Boycott the Rio Olympics to Defend Brazilian Democracy
Beware the anti-democratic events now unfolding in Brazil.
- Bribery has historically been the only way of passing legislation in Brazil’s fractured Congress.
- There is no evidence of corruption by President Rousseff, something that may be unique in Brazil’s history.
- The impeachment coup represents a grave threat to democracy in Brazil and Latin America.
- An Olympic boycott could send a global message in support of democracy.
- Anti-democratic reactionary forces throughout Latin America are closely watching the Brazil case.
Terrible, anti-democratic events are now unfolding in Brazil with the constitutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff, organized through a cooked-up impeachment trial.
The impeachment coup represents a naked attempt by corrupt conservative elements to seize power in Brazil.
Make no mistake: It is a threat to democracy and social progress in Brazil, Latin America and even the global community at large.
If Brazilian voices concur, the world should respond by boycotting the Rio Olympics scheduled for this August.
Background: Brazil’s war on corruption
The constitutional coup against President Rousseff represents a capture and perversion of Brazil’s war on political corruption. As is widely known, Brazil has been rocked by revelations of massive corruption centered on its national oil company, Petrobras, but extending far beyond.
Political corruption is endemic in Brazil and is a curse upon the country. As a consequence, governing without recourse to corruption is almost impossible. Bribery and kickbacks have historically been the only way of passing legislation in Brazil’s fractured Congress.
To their shame, some members of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) government under President Lula succumbed to this curse. However, the PT’s involvement represents a small fraction of the overall scandal.
It infects the entirety of right-wing and business opposition parties to a much larger degree. The opposition parties saw both threat and opportunity in the corruption scandal.
The threat was exposure of their own pervasive corruption. The opportunity was the possibility of using the economic recession and the PT’s tainting to overthrow President Rousseff.
By capturing the government, they could block their own prosecution for corruption and put a stop to the social progress and reversal of income inequality the PT has achieved.
Zero evidence of Rousseff’s corruption
But try as they might, the opposition has found no evidence of corruption on the part of President Rousseff, something that may be unique in the presidential history of Brazil. A cynic might even say that is the real root of Rousseff’s political failure, as her honesty has likely turned the system against her.
Lacking evidence of corruption, the opposition has turned to impeaching Rousseff on grounds of violating technical budget laws in her prior term (2011-14), when she used temporary budget financing from the national development bank.
This budgetary practice is known as “pedaling” and has been used before by governments, including that of President Fernando Cardoso. They were never sanctioned, yet Cardoso and his party now support impeachment.
The practice of budget pedaling was declared illegal by the Federal Court of Accounts in April 2015 and the Rousseff administration immediately moved to pay off its “pedaling” debts.
But rather than seeing that judgment as definitively clarifying permissible budget practice, the right-wing and business opposition that controls Brazil’s Congress has contrived to impeach President Rousseff for past budget technicality violations.
As evidenced by their own past budget practices and thievery, the impeachment is not aimed at correcting and preventing fiscal misappropriation. Instead, the goal is to exploit the decision to gain power that they could not secure at the ballot box.
Coup of the corrupt and vicious
The most egregious aspect of the process is that persons already convicted of corruption or facing imminent conviction, along with vicious authoritarians and retrograde neoliberals, have led the impeachment.
Congressman Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the Brazil’s lower house, has just been ordered to step down for taking $40 million in bribes.
Senator Renan Calheiros, President of Brazil’s upper house, has a history of being disciplined for ethical violations and is currently under investigation for taking numerous major kickback payments.
Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who was an outspoken lower house supporter of impeachment, dedicated his vote to Brazil’s past military dictatorship and the colonel who tortured Rousseff in the 1970s when she fought back against the dictatorship.
Interim president Michel Temer has already been disciplined for campaign finance violations that render him ineligible to run for office. He is also under investigation as part of the Petrobras scandal.
Temer, who is not a member of the PT, has appointed a very conservative cabinet. Brazil, which elected President Rousseff of the Workers’ Party in 2014, now has a neoliberal government.
The agriculture minister is Blairo Maggi, an agribusiness billionaire known as the “soy king,” who is said to have destroyed more rain forest than any living person.
The minister of justice, Alexandre de Moraes, has been an open advocate of police repression in the state of Sao Paulo, and he has also now been given charge of the human rights ministry.
The minister of institutional security (which includes Brazil’s CIA) is General Etchegoyen, whose father was identified by Brazil’s Truth Commission as responsible for murder and torture during the dictatorship. Etchegoyen dismissed those charges as “frivolous.”
Lastly, the minister of finance is Henrique Meirelles, former CEO of Bank of Boston and an advocate of the most extreme neoliberal financial policies. This ugly cast of characters makes crystal clear what is happening in Brazil.
Boycott the Olympics
The impeachment coup represents a grave threat to democracy and social progress in Brazil and Latin America. Democratic civil society in Brazil urgently needs the world’s help. If opponents of the coup call for a boycott of the Rio Olympics, the global community of democracies should immediately sign on.
An Olympic boycott could be a powerful action. It can brilliantly spotlight the culpability and corruption of the coup conspirators, while sending a global message in support of democracy.
Everyone knows Olympics and World Cups are both sporting and political events. Governments use these events to gain legitimacy, which means the Rio Olympics now risks conferring tacit approval on the coup against President Rousseff.
History provides evidence of past failures to help, and those failures illustrate the need for present action. The greatest failure was the 1936 Berlin Olympics that gave tacit to approval to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
In 1978, the global community failed Argentina by participating in the World Cup at a time when Argentina’s dictators were brutally torturing and murdering Argentines by the thousands.
Stop the revival of anti-democratic politics
The stakes are high. The case of Brazil is being closely watched by anti-democratic reactionary forces throughout Latin America. The global community must act vigorously to stop Brazil’s constitutional coup dead in its tracks.
Failure to do so will condemn Brazilian democracy and send a signal throughout the region legitimizing right-wing anti-democratic politics. That risks reviving the tragic cycle of political violence that has so injured Latin America in the recent past. Boycotting the Rio Olympics might help prevent that outcome.