Good morning, John. It’s easy for us
Americans to get caught in our bubble. Especially when things are as weird as
they are right now. But the rest of the world continues to go on, and in Brazil,
that means the government kinda totally falling apart in a way that makes House
of Cards look frankly boring.When I asked about it on Twitter, brazilians mostly
sent me gifs to explain how they felt. I also got a message from a diplomat,
in Brazil who told me that Brazilians have a saying: Brazil is not for beginners.
But maybe by the end of this video you will no longer be a beginner, so let’s go
there. Brazil is a big country: 200 million people, as big as the UK, France, and
Germany combined. It’s also big enough to fit all those countries inside of it
three times at least. It’s extremely ethnically and economically diverse with
a wide gap between the richest and the poorest. That economic gap also falls roughly
on racial lines, and also on political lines with wealthy white people mostly
in big cities being mostly conservative, and poor people of native or African
descent being more liberal. Brazil has a diverse economy. They’re the ninth largest
producer of oil, the second largest producer of beef, the third largest
producer of iron ore, and and they have the world’s seventh-largest economy. From
1964 to 1985 they were ruled by a military dictatorship, and in a stunning
turn of events that military dictatorship had a lot of bribery and
corruption in it. But in an actual not sarcastic stunning turn of events Brazil managed
to transfer from that military dictatorship to democracy with
relative ease and like sort of slowly and without very much violence. So it’s worth remember throughout this entire process that though Brazil seems very mature
economically and politically, its government is only thirty years old. It’s new, and
they haven’t been doing it for very long. It’s pretty remarkable. There was plenty of economic
and political battles in the nineteen eighties and nineties but thanks to a
lot of hard work, and China’s insatiable appetite for iron ore and hamburgers,
Brazil managed to get its economy on track and it’s become one of the great
success stories of the developing world. Until the last couple of years… so
remember how bribery and corruption were really rampant in the old military
dictatorship? Well that’s a difficult thing to take out of the culture of both
companies and the government, and it has not been removed in brazil. But over the
last thirty years brazil has become more democratically mature and, somewhat
unusually for Latin America, has a really strong independent judiciary and a
really strong independent police force. So the rock of Brazil’s culture of
bribery and corruption has come up against the hard place of
its strong independent judiciary, and something had to break, and it has.
But before we get there let’s talk about Lula. Inacio Lula da Silva was, in the eighties,
a revolutionary socialists who mostly worked against the military dictatorship
as a union organizer. After the dictatorship transitioned to democracy, in
a very weird cool long story that I don’t have time to tell you, Lula emerged as a strong political figure and
the head of the newly formed Workers Party. And the Workers Party wasn’t able
to gain much national traction until Lula became what some Brazilians called
Lula lite; still Lula, still for the people, still from the poorest part of
the country, still representative of that soul of Brazil, but also willing to work
inside of the system, also willing to help out big corporations who are a big
part of Brazil’s economy and how Brazil works. After running in losing three times,
lula was elected in 2003 and remained president until 2011 during which time
he presided over some truly remarkable achievements, including an extremely
successful social program that basically paid poor families to send their
children to school, a program that’s credited with helping lift tens of
millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Lula left office with an unprecedented
eighty percent approval rating. His chief of staff, an economist who was once a
guerilla fighter against the military dictatorship and was captured by them and
tortured, amazing life this woman has had and continues to have, was elected pretty
much as his successor because he couldn’t run for a third term.
Now, Lula was almost never blame free. In 2005, his government was involved in a
scandal which saw members of congress being paid $12,000 a month to vote the
way that Lula wanted them to vote, but Lula was never directly implicated in
the scandal, though several members of his government resigned. In Brazil it has become
so common for huge scandals to fizzle out without anybody getting in trouble
that they have a phrase for it. They call it ending in Pizza. And I’m not saying some
Portuguese word that sounds like pizza. I’m saying pizza. Well the days of things
ending in pizza appear to be over, for a bunch of different reasons. First because
of the massive scale of the scandal and yes we’re finally gonna get there. Petrobras is
Brazil’s only oil company. It’s majority owned by the government, and entirely
controlled by the government. It’s Brazil’s largest company, one of the world’s
largest companies, it’s responsible for ten percent of Brazil’s GDP and a lot of
its government’s revenue. And it spends, as you might expect, a lot of money
on construction contracts. And it’s maybe always kind of been the case that high
up Petrobras employees and the government officials who appointed them,
because remember Petrobras is controlled by the Brazilian government, would give contracts to
construction companies that overcharged the government massively, and the CEO of
the construction company would pocket some of the difference and some of the
difference would come back to the politicians and the employees who ya know, helped
get them that contract. it’s a very common corruption thing. We have it here
in the USA we call it graft. it’s basically just a company bribing a
politician for a lucrative contract. And as Petrobras grew under Lula, thanks
mostly to the price of oil getting really high, the amount getting kicked
back grew as well to truly massive massive proportions. it’s the largest
corruption scandal in the history of any democracy on earth, billions of dollars.
One guy has offered, because you know he’s scared, to give all of the money
that he took in bribes back to the Brazilian government. That amount of
money is a hundred million dollars. one guy! Many people are going to jail. This is not ending in pizza. Around a
hundred of Brazil’s current members of congress, almost a fifth of the entire
body of congress, is under investigation right now. No political party is blame free, but
the Workers Party, which was in charge at the time and also supposed to the party
against this kind of corruption, is catching most of the flat. But it’s more than
just the scale; it’s also just awful timing. People are poised to dislike the
government right now because Brazil is in the middle of a giant recession. The
scandal has resulted in lots of loss to jobs, the zika virus epidemic is hurting
tourism, Chinese retraction is terrible for Brazil, massive trickle-down loans to large
corporations didn’t spur economic growth, and if you’ve been to a gas station
recently you know that oil is not the profit center it once was. All is difficult for
politicians and citizens. Brazil has had to implement austerity measures to get
its budget in line with its revenue, but it’s more than just the scale, and the
awful timing, Brazil also really mostly doesn’t like the current president. They
just don’t like her. Two-thirds of the country, according to a recent poll, want
her to be impeached. But it’s more than just the scale, and the economy, and the
president that nobody likes, it’s also Judge Moro, a guy who’s taking lessons
from the nineties campaign in Italy to take down the mafia, a guy who’s willing to
make deals with criminals if it means uncovering more of the scandal, a guy who
doesn’t mind bending the rules of it means getting support from the public,
and the guy who doesn’t seem to mind being deified and exalted by a lot of
the Brazilian public searching for some non political person to put their faith
in. Brazilians have taken a lot of the love that they lost for Lula and put it
into Judge Moro. He says he has no interest in politics but he doesn’t
really seem to be acting that way, and if Rousseff is impeached, and there are two
current hearings trying to impeach her, a lot of people would like judge Moro to
run. But it’s more than just the scale, and the economy, and the president, or the
charismatic judge who takes no prisoners, are rather takes lots of prisoners, it’s
also the deep kinda ugly partisan divide in Brazil. No one knows how involved
Rousseff and Lula were in the Petrobras scandal or if they were involved at all,
but it doesn’t seem like anybody’s waiting for due process to make their judgments.
In a story that might feel pretty familiar to people in america, social
media has hyperpolarized Brazil. People in Brazil spent a lot of time on social
media, and their filter bubbles are just as strong as ours. People tend to hear and
thus think just the worst things about their opposition, and everyone’s cynicism
about everyone else, which I admit is kind of Justified, results in a lack of
skepticism about negative stories of the opposition. And I’m not saying this is a
unique problem to Brazil. But like when judge Moro released a recorded telephone
conversation in which Rousseff appeared to be telling lula how she would protect him
from prosecution, a lot of people thought how could anyone still be supporting
these people they are so obviously corrupt, but a lot of other people
thought why is it judge taking this seemingly political action in making
this recording public a mere three hours after it was recorded without due process?
Lula and Rousseff say it is just a hundred percent partisan attacks trying to take them
down and have the opposition parties gain political power. The oposition says that it’s a
hundred percent just them trying to get to the bottom of the scandal. Even a
cursory inspection though shows that it is definitely both of those things. In
response to her plummeting approval ratings and multiple impeachment hearings
and also possibly to protect him from prosecution, Rousseff has brought lula on as
her chief of staff. And if that seems fishy, it’s because it is. But also the more
conservative parties, some of them fed by classism and racism, are definitely using
this as a political opportunity to gain power. Meanwhile, on the left a lot of people are
saying the Workers Party is way too centrist, and obviously corrupt, and are running
away from them toward the left and that’s just creating a deeper partisan
divide inside the country. But every major party is involved. Five of the people on
Rousseff’s impeachment committee are under investigation themselves! Many of
the most respected leaders in the country are not gonna make it out of
this unescathed, which means it’s going to be hard for Brazil to lead its way out
of this problem. But it isn’t just the bribery that’s the problem. Paulo Maluf, who literally can’t
leave Brazil because he’s wanted by Interpol, ran for re-election and won
with a campaign slogan: I steal, but I deliver. Lula on the other hand has had his
own quote from 1988 thrown back at him on every social media platform on the
internet: “In Brazil, when a poor man steals he goes to jail. When a rich man steals,
he becomes a minister.” Many Brazilians now see this as Lula predicting his own
future. Now this is all bad in the near term for Brazil, but I think it’s good
for Brazil in the long term because it shows that being a crooked politician is
not worth it. as for what happens tomorrow and the next day
nobody knows. It’s a bad situation, and Brazilians on the whole are very cynical
about the government, but they’re also very pragmatic. While passions can
certainly run high in individuals, there’s an overall culture of peaceful
evolution rather than violent revolution, and very few people seem at all
interested in giving that up which is great news. John, I’ll see you on Tuesday. Thank you to diplomat Rafael Prince, and
journalist and author Alex Cuadros for all of your help. Alex’s book Brazllionaires will be out in July. And thank you as was well to all of the members of the
Brazilian Nerdfighter Facebook group thanks for helping me out and keeping me straight.