Living in Brazil: Reasons to be fearful

Reasons to be fearful

It isn’t much fun being in Brazil at the moment.  In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a lot going on in Brazil right now that would be enough to make a good man turn bad: Zika virus, recession, crap football team, an Olympics nobody really cares about…

On top of all this, we have the lava jato (car wash) corruption scandal.  Now, after living in Brazil for a while, you start to become a bit inured to corruption scandals as they seem come around as regular as a .  But this one has turned out to be a bid different.  It’s been a corruption scandal with bells on.

It is a long story and, if you would like to know more about the details, you could start with a good infographic showing the participants from the New York Times, read a basic background description from The Guardian, or have a laugh with John Oliver.

Living here with the drip drip, and occasional gush, of stories surrounding the scandal, it can at times seem a bit of a scary place.  A lot of the time, these fears are of what might happen based on what we have already seen:

The Numbers

Corrutpion, Brazil, Lavo Jato, Car wash, Scandal

Corrupt Legislation by Vedder Highsmith

As well as quite a few businessmen either in prison or facing charges, there are now about 50 of these politicians now  under investigation.

And that is just one scandal.  All in all, according to The New York Times, 60% of  are accused of various crimes from electoral fraud to murder.

The Lavo Jato enquiry has found that some $3.5bn has been involved in various kick backs and bribes.  Who knows how much more has been missed or is involved in other schemes.

These are just some of the numbers involved and are truly shocking and force people to think that all the politicians are only in it for themselves and there is nothing that can be done.

Update: While writing this, a document has been released from Odebrecht, a construction company heavily implicated in the scandal which has just done a deal to allow its executives to turn state witness.  This document lists the politicians who they have bribed in the past, so this number of 50 is already out of date and is now much higher.

The Protests

There has always been a certain amount of hatred of the governing PT (Workers’ Party) and these corruption scandals have given everyone with an axe to grind the perfect reason to protest.  And protest they have, with millions coming on to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Dilma, the arrest of former president Lula and for the whole corrupt gang of the PT to be thrown in prison.

The rhetoric from the anti-government quarter has been strident, but recently it has been matched by pr0-government supporters.  Red and black are shouting at yellow and nobody is listening.  And the protests look as if they are going to continue, be even more vocal and even more polarised.

The Colours

Yellow has become the colour of choice of the protestors angry at the current government.  Yellow is, of course, in the national flag and is the colour of the national football team.  Many of te street protests of have been a sea of yellow with original Nike football shirts very prominent.

Corruption, protests, Brazil, car wash, scandal lavo jato

Anti-government protests in Sao Paulo (Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil)

Before a recent protest there were posts on Facebook that people should avoid wearing red, as this is the colour of PT and the left, and they should also avoid black as this is the colour of the anarchists or the Black Block.

There were some reports of people being attacked by protestors because they were wearing the wrong colours, although the vast majority of people have been peaceful.

The Violence

So far, there have been only sporadic incidents of violence at the protests.  There are many people predicting that levels of violence will increase if Lula is charged or if Dilma is impeached.  Who knows what will happen?  It is, however, a genuine fear that the rhetoric used by both sides is only going to increase the propensity for serious violence further down the road.

The Judiciary

Sergio Moro is the judge who has taken the lead in prosecuting those involved in the lavo jato case.  Depending on your point of view, he is either the caped crusader coming to save Brazil in its hour of need, or an example of how judges are using their power to corrupt the political system and engineer a coup.

The Military

And in the background there is the looming shadow of the military.  It is not too long since we had a military regime here and the genuine fear from a lot of people is that we might be heading back that way.  This is not helped by photos of people holding banner at protests calling for a military to kick out the corrupt politicians.  Of course, there was never any corruption under the military government at all.  Or at least, we never heard about it.

It all seems pretty bleak at the moment.  But of course there are two sides to every story, so tomorrow I’ll be looking at some reasons to be cheerful.



Brazil Protests: My 20 cents’ worth

Guy Fawkes is Brazilian

Guy Fawkes is Brazilian (

I got back to Brazil last Wednesday (12th) and in the car on the way home my wife asked me if I had seen anything about the protests in Sao Paulo.  I hadn’t heard a thing and to be honest I wasn’t that interested.  There are always small protests going on in Brazil that never get anywhere due to aggressive policing, apathy and a general distrust of protesters.

Obviously I was wrong because these protests have continued and mushroomed so that there is barely a city in the country that hasn’t been affected.  Why?  What was so different about these protests?

It isn’t about 20 cents

The protests started because of a proposed raise in the bus fare of 20 centavos.  While this might be a lot to somebody on minimum wage it doesn’t account for why the whole country has suddenly erupted.

Social Media

portuguese: logo da Rede Globo.

Rede Globo has been widely criticised for their coverage of theprotests (Wikipedia)

It has been claimed that Facebook and Twitter have been responsible for a number of uprisings around the world.  Other people have poured scorn on these claims and I wasn’t absolutely convinced.  I am now totally convinced at the potential power of social media.

Brazil is a very connected society.  There is a huge Brazilian population on Facebook and Twitter and whatever else you care to mention.  With rising incomes we are also seeing more and more smartphones around the country.  They are still nowhere near ubiquitous, but it is no longer unusual to see an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy on the bus. Social media outlets were flooded with videos shot on phones of the behaviour of the police.  The media, police and authorities were no longer controlling the message.

Everybody knew that the police could not be trusted, but now we had first hand evidence.


One of the things that galls Brazilians is the amount of money that has been spent on the FIFA World Cup.  Depending on who you talk to the cost is anything between R$59 billion and R$80 billion (about $25 billion and $35 billion).  This is apparently more than the last three World Cups put together.  What ever way you look at it, it’s a lot of money.  The authorities say that a lot of this money has also been spent on infrastructure projects like airports, roads and hotels.  There have been some projects but from where I am sitting it doesn’t feel like it has been worth the money.  And we still have crap schools and hospitals.

At the same time, it can be no coincidence that the demonstrations started just before the Confederations Cup.  This is a dress rehearsal for the World Cup next year and has meant that a lot of the world’s media are focussed on Brazil and looking for background stories.  What makes a better story than a lot of riots and protests going on?

I hate this man (

I hate this man (

Enough is Enough

Corruption is endemic in Brazil.  One of the first words I learned when I came here was jeitinho, which basically means ‘a way to get around things’.  The things that you want to get around are usually rules, laws and obstinate/incompetent officials.  You want to get your bank account sorted out today without that extra document you didn’t know you needed?  Talk nicely, plead or offer a little sweetener and it might be possible.

This idea runs from the bottom to the top of society.  Some Brazilians are even proud of it as they think it shows an ability to think outside the box and overcome obstacles.  This may be true, but it also leads to huge corruption at the top of society.  For as long as I have been in Brazil there has been scandal after scandal as politicians and businessmen are shown to bo on the take.  And nothing ever happens to them.  And now Brazilians are finally fed up with it.  They have had enough and they want something to change.

The politicians had the idea of changing things.  There is a bill being debated at the moment called PEC 37 that will make it harder for them to be prosecuted.  This isn’t the kind of change that most Brazilians had envisaged.

A New Generation

English: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. Th...

Berlin Wall falls and Brazil elects new President in the same month. (Wikipedia)

Brazil is a relatively young democracy.  The military government slowly relaxed its stranglehold over the country from 1980 with the first elections for state governor and senators.  It wasn’t until 1989 that Brazil held its first direct elections for President.

This means that the current generation of 20-somethings is the first to be born in a democratic country (whatever that might mean) and the 30-somethings will have no real memory of living under a dictatorship.  This, to my mind, is important as they have grown up thinking they have the right to be heard and represented by their politicians, unlike, perhaps, their parents’ generation.

Anything Else?

These seem to me be important reasons why these protests have been successful when others haven’t.  There might well be others and if you know of any I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

What next?

I don’t know what is going to happen next.  I don’t think anybody does, really.  This will be the topic of my next post once I have had a bit more time to think about it.

Further Reading/Viewing

Brazil Awakened: It’s not about 20 cents: – This thoughtful piece is written by an American living in Rio.

Brazilian Protests Explained: It’s not the economy, Stupid: – This detailed piece is written by a Brazilian journalist living in London.  It contains a lot of links to other videos and is well worth a read.

The Salad Uprising: – A great collection of photos and videos documenting the protests since they started.

#changebrazil: – This 5-minute video gives some brilliant context to the protests.

Revolta da Salada com Bee Gees (The Salad Revolt with the Bee Gees): – My favourite video so far.  it is funny but also gives a brief insight into how out of control the police are (No words, just a Bee Gees song.)

Sepp Blatter urges Brazil protesters not to link grievances to football: – I hated Sepp Blatter even before he came out with such vacuous comments.  Grrrrrrrr!