Over the past 20 or so years, Brazil’s rapidly growing economy and global influence was a large source of national pride. In particular, the giant Petrobras was regarded as a symbol for the country’s success story as it entered into the world stage. However, last year’s revelation of a massive corruption network centered around Petrobras has left a once proud population feeling lost and cheated, and the country is “in the midst of an identity crisis.” In a time of such widespread anger and confusion, many Brazilians are looking for someone to blame, and president Dilma Rousseff is falling right into their hands.
The Petrobras corruption scandal, although only discovered last year with the confession of Alberto Yousseff in a plea deal, is believed to have started as long as ten years ago. With the rapid growth of Petrobras came insider deals, political manipulation, and kickbacks for officials and administrators. The extent of the graft is unprecedented in Brazil’s history, totalling to almost $3 billion in bribes and involving almost 120 of Brazil’s political and economic leaders. When it was revealed to the public, it caused an economic shock wave in the country still being felt today.
The first and most prominent economic result of the scandal was the loss of international confidence in Petrobras and in Brazil in general, which greatly exacerbated Brazil’s already struggling economy. The corruption news was published amidst Brazil’s worst year for economic growth since 1990, and in a time when Brazil is trying to attract outside investors to help stimulate growth, it felt to many like a bullet to the foot.
It’s Not All About the Money
Beyond the economic impact, the Petrobras scandal also caused an enormous national uproar against the government. Many Brazilians who had celebrated Brazil’s rise as an international player in the last 20 years suddenly felt betrayed by their own leaders, and took to the streets calling for change: “I’ve never seen my countrymen so angry,” said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. “We have this sense that the dream is over.”
Amidst all of the anger in the country, the disillusioned protesters have found someone to blame for both the Petrobras scandal and the economic issues striking the country. President Dilma Rousseff, who had just been reelected, now faces plummeting approval ratings and demonstrations in the streets calling for impeachment for involvement in the corruption, despite no current evidence pointing to her knowing about it. Although she started out her administration riding on the coattails of the enormously popular former president Lula da Silva, she has quickly transformed into the country’s scapegoat for their economic and political woes, and she isn’t doing a very good job of fighting that designation.
As soon as Lula da Silva was accused of being involved in the oil giant’s graft network, Rousseff appointed him to be her chief of staff, essentially granting him political immunity while giving the public a weak explanation for her actions. In addition, the investigations into Petrobras have revealed that “the ruling Workers Party [Rousseff’s party] had pocketed up to $200 million over the years, money that was supposedly used to finance political campaigns.” These revelations and actions have pushed president Rousseff into a prime position to be the scapegoat for Brazil’s troubles. By trying to save her former ally’s political reputation and by running a political party which accepted bribes from Petrobras officials, Rousseff has done nothing but solidify herself as the primary person Brazilians can look at to blame. If she ends up being impeached, it should not come as a surprise to her.