Scandals and Scapegoats

Thousands of Brazilian protesters take to the streets with a sign reading “Impeachment Now”

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 isin 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.

Petrobras’ Headquaters

The Scandal

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.

GDP Performance is the worst since 1990

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

Rousseff’s disapproval ratings after the election

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.”

Pointing Fingers

Blow-up figures of Lula and Rousseff

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.

Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva

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.

Abortion In Latin America

In the United States we grow used to many amenities: clean water, food, safety, healthcare, and one that most people hope they never need, abortion. Women have access to safe, legal abortion across the country, which prevents unwanted pregnancies and saves many maternal lives that are at risk. In most countries throughout Latin America women do not have the legal right to abortion or safe access to abortion. Millions of lives are lost each year when women have illegal abortions performed by untrained individuals.


What is the Problem?

 Latin America houses some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Three countries – El Salvador, Chile, and the Dominican Republic- allow no exceptions or extenuating circumstances to their respective laws against abortions.




Most other countries in Latin America only allow abortions to save a woman’s life or other similar reasons. These restrictive laws often leave women feeling as if they have no options, and they turn to illegal, unsafe measures to try and deal with their problem.


What is the scale of the problem?

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, “an estimated 2,000 Latin American women die every year from unsafe abortions.’’ Estimates by the World Health Organization say that 12% of all maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortions in 2008. The International Planned Parenthood Federation estimates that 500,000- 1,500,000 illegal abortions take place every year in Latin America. Approximately, 150,000 of the illegal abortions result in the woman needing treatment due to complications.



What Caused the Problem?

Latin America and the Catholic Church have close ties and the Church heavily influences most all peoples’ beliefs, including many politicians. The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as a “grave evil”. Many people wonder why Latin America never experienced a feminist revolution, because after all, they were colonized by Western Powers for years. The answer lies within Latin America’s turbulent history and its close ties with the Catholic Church. While the rest of Western Civilization went through revolutions, Latin America was held back by dictatorships and struggles for power. They have also been unsuccessful at separating church and state and this has continued to influence their strong abortion laws. Not only has the Catholic Church played a significant role in influencing abortion policy in Latin America, but also the United States has played a major role in policy, an increase of religious influence within the Republican Party increased anti- abortion sentiments within the party especially while they were in  office. It directly influences abortion in Latin America by banning funding for any NGO’s who provide abortions or advocate for its decriminalization.


“Get your rosaries out of our ovaries”

A Numbers Game

According to research performed by the Guttmacher Institute, of the “ 4.4 million abortions performed in the region in 2008, 95% were unsafe. In the Caribbean, 46% of abortions were unsafe, as were virtually all abortions in Central and South America.” The Guttmacher Institute also found that the rates of abortion increased form 4.1 million in 2003 to 4.3 million in 2008. Low-income settings are particularly susceptible to unsafe abortion conditions. Women in low income settings are 3 times more likely to go to a traditional birth attendant who is inadequately trained (60% vs. 18%) compared to women who have adequate means at their disposal. 




So, is there a possibility that this could all change? Yes, but it will take time. Already women are using more abortion pills, which are safer and cause fewer major medical issues that require hospitalization. Many countries are working to change their abortion laws. In Mexico, the Supreme Court found no issue with abortion in their constitution, and it is therefore legal in the country. Different districts are already opposing the law, and now it is district by district as to whether it is legal to have an abortion. Some other countries have moved to try and decriminalize abortion; so, even though it is not legal, there is no possibility of jail time if a woman is caught. And still others have moved to have abortion legalized as a whole. All in all there is progress but it is slow because, in a predominantly Catholic culture it is hard to change something that is so deeply ingrained in people’s beliefs. 



As the need for safe, legal abortion grows, the pressure on governments across Latin America grows as well. Many countries are progressive and are trying to be proactive in dealing with the problem, but others are still too heavily influenced to move out of the past.