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Brazil Crisis Deepens as Ex-President Calls for Resignation

Walter Russell Mead

This is how bad Brazil’s political crisis has become: last week, one of the country’s ex-presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso strongly suggested President Dilma Rousseff should consider resigning in the midst of protests hitting the country. Folha de S.Paulo:

“The most significant aspect of the protests like yesterday’s” [Sunday 16] is the ongoing popular feeling that while “the government is legal, it is illegitimate,” Cardoso wrote. In addition, he argued that Rousseff should make a “grand gesture” and consider the possibility of resignation.

“If the President is incapable of a grand gesture (resignation, or at least a frank admission that she has made mistakes, and can indicate the way for national recovery), we will witness the government’s increasing disintegration,” he continued

Cardoso said that the government lacks “moral foundation, which has been corroded by the scheming of Lula [da Silva] and the PT [Workers’ Party].”

Cardoso is widely credited with restoring monetary stability to Brazil after years of insane inflation, as well as with many of the reforms that institutionalized democracy. That makes his criticism weighty. Moreover, he is pointing the finger at Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the popular leader of the PT who succeeded Cardoso as president. Lula supported Dilma as his successor, and as the investigations into systemic corruption have intensified, it is looking more and more as if the entire PT political machine—a machine built and run by Lula—was at the center of a web of corruption. If true, this would be a major challenge not only to Dilma Roussef’s presidency, but to Lula’s standing in the country.

Interestingly, Cardoso seems to be offering Dilma a way out: if she doesn’t resign, some kind of admission of wrongdoing might itself save her. Brazil has historically been a moderate country with a strong center and something of a conservative bent. “Order and Progress” is the country’s motto, and while both of those qualities sometimes seem in short supply, at its best Brazil tries to live up to both ideals.

While some in the opposition want to make the government pay for its mistakes, hoping perhaps to crush Lula and the PT once and for all, others worry that in an all-out struggle, Lula and his supporters might take to the streets, polarize the country further, and make Brazil ungovernable even as the economy sheds jobs and heads into a recession. So one option Brazilians are now discussing would involve some kind of national pact between the government and the opposition — a program to attack the economic crisis, reform corruption, and stabilize the country’s politics at a dangerous time.

Given the problems in Venezuela (where a true catastrophe seems to be taking form), Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and other countries where left wing populist governments have overspent and under-managed, South America is not well positioned to ride the economic shock waves coming out of China. Brazil is the anchor of stability and the natural leader of the continent. That Brazil is looking inward and worrying about its own stability is not a good sign.

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