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Brazilians continue to suffer the worst recession ever seen in the history of this country. To make matters worse, the south American giant is embroiled in a political crisis that seems almost fictional, with recorded conversations and suitcases bulging with cash being passed from executives to politicians in return for political favours.
Rio de Janeiro, the picture postcard city that hosted the Olympic Games last year, is broke, and heavily in debt. More than two hundred thousand civil servants haven’t been paid in months. Many are forced to queue for hours to receive charitable packs with household staples like rice and beans so they can feed their families.
Tanks are on the streets of Rio once again, with the army deployed to keep the peace here for the fourth time in 12 months, as robberies and violence spiral all over the city. Police, who haven’t been paid in months, don’t have money to put petrol in patrol cars.
To add insult to injury, the Olympic Velodrome caught fire last weekend, causing millions in damage, albeit to a venue that has only been used once since the Olympic cyclists left town last September. A burning flying lattern is thought to have caused the fire last Sunday in the now derelict Olympic park.
Former mayor Eduardo Paes is accused of taking around 15 million reais (more than 4 million euro) worth in bribes in the run up to last years games. He’s not the only one. Investigators say many of the infrastructural works contracts leading to the World Cup in 2014 and last years Games were won with bulky brown envelopes.
A federal police operation, code-named Lava Jato, or Car Wash, began as a money laundering investigation at oil giant Petrobras, but uncovered what may be the worlds biggest ever graft scheme. Many, who once seemed untouchable in Brazilian society, are now behind bars. Even the President is under investigation.
Congress voted last week to shelve corruption charges against President Michel Temer, at least until next October after elections are held. No-one, not even Temer, expects that he will continue in politics after that. The people never voted for him in the first place, and he has less than 5% popular support.
The attorney general is preparing further charges against the right wing politician who became President after the impeachment of his former running mate leftist Dilma Rousseuff, exactly a year ago.
Under local law, charges made against a sitting politician in Brazil can only be heard by the Supreme Court; when it’s the President, a two thirds Congress majority is needed for any trial to proceed.
The congress vote, broadcast live on primetime TV into sitting rooms all over Brazil last Wednesday, revealed that politicians prefer to keep Temer where he is.
The release of R$13bn (around three and a half billion euro) in Federal funding in the form of clinics, schools, royalties, and other political favours, in recent weeks, is thought to have helped sway some undecided politicians, with new elections looming.
But, the prosecutor will go again, this time Temer will be charged with obstruction of justice, for allegedly trying to buy the silence of Eduardo Cunha, the now jailed former president of the chamber of deputies, who led impeachment proceedings against Dilma. If a two-thirds majority votes to allow a trial to progress, Temer would have to stand aside for 6 months. But, Rodrigo Maia, the next in line for the throne, is under investigation too.
Many Brazilians hope that Dilma’s charismatic predecessor Lula will come back into power next year, bringing back social programmes that Temer’s government systematically slashed. But, the 71-year-old former union leader, widely praised for bringing millions out of poverty during his two-term tenure, was recently sentenced to nine and a half years in prison, for corruption and money laundering. He will appeal, and if successful will likely run for President again.
A taxi driver in Sao Paulo last week said his vote would be for Jaír Bolsonaro, a far right politician who, during the televised impeachment vote last year, paid homage to a military colonel, head of a unit in the 1960s, where then 22 year old political dissident Dilma underwent prolonged sessions of torture. According to the cabbie, the only solution for Brazil’s current implosion is a return to military rule.
The population feels powerless. Hunger and eviction are the grim realities faced by many, while the political soap opera continues to unfolds every day, more far-fetched than anything script writers could muster. But, people are too jaded, or too afraid of police repression, to take to the streets.
For World Report, this is Sarah O’Sullivan in Rio de Janeiro.