represents the worst of Brazilian political life. Temer himself faces allegations stemming from the Lava Jato (Car Wash) scandal, the same wide-ranging corruption probe surrounding the state-owned oil company Petrobras that has crippled Brazil’s politics and economy over the past two years. In his first 35 days as interim president, three of his original cabinet members had to step down amid claims of attempted cover-ups or shutdowns of the corruption investigation. Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), moreover, is
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