By Arnout Nuijt
It’s been months now since we saw a completely unpredicted, rare and wild explosion of mass demonstrations and protests against the authorities in Brazil. The protests were not aimed directly at Dilma’s present PT-led government, but at all parties, state governments as well as municipalities, in short Brazil’s corrupt and inefficient political system.
But as middle class families took to the streets in most major cities throughout the country, things turned ugly rather quickly. Radical and criminal elements started rioting and badly trained police in many cases responded with heavy violence. Brazil’s middle classes, that for a brief and happy moment had conquered their fear of the street and had felt safe in numbers, now disappeared again behind their walls and doors.
But the protests were a wakeup call for a corrupt political class and some minor changes to the system were quickly carried out. President Dilma promised more and better services in several areas. But substantial change has so far not been implemented and the protests have died down, partly maybe for fear of violence.
Is something still brewing? Brian Winter, Reuters correspondent in Brazil, reckons, when speaking to Tom Reaoch on Talk2Brazil radio, the protests could flare up again during the FIFA World Cup in 2014. This would – apart from the outrageous hotel prices – be a good excuse for not visiting the country at that time.
Barely a few months after the World Cup, Brazil will hold its next presidential elections. Strangely, no candidate has emerged from the protest movement or even from outside the pool of usual suspects. There are three top candidates now: Dilma Rousseff, running for her own PT and a number of allied parties, Aécio Neves, running for the centre right opposition PSDB, and Eduardo Campos, PSB, now the governor of Pernambuco state in Brazil’s North East.
Dilma, as the incumbent, probably has the best papers to win and she is leading in the polls. With less than a year to go, however, a lot can still happen. Aécio Neves, a former governor of Minas Gerais state, is finally emerging as the PSDB’s candidate, but in the polls he is still underachieving. The international press is hailing Eduardo Campos as a new and dynamic candidate, but in spite of his relative youth, he is not that new. Campos is potentially dangerous to Dilma, as he caters to an equally socialist crowd and is a good friend of Lula, Dilma’s godfather.
Campos is not a new politician. He runs his home state of Pernambuco like a modern day version of the old Colonels, that used to run the North East, backed by powerful families and protecting other local business interests. His recent teaming up with Marina Silva, a left wing green politician that failed to found her own party, is not renewal, but could for Campos be a move to intimidate Dilma. The liaison between Campos and Marina Silva is unlikely to last very long, as she is a highly unstable politician.
Apart from the PT, Brazil’s parties have no ideological backbone. Most parties are temporary coalitions of politicians and their clients, that constantly disintegrate and regroup with no apparent advantage to the electorate. We shouldn’t be surprised if Campos and his PSB end up joining Dilma’s coalition after the elections. This will come at a price to Dilma, because Campos will want something big in return.
And change? Well, change won’t come, at least not peacefully.
A wise old man in Rio once told me: “Don’t try to change Brazil, because you don’t have the time.” No one can change Brazil, was his bitter and cynical lesson. Better keep on muddling through, was his advice, and hire a despachante to take care of that part of your business you don’t want to know about.