By John Fitzpatrick
January 27, 2009
Whenever I try to follow the ins and outs of Brazilian politics with its strange alliance, plots, duplicity and subterfuge I think of the verse from Leonard Cohen’s song Everybody Knows” that goes:
“Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people
you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows”
We are watching the unraveling at the moment of a number of plots and betrayals which everybody knows about but turns a blind eye to. First of all, President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva is trying to foist his preferred presidential candidate, Dilma Rousseff, onto the electorate, regardless of whether anyone wants her or not. Secondly, São Paulo state governor, Jose Serra, has bribed one of his main rivals, Geraldo Alckmin, by giving him a top job in his administration, thereby ensuring that Alckmin does not block Serra’s presidential ambitions. And thirdly, former President Jose Sarney is trying to become the Senate chairman by pretending he does not really want the job.
Lula has been singing the praises of Dilma Rousseff, his chief of staff, for over a year now although he always claims he has not even asked her if she even wants to be the Workers Party (PT) presidential candidate. Presumably the PT has mechanisms for choosing its candidates which actually involve taking the views of the rank and file members into consideration. If so, then Lula is not interested. Neither is Dilma who has recently changed from an Ugly Duckling to a very fine ,swan indeed, thanks to a nose job, a diet, a nip and tuck, a new hair style and contact lens instead of her old specs. Instead of the frumpy thin-lipped apparatchik of old we now have an attractive mature woman who could easily win a glamorous granny competition.
Despite her cosmetic change, Dilma has still not announced her interest in being a presidential candidate although she is expected to begin a marathon round of public appearances in February in which she will unveil works for the so-called Accelerated Growth Program. Nor has she made any speeches on what she stands for, presumably because she feels she can get by on Lula’s coat-tails. However, one thing that everybody knows is that the Brazilian people will not be so naãve as to turn out and vote for someone just because she is Lula’s favorite. And another thing that everybody knows is that Lula could dump Dilma from one moment to the next if he feels like it, particularly if he succumbs to the flattering pressure from his admirers and alters the Constitution to allow him to stand again. This may seem far-fetched but it cannot be discounted even at this late stage.
As for Serra, he may feel he has pulled off a great coup by tempting Alckmin into the fold and dangling the prospect of Alckmin succeeding him as governor when he presumably stands for the presidency in 2010. However, Alckmin’s star waned when he fought a disastrous campaign for the PSDB against Lula in 2006 and was lucky not to be beaten in the first round. He was also humiliated in the race for the São Paulo mayorship last year when Serra supported the candidate of the rival DEMs. The PSDB also has another strong candidate in the governor of Minas Gerais state, Aecio Neves, who does not think Serra has a divine right to be the party’s candidate.
In fact, Serra and Neves were almost as much to blame for the PSDB’s failure to win the presidency by letting Alckmin force himself on the party. Lula is not the only politician to disdain his own party. The PSDB big wigs – Serra, Neves, Alckmin and ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso – made the decision on who would be the party’s candidate without seeking the views of the ordinary members. What everybody knows is that Serra is desperate to be president and will do anything to achieve this aim.
As for Sarney, most Brazilians are desperate to see the back of him. He was one of a series of unimpressive presidents, along with Fernando Collor de Mello and Itamar Franco, who held power after the generals handed control back to civilian politicians. Sarney is a Northeastern old-timer who represents everything that holds Brazil back and has been a powerbroker for almost 50 years. Although he became president simply because the elected president, Tancredo Neves, died before assuming office, Sarney managed to extend the term of office from four to five years. He has already been Senate chairman, leads a faction of the PMDB, has allies and supporters in high places and has great power and influence.
He has an unusual tactic which is to stand above the fray – in public, that is – and say he will only agree to be nominated if there is common consent. This means that he virtually forces himself on Congress through backroom carrot and stick negotiations. Everybody knows that behind that avuncular, amiable exterior lies a ruthless, Machiavellian mind which is only interested in gaining power and holding onto it.
That is the sad state of the Brazilian political scene as we head into an economic crisis and prepare for a presidential election next year.
Let’s finish by quoting another verse from Leonard Cohen which sums the situation up perfectly:
“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
John Fitzpatrick 2009
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:
Brazil: Will Obama Mention the “Brics” or just the “Rics”?
Brazil 2009 – The Year of Living Dangerously
Brazil: São Paulo Mayoral Election – a Foretaste of the Presidential Race?
Looking for Brazil’s Moon Under Water
Brazil’s Lula Finally Stops Playing the Blame Game
Brazil: Coming Up – Serra versus Dilma?
Brazil Becomes Middle Class but Not Bourgeois
Where is Brazil’s Barack Obama?
Brazil: Lula Loses Some of His Moral Luster
Lost Your Job on Wall Street? Head for Brazil!
Brazil: Lula Loves Investment Grade – Whatever That Is
There’s No Business Like Oil Business – in Brazil Anyway
Benefits of Brazil’s Growth Start to Spread
Let Brazilians Sort Out the Problems of the Amazon
Brazil’s Politicians Set to Cash in on Oil and Gas Discoveries
Brazil: Lula Learns the Lesson of Not Planning Ahead
Cops and Robbers Brazilian Style
Brazil: Oscar Freire – São Paulo’s Street of Dreams
Brazil: Lula Called to Account on Tax
Will Lula Leave Brazil in Safe or Unsafe Hands?
Senate Spits in the Face of the Brazilian People
The Lord Mayor Goes Zapping the NYSE in Brazil
Brazil: Economic Boom – Political Gloom
Around Brazil: Natal – Sun, Sand Dunes and Solitude or Hassle, Hustlers and Hookers
ACM – Brazil Will Never See His Like Again
Brazilians Let Politicians Treat Them as Doormats
Senate Chairman Upholds Tradition of Treating Brazil with Contempt
Brits Turn Their Backs on Brazil
Look Out for the New BBC – the Brazilian Broadcasting Corporation
Navel Gazing in Brasilia – Largesse in São Paulo
Brazil’s Politicians Share the Spoils
Cida – A Brazilian Entrepreneur
Ten Top Brazilian Songs to Download on Your iPod
Lula Lets Brazilians Down by Failing to Exercise His Authority
Brazil: Laid Back Lula Finally Gets His Team (Almost) Together
The George W. Bush PR Show Comes to Brazil
Briefing Bush on Brazil the CIA Way
US Authorities Tackle Brazil’s White Collar Criminals
Brazil’s Opposition Parties Try to End Disarray
Lula Faces Arm-Wrestling Contest with New Congress
Brazil Waits for Lula to Return from Holiday
Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba
Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil’s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil’s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil’s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?