The Observer view on Brazil

Yesterday the British Observer newspaper (the Sunday version of The Guardian newspaper) published an editorial on the Brazilian crisis that reached the following conclusion:

Democracy in Brazil, restored in 1985 after 20 years of military dictatorship, is not such a robust plant that it could not be uprooted afresh by a combination of wholesale political failure and economic emergency. Rousseff’s duty is plain: if she cannot restore calm, she must call new elections – or step aside.

I have waited more than twenty-four hours before writing this to ensure that I do so in a calmer state of mind than when I first read this lamentable piece of journalism. In the interim, BBC Brazil, whose coverage of this crisis has been exemplary in its intelligence and balance, has published an interview in Portuguese with Eduardo Suplicy, one of the founders of the PT. Ex-Senator Suplicy does not pull any punches in accepting that the replication by some PT members of vices that are deeply structurally embedded in the entire political system must be recognised where the charges are clearly valid, and he is particularly scathing about the conduct of Delcído Amaral, former PT leader in the Senate, now turned into Lava-Jato’s star plea-bargaining witness for the prosecution. But he points out that it is precisely because Brazil has been a military dictatorship that it is essential to strengthen rather than interrupt the democratic process by the impeachment or resignation of a president who was duly elected.

The Observer‘s piece was profoundly tendentious and so partial in its consideration of the situation that it made me wonder whether Globo were thinking of making a bid for Guardian newspapers. Anyone who reads the rest of the European press might be puzzled about why the Observer feels it has the right to offer Brazil’s president advice on how to deal with her country’s political crisis at a time when the pages of European newspapers are filled with discussion of the political crisis that now seems to be unfolding in Britain itself as the EU referendum campaign advances and the British government’s approach to austerity policy comes under increasing scrutiny. But the British have always had a somewhat patronising attitude to “this tropical country” (British passenger ships heading for Buenos Aires often used to make a selling point of the fact that they did not stop in Brazil), so I guess this is par for the course historically. On the evidence of this piece, I doubt that the Observer leader writer knows much about the history of British relations with the southern cone countries. Yet the significance the last paragraph of this piece ascribed to Obama’s visit to Cuba and impending visit to Argentina only makes sense in terms of the punchline that the electoral advance of the right is simply the result of what the writer asserts is “the incompetence and illegality” of the left. The Observer is entitled to its opinions, of course, and this is an opinion piece. But the quality of the analysis and evidence offered did not entitle the author to pontificate about “simplistic misreadings” on the part of those who have other ideas about what is driving current developments.

It is a little ironic, for example, to invoke Obama’s visit to Cuba in this context. Positive though Obama’s seeking a rapprochement with Cuba may be, there are many serious outstanding issues yet to be resolved. One of them is the running sore of the Guantánamo military base and the yet to be closed detention centre within it. This is just one of a string of historical reasons for arguing that the United States does not have the moral authority to pontificate about human rights in Latin America. But we also need to reflect on the future. Hillary Clinton’s role in relation to the 2009 Honduras coup was completely shameful and continues to have consequences today, as the recent murder of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres has demonstrated yet again. Her likely Republican opponent, Donald Trump, reflects a deeply divided America in which populist ultra-right xenophobes can prosper. Polarisation is just as much a US problem as a Brazilian (or Argentinian) one, and there are worrying similarities in the contours of these social and political divisions through the Americas and beyond. But a deeper problem may be the lack of real options offered by democratic electoral systems anywhere in an age where uneven playing fields are sustained by inadequate restrictions on the ability of private interests to provide campaign financing and the mainstream media are often little more than propaganda machines for a “new normal” that is not good news even for middle class, let alone working class, people. The Observer piece offered its own simplistic misreadings of what lies behind the current crisis of Brazil, and the extent to which this is both a particular case and, in its particular way, a manifestation of a much broader  global crisis. We used to expect better of our “quality press” in Britain.

Finally, if we Brits are going to throw stones at Brazilians about corruption, maybe we should remember that it was one of our own fellow countrymen who was accused of masterminding the 2014 World Cup ticket scam!