Crumbling BRIC: what future for Brazil?

Sunday 23 October, 16.00 - 17.15 , Frobisher 1-3 Eye on the World

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Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

In the past decade or so, the rapidly growing economy of Brazil has been regarded as one of the world’s development success stories. Having only relatively recently become a democracy - military rule ended in 1988 - the economy grew by an average of five per cent annually from 2000 to 2012, making Brazil the sixth-largest economy in the world by one measure. This new wealth and confidence was supposed to be symbolised by Brazil hosting both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. In the past few years, however, there has been an economic downturn. State debt has risen rapidly and the government was recently embroiled in a corruption scandal that brought down the former president, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT), and led to her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, being offered a government post in an apparent attempt to gain immunity from prosecution, but who is now charged with leading a corruption scheme.

Brazil’s corruption scandal has engulfed the nation in an existential crisis. Some are convinced the legal investigation into the scandal and the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff are part of a political conspiracy to remove the government. Most though see it as an epochal battle against the impunity enjoyed by the rich and powerful who have plundered public wealth without punishment. Parading politicians and corporate barons before the press in handcuffs, federal police and judges are celebrated as national heroes and even discussed as candidates for national leadership. Finally, Brazil’s endemic culture of corruption is being laid bare and no longer will the public remain submissive before private interests. Nevertheless, enthusiasm for a purging of the immoral and criminal is tempered by a sensation that there are no new ideas and no one waiting in the wings. While many cheer the Workers Party’s demise, they also understand that the it was the last gasp for an establishment bereft of ideas and legitimacy.

Is the culture of corruption the cause of this crisis or is it a symptom of the end of an era? Is this a turning point for Brazil? Will new political forces, whether populist Evangelical leaders or legalistic technocrats, come to the fore? Will Brazil’s 28 political parties fragment further leading to even more tribal warfare in Congress? How can democracy be rebuilt when public life is riven with mistrust and a powerful anti-political sentiment?