2002 - 2012: Brazil's Stillborn Dream
A famous saying about Brazil is that it is "the country of the future". This saying may be taken as a hopeful one, pointing at the immense potential the country has in terms of culture, natural resources, etc; or as one of sorrow - greatness lays always in the distant future, never in the present.
Great sovereigns are a rarity anywhere in the world, and Brazil is no exception. We may easily cite two: Emperor Pedro II, who created the Brazilian Empire (as an emerging power) and preserved national unity in a continent-sized nation by crushing provincial revolts and strengthening the presence of the State, and Getúlio Vargas, who led Brazil into the modern industrial era. Pedro II and Getúlio Vargas ruled in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. With all their faults, these men had a vision to fulfill the great dream of a strong, unified, respected and prosperous country, and each contributed towards that dream.
A grandiose dream: 2002-2012
We are still in the early stages of the 21st century, but one might argue that the political cycle of 2002-2012 - during the terms of former president Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff, both from the Worker's Party (PT) - will in the future be remembered as a stillborn attempt at achieving that same greatness. During the decade, Brazil blossomed through major infrastructure projects, military modernization, social improvements, steady economic growth, and an unbeknownst level of international respect and credibility. The country seemed to be taking a new leap forward. The basis for this new cycle were:
Economic: huge increase in internal market, commodity exports to China, state-backed lobbying and strengthening of Brazilian trans-national companies acting in strategic locations (South America, Portuguese Africa), state-backed infrastructure mega-projects (irrigation canals, hydroelectric dams, natural gas powerplants, oil drilling sites, ultra-deep water pre-salt layer drilling, oil refineries, ports, shipyards, etc).
Social: the (liberal) negative income tax (Bolsa Família), the end of extreme poverty, increased social spending in education and healthcare, opening of dozens of public colleges, huge increases in governmental student aid and scholarships etc.
Military: surveillance of the country's dry border (Sisfron), modernization of the Air Force (FX2), nuclear submarine program (Prosub), military presence and show of force along the Amazon border (Ágata operations).
Nothing remotely similar in magnitude or importance was accomplished in the preceding decades. Let us cite a few strategic projects created or implemented in the decade:
São Francisco river transposition. Cost: R$ 8.2 billion. Over 700km of artificial canals, water tunnels, elevation stations, etc. drawing water from the São Francisco river for domestic use and irrigation in the vast and impoverished Brazilian Northeastern semi-arid backlands. The project was originally envisioned by the Pedro II government in the 1840’s and later by Getúlio Vargas government in the 1940’s. Lula began the project’s execution in 2007.
Belo Monte hydropower plant. Cost: US$ 18.5 billion. Hydroelectric dam deep within the Amazon with 11GW capacity, second greatest in the world. Construction started in 2011 under president Dilma Rousseff.
RNEST Oil Refinery. Cost: US$ 18.5 billion. Heavy oil processing plant with 230.000 bpd (barrels per day) planned capacity. Construction started by president Lula in 2007.
FX2 Air Force program. Cost: US$ 5 billion. Purchase of 36 new jet fighters. The government decided on the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen NG jets. The American F-16 and F-18 were also competing in the program but were not chosen. The program started in 2006 under president Lula and the Gripen was chosen in 2013 under president Rousseff.
Prosub Nuclear Submarine program. Cost: R$ 7.8 billion. Brazil-France cooperation program for the construction of 4 conventional diesel-electric and one nuclear submarine. Shipyard construction started in 2008 under president Lula.
There countless other investments, military projects, social programs and so on that we may cite as part of the decade. We must note that all these multi-billion dollar investments were either entirely or partially state-backed. Despite their immense strategic importance, every single one of them was exhaustively attacked by the opposition, and, since 2013, by the entirety of the Brazilian media and the general public opinion. Since their conception, each project has been under siege by varied corruption allegations, and more recently within the scope of the Carwash operation (e.g. the nuclear submarine program had cooperated with construction giant Oderbrecht, who is now on its knees due to an unrelated corruption scheme with Petrobras). The "father" of the Brazilian nuclear program and president of the state nuclear power company Eletronuclear, Admiral Othon Pinheiro, was also arrested on corruption charges (again, by the Carwash operation).
The media has successfully convinced public opinion that this moronic, hypocritical anti-corruption crusade is more important than all these strategic projects that would lift Brazil to a new stage of development.
This triangle of economic, social and military strategic reforms was only accomplished because there was a solid political consensus in the 2002-2012 decade that sustained them. The political consensus spread even to the now bloodthirsty media, which in 2009 was nothing less than in love with the federal government. Despite overwhelming facts that Brazil vastly improved in all measurable social and economic indicators during the Lula-Dilma terms, only recently (2013-2016) was the daily repetition of anti-government propaganda successful in rewriting history and convincing the public opinion that the statistics were "government lies", or simply pretending they don't exist.
Then and Now: from Love to Hate
How did the Lula government manage to create a political consensus so strong with a notoriously corrupt and complex Congress formed by murderers, drug dealers, pimps and other criminals? In an autocratic style which well befits the Brazilian soul, this was done by buying them out. Like spoiled children, congressmen would receive a monthly allowance and in turn would approve bills of strategic interest to the government. The PT administration in general treated Congress like a tumor or a cyst that could not be removed without killing the patient. Despite being formed by murderers and thieves, it was seen as the "guardian of democracy" and so had to be protected.
Believe in the mirage and we shall reach it
What caused the implosion of this successful but short-lived model? In our series of articles "The Brazilian Circus", we studied the emergence of the hysterical anti-PT sentiment that ultimately destroyed Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff. Public sentiment reached a high point in 2013 with the "June Journeys" or "Brazilian spring" protests, and reached its zenith in 2016, all the while backed by hysterical, myopic, anti-corruption moralism.
The "modern democracy" civic mythology states that everything must be sacrificed on the altar of morality. In the name of "fighting corruption", we must decapitate the king himself - it does not matter if the kingdom will then burn to ashes in civil wars with several impostors claiming the throne, for such is "the price to pay" for a "modern democracy.” Brazil has chosen to pay this price.
How is it possible to sell this tale in a country that was continuously growing economically and enjoyed increasing international prestige? It was, in fact, very simple: exploiting the inferiority complex of the Brazilian middle and upper-class, who frown in disgust at anything Brazilian and rejoice at anything from "rich countries", that is, Western countries, or more precisely the mythological perfection of the United States. They think that the Western, liberal model is the only possible path a nation can choose for social, economic and cultural development and that the West only achieved this because they are "less corrupt" and "more democratic" than Brazil (this extends to other non-aligned Latin American countries as well, to which the "enlightened" Brazilian pan-beating middle class scoff and frown in disgust). This is sold as an axiom and is not questioned, ever. It does not matter that, for example, that on one occasion US$ 12 billion in US government cash simply vanished. Brazil is axiomatically more corrupt, and the perceived corruption must be extirpated at any cost. It does not matter that the same obscure fiscal errors Dilma Rousseff is accused of and impeached over are practiced constantly by the US Army to a hundredfold greater magnitude. Intoxicated by the most despicable anti-Brazilian inferiority complex, middle and upper-class Brazilians do not see that the beautiful, modern, democratic oasis with no wrongdoing that they so ardently pursue is nothing more than a mirage built by decades of careful propaganda. The destination we are heading towards is not an oasis, but a cliff of political instability, international humiliation, economic depression, poverty, and class hate.
However cynical and powerful they may be, the public and media selectively incite outrage against some corruption instances while ignoring other, vastly greater corruption scandals (such as the multi-billion dollar undervalued privatizations of strategic companies under neoliberal president Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the 1990’s; the multi-billion dollar embezzlement of public funds involving international conglomerates in the construction of the São Paulo metro by liberal governor Geraldo Alckmin; the multi-million dollar international drug trafficking allegedly practiced by the neoliberal defeated candidate Aécio Neves; etc). Such would be harmless without strong institutional support.
In an effort to lead Brazil towards the mythological, modern, and democratic technocracy made of "strong and independent institutions", President Lula and Dilma Rousseff strengthened a vast network of anti-corruption government overseers, watchdogs, and agencies such as the Comptroller General of the Union (CGU, created in the last days of Lula's predecessor), the Federal Police (which investigated over 2200 cases in the 2002-2012 decade, as opposed to only 48 cases in the preceding 8 years of neoliberal government) and the office of the attorney general of the Republic (the attorney appointed by president Fernando Henrique and in office from 1995-2003 closed or archived 459 out of 626 cases received, 4 of which were against the president himself!). Ironically, like a golem turning against their rabbi, those same institutions dragged their creators and benefactors to the guillotine.
Anti-corruption is an excellent fuel for regime changes, policy shifts and the exercising of "soft power" in general because it is a tautology, and thus can easily rally the masses with the help of a little political or economical instability. This idiotic moralistic obsession, by the way, is much the same as what preceded the "twitter revolutions" in the past few years. In the fallout of Ukraine's Euromaidan revolution, giddy partisans occupied president Yanukovych's mansions and posted pictures on social networks, which quickly made their way to major news outlets. Brazilian neocon guru and astrologer Olavo de Carvalho went as far as to say that the people of Brazil "may have to follow the Ukrainian method" (see figure below).
Our role model is Euromaidan - respected astrologer Olavo de Carvalho
In a series of tweets, he said:
1) The political class has demonstrated a thousand times their total disregard for the Brazilian people. 2) They only think of themselves and of the safety of their anus-like (sic) existence, 3) If in a last effort to carry on with life support they try to implement Parliamentarism, 4) Then the Ukrainian Method [Euromaidan] will be the only alternative for the Brazilian people.
Foreign readers may find it bewildering, but astrologer and cult leader Olavo de Carvalho, who proclaims himself to be "the greatest Brazilian philosopher", is actually taken seriously by the Brazilian right. This is not a fringe figure that we see defending neo-Nazi, war-torn, impoverished, and fragmented Ukraine as a role model. One of his books was recently among the most sold in Brazil.
There are vast differences between Lula and Dilma which also help explain the fall of the PT government. While Lula did not have any scruples in shaking hands even with Interpol’s most-wanted Paulo Maluf, Dilma would not even speak with notoriously corrupt ministers, instead running messages through errand boys. In 2015, the then opposition leader and notoriously corrupt congressman Eduardo Cunha started gaining momentum in the lower house of Congress against Dilma Rousseff. After intense backstage negotiations, Dilma's PT decided not to protect Cunha against criminal corruption charges, thus losing his support in Congress. If she had shaken hands with the devil, as Lula might have, her government would likely have survived. But losing Cunha meant losing most of Congress, and thus the fate of Dilma's second term was sealed.
Lula (left), Fernando Haddad (center) and Interpol-wanted Paulo Maluf (right)
 The inspiration for this program as such actually comes from Milton Friedman. Ironically, many neoliberal Brazilians denounced it as "socialism".