Brazil impeachment and the left press

A critical analysis of the biased coverage of the US left-wing media of the Brazilian president's impeachment scandal.

US leftist press coverage of Brazil’s presidential impeachment has been shameful. Because many of the politicians pushing for impeachment represent reactionary forces, journalists from The Nation, The Intercept, and Democracy Now! have decided to portray the impeached president as an admirable martyr. They have chosen to hide important contextual facts leading up to the impeachment, and they have failed to mention the important role played by the impeached president’s party in creating both of the most recent large-scale corruption schemes. They have followed a binary world view, where if the politicians leading the impeachment are horrible corrupt reactionaries (which they are), then the party being impeached must be blameless uncorrupt progressives (which they most certainly are not). And by purposely omitting important contextual facts, these elements of the leftist press have shown a huge disrespect to their readers and viewers by presuming that we might support those reactionary forces if we heard anything even remotely negative about the party being impeached. The left press’ uncritical support for the impeached party reminds one of the Communist Party USA’s uncritical support for Stalin, where any attempt (particularly from progressives) to discuss even the slightest negative act from the Soviet government was labeled “reactionary”.

The Brazil impeachment

Over the course of the past several months, the two branches of the Brazilian Congress have voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, and at the end of August she was officially replaced by her Vice-President Michel Temer. Dilma came from the Brazilian Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, commonly called the “PT”), the party that has ruled Brazil since 2003 following a kind of social democratic agenda. Temer was president of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), a kind of coalition party embracing candidates from multiple ideologies. Dilma and Temer ran for office on a common ticket, and were elected in 2014, winning 51.6% of the vote in the runoff election. Temer will serve out the remainder of their term (through 2018).

Key reasons for the impeachment include widespread disgust at the staggering amount of corruption amongst politicians (much of it originating with the PT, with money flowing to more conservative politicians), and a decaying economic situation throughout the country.

Though Dilma took many positions to move Brazil and the world in a conservative direction (such as championing the 4th largest dam in the world and increasing production and exploration for oil; halting the distribution of “anti-homophobia kits” in high schools because they are "inappropriate for children", taking a hard line against public employee strikes, and deploying military troops to end dam construction strikes), Temer’s very short time in power has been characterized by even more backwards-thinking (such as embracing large corporations, and naming a Presidential Cabinet exclusively composed of white males in one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world). Whereas Dilma has embraced mid 20th century ideas, Temer is more grounded in those of the 19th century (or earlier). Certainly one way of characterizing them is by comparing Temer to Donald Trump and Dilma to Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps because of the Trump-like danger that Temer poses (to minorities, income inequality, freedom of speech, etc.), leftist publications in the US have successfully managed to embrace Dilma and paint her as an innocent victim. Yet while publications like The Nation and Democracy Now! are willing to air criticisms of Clinton, they have shown virtually no criticism whatsoever of Dilma. This mirrors the kind of scorched-earth policy that the PT has followed since it first gained power—using straightforward as well as morally repugnant methods to marginalize independent voices, and trying to represent itself as the only possible alternative to the right.

Following the PT’s lead, these leftist “journalists” have conducted a black-out on important contextual facts that might lead readers/viewers to see the PT as something other than a heroic representative of “the people”, under siege from a cabal of the right.

While the impeachment was definitely a power-grab, with a conservative parlimentary faction taking power from a more liberal faction, it was far from a Coup. The final Senate vote to impeach wasn’t even close; she was impeached by a 3-to-1 margin (61 to 20). And even leftist journalists who call this a coup admit that Dilma is “deeply unpopular” with the general populace (while somehow still maintaining that impeachment is an attack on “the will of the people”).

• Leftist journalists often refer to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff as a "Coup", and as overturning the “will of the people” as exhibited in the last election. Glenn Greenwald has called it “a complete reversal of democracy”. What they fail to mention is that before the last election campaign Dilma chose Temer as her running mate, with full knowledge of his Neanderthal views. She chose him because of bourgeois coalition politics, and because she knew that she would not win without having his supporters behind her. Even with Temer’s supporters, together they only won 51.6% of the vote in the runoff between the 2 top tickets. So certainly without Temer she did not command the “popular mandate” that the leftist press is claiming that the impeachment overturns. But the leftist press ignores the fact that Dilma herself chose this Neanderthal as her running mate, and that certainly some of those voting for her ticket were really votes for him.
• Leftist journalists repeatedly label the financial shenanigans that caused Dilma’s impeachment as a commonly-employed trivial “minor infraction”. What they fail to mention is that she concealed budgetary expenses during an election campaign – an election that her ticket barely won, and might not have won had she been honest about Brazil’s true economic condition.
• Calling this a ‘coup” is insulting to the thousands of Latin Americans who have had loved ones disappeared or tortured in real coups.
• A real “coup” involves a rapid change of government, circumventing legal procedures. Instead, the impeachment was a long, drawn-out set of parliamentary hearings, following all sorts of bureaucratic legal procedures. The leftist press has criticized this procedure as unusual and unfair, but has ignored that this procedure has been used 61 times since 1992, and that in the past the PT actually supported using this procedure.

Scandals initiated by the Workers Party

While the leftist press repeatedly emphasizes that Dilma did not personally benefit from corruption (while many of her accusers in Congress have), they never mention that the two largest corruption scandals (“Car Wash” and Mensalão) were architected by her party, and that the Car Wash scandal was created through the oil giant Petrobras during the period when Dilma herself was Petrobras’ Chairperson of the Board of Directors.

The Mensalão bribery scandal was architected by the PT to pay legislators to vote their way. Public funds were funneled through government contracts to pay scores of legislators $12,000/month for their votes. A total of about $43 million was looted from the national treasury by the “Workers” Party. Though the scandal broke in 2005, many PT officials managed to postpone jail time by proclaiming that the scandal was fabricated by their enemies. For example, PT President Jose Genoino and Lula’s Chief of Staff José Dirceu were not arrested until 2013 (8 years after the scandal was made public).

The “Car Wash” money-laundering scandal began to be exposed in 2014. The state-controlled oil company Petrobras grossly overpaid large construction contractors, who then kept part of the extra funds and kicked back the rest to politicians. Thusfar hundreds of legislators from a variety of parties have been indicted, and both PT Treasurer João Vaccari Neto and Lula’s former Chief of Staff José Dirceu have been convicted of architecting the scheme (and are now serving 15 and 23 years in prison respectively). Current estimates contend that approximately $3 billion was looted from the state-controlled oil company.

When the left press laments that the legislators voting to impeach Dilma were themselves corrupt politicians, they are absolutely correct. But they fail to mention that Dilma’s party (and likely Dilma herself) were involved in creating the corruption schemes that those politicians benefited from. Legislative politics in Brazil is corrupt through and through, and even if more rightists than PT politicians have personally benefited from them, the PT was responsible for the creation of these two large corruption schemes, looting billions of dollars from public funds.

Certainly one of the structural problems is that Brazilian political officials can defer corruption charges as long as they remain in office. This bureaucratic rule has been used by rightist officials as well as by Dilma and Lula. Audio recordings released in March revealed that Dilma sought to appoint Lula to a Ministerial position in order to defer his prosecution as part of the Car Wash scandal. (Lula is accused of accepting construction company kickbacks on the extensive renovations to his plush beach house. His defense contends that the house is not his, even though the master bedroom pillows are embroidered with his and his wife’s names.)

Brazil’s political class is corrupt through and through. Politicians in all the major parties are crooks, stealing from the government treasury while still maintaining that they are defending the interests of “the people”. (Transparency Brazil says 60 percent of Brazilian lawmakers are currently either under criminal investigation or have already been convicted of corruption-related charges.) Brazilian politicians are more interested in maintaining their political and economic power (or their plush beach houses) than in supporting everyday people. And while it is true that during the PT’s first term in power, millions of people were raised from poverty into the working class (no small feat in a country that has one of the worst income disparities in the world), no real attempt was made to empower those people at the bottom of the economic scale. Instead of encouraging the poor to take more control over their lives, the PT instituted a system of dependence, where the poor and working class were encouraged to support the PT and rely upon the PT to provide for their needs. With this reliance on the PT, many were willing to overlook the vast looting of the treasury orchestrated by PT officials.

Since gaining power, the PT has been incredibly pro-development. They have repeatedly clashed with environmental groups, indigenous groups, striking workers, and the LGBT community. Their rabid defense of building the giant hydroelectric dam in the Amazon (which will force the evacuation of indigenous lands and destroy the habitat of many near-extinct species) has been condemned by Greenpeace, Amazon Watch, and indigenous support groups (while money skimmed from over-priced construction contracts to build the dam were used to support PT election campaigns). It’s hard to imagine how the left press can give uncritical support to such a pro-development party. And that the left press barely covers the struggles of Brazilians to halt the pro-development policies of the PT.

Case Study: Democracy Now!

The hypocritical stance of the left press was hard to miss in the Aug 29 episode of Democracy Now!. There Glenn Greenwald (who has previously reported a wide variety of admirable stories, including breaking the news from Edward Snowden) first paints Dilma as an innocent victim, implying that she is being attacked as a woman, and discussing how those judging her are super-corrupt while she is not in the least bit tainted. He then goes on to contrast impeachment in Brazil to impeachment in the US, pointing out that presidents and vice-presidents in the US come from the same party, so an impeachment might not mean a change in policy. He points out that impeachment in Brazil will mean a significant change in policy because Temer and Dilma come from different parties. But he never once mentions that Dilma chose Temer as her running mate, that they were elected together as a ticket, and that certainly some of those who voted for that ticket did so because they supported Temer rather than Dilma.

But even more striking is a later piece on the very same broadcast where Greenwald castigates the press for being so afraid of a Trump victory that they let Clinton “waltz into the White House free of challenge or questioning”. He contends that, no matter how bad the threat from the right, journalists have a responsibility to expose the flaws of those opposed to them, particularly flaws like corruption. So, in a striking display of hypocrisy, in one segment Greenwald himself avoids criticising Dilma because of a threat from the right, and in a later segment he castigates the US press for reacting to a threat from the right by failing to publicize the flaws of Clinton. But in some ways this is not surprising; Greenwald is well-known in Brazil as an apologist for Dilma. She knows that he will only ask her supportive questions, so after she was suspended from the presidency in May, she had Greenwald conduct her first interview.

Two days later (Aug 31) again on Democracy Now!, Greenwald accuses Democrats of smearing leakers (WikiLeaks, Snowden) with claims that they are pawns of Russia. While his charges against the Democrats are certainly true, his reporting on Brazil omits that the PT habitually does the same thing. Anyone opposing PT policy (especially those opposing it from the left) are accused of being stooges of the right.

Conclusion

Most left press coverage of Brazil has been incredibly binary. Powerful forces (in the form of the PT) opposing a threat from the right receive uncritical support, while less powerful voices (like environmental, indigenous, LGBT, and climate activists) receive no coverage at all when they oppose or clash with the PT. Little or nothing from progressive activist voices make it into the left press except on the rare occasion when they are not opposed by the PT. The US left press has turned Dilma and her party into innocent victims of a right-wing power grab. And while certainly the right has tried to grab power, Dilma and her party are far from innocent victims No mention is ever made of the key role played by the PT in creating all of the most recent corruption scandals, and the scandals are only mentioned when highlighting the right-wing figures who are caught up in them (without noting that it was the PT that initiated the scandals that benefited these right-wing politicians).

These elements of the left press have tried to turn disgusting politicians into admirable martyrs by purposely hiding contextual facts. This shameful binary division of the world into “good guys” and “bad guys” is reminiscent of US leftist apologists for Stalin in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. As many of us learned through previous struggles, one can oppose one evil without having to support another “less bad” evil. To oppose Temer and his Neanderthal policies doesn’t mean that we need to support Dilma and her corrupt pro-development party. And to oppose Trump doesn’t mean uncritical support for Clinton. The left press in the US needs to learn that an uncritical binary portrayal of a situation can amount to foisting propaganda on its readers/viewers. With two bad alternatives, the real answer is a third alternative. And even if one choses the “less bad” alternative, s/he deserves to know the flaws in that alternative. After all, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Comments

Steven.
Sep 9 2016 08:55

Did you write this? We could turn this into a news entry (or you could feel free to do so yourself, just click the edit tab, scroll down to content type can change to news, then save, then go back and edit again to add an image etc)

Vigo
Sep 9 2016 18:11

Yes, I think that it would be good as a News entry. But I couldn't figure out how to do it myself. (I could only get as far as Edit.) I'd be happy if you could do it for me.
-Vigo

Vigo
Sep 9 2016 19:57

Yes, I think that it would be good as a News entry. But I couldn't figure out how to do it myself. (I could only get as far as Edit.) I'd be happy if you could do it for me.
-Vigo

Khawaga
Sep 9 2016 21:08

I just did it. There's a drop down menu further down on the edit page. And when you do edits an admin or mod has to approve it.

destroy capital
Sep 11 2016 16:17


elraval2
Sep 19 2016 10:59

a very interesting read. thank you very much for posting.

Steven.
Sep 19 2016 11:04
Vigo wrote:
Yes, I think that it would be good as a News entry. But I couldn't figure out how to do it myself. (I could only get as far as Edit.) I'd be happy if you could do it for me.
-Vigo

hey, thanks for that. You now have permissions to do this. Just click submit content, then news or library or whatever