Courtesy Reuters

Brazil on the Tightrope Toward Democracy

As in other Latin American countries that have returned to democracy this decade after bitter experiences under military regimes, Brazil's "New Republic" came to power with wide public support. The 1985 transfer of power from the military to the politicians went smoothly. The political and labor climate was relatively calm. The productive base of the economy was solid and business sectors wanted to give democracy a chance. Brazil had a foreign debt of over $100 billion, but huge trade surpluses made foreign creditors willing to refinance the debt. Under these circumstances the transition did not have to go badly. But it has.

As a result, the dominant political emotion as Brazil's 80 million voters prepare to elect a new president on November 15 is a desire to protest. A groundswell of public disillusionment with Brazil's political leadership and an explosive mood of social discontent have replaced the high hopes of 1985 when millions of Brazilians celebrated the restoration of democratic government after two decades of military rule.

The main target of this rejection is President José Sarney, who has become a politically discredited symbol of Brazil's failures. The main beneficiary has been Fernando Collor de Mello, a 39-year-old political upstart, leading the presidential candidates in all the polls with an anti-Sarney campaign based almost entirely on one theme-punishment of corruption in high places. The public mood and the lack of clear-cut and tested political alternatives make Brazil's future direction highly uncertain.

The first government of the New Republic, as the restored democracy was named, has proved unable to cope with the complex problems of Brazil's economy and has produced a crisis that has deepened long-standing contradictions in Brazil's society. "When the New Republic came to power, everyone expected that the return of democracy would place the country on the high road to development, that the foreign debt burden would be removed, that inflation would be halted, that corruption would be punished," said Edmar Bacha, a Yale-educated economist and former director of the National Institute of Statistics

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