The Feel of Bespoke Suits

A left-wing President presides over a corrupt party, and though she has never been indicted for wrongdoing, she is put on trial by a Congressional impeachment commission strewn with crooks. The government, in a move that will stand as a historic electoral betrayal, tries to impose orthodox austerity measures after running a presidential campaign based on leftist ideals. Senators prepare to impeach a President based on budgetary maneuvers that, not so long ago, many of them approved. One feels we didn’t need to be here, living out this farce.

On the crisis in Brazil

Temer and Dilma.

From a distance, the causes of the Brazilian crisis seem obvious. A corrupt government, after fourteen years in power, begins to suffer the consequences of erratic policies: a deep recession follows, and protesters then take to the streets to overthrow the government. This explanation isn’t so much unfounded as insufficient. The government is corrupt, but so are all the other parties. The economy is in recession, but there have been other periods of turbulence in the past, and not all of them led to a coup. Protesters are on the streets, yet they make up a small demographic, and are unrepresentative of the larger population. To state that a couple of organs in a body have failed says little of the disease that overtook it. I’m not sure, though, that watching the corpse decompose from up close yields any kind of special explanatory power. It may well be that those farther away are better equipped to explain things.

To watch the maggots scuffle and reproduce on the body—think of them as various members of the executive, legislative, and judiciary—is less revolting than it is profoundly boring. And yet none of us here are able to look away. In Rio, where I live and write for a monthly magazine, the crisis often seems to be the only topic of conversation.

Once a week, I head to the magazine’s offices in Ipanema. There, for about twenty or thirty minutes, my colleagues and I exchange pleasantries and drink coffee. Then someone will pull up a video of the latest outrage: a right-wing congressman justifying his vote to oust President Dilma Rousseff by paying homage to a deceased torturer from the military dictatorship; a lawyer, responsible for filing the impeachment request against the President, waving the Brazilian flag in her hand as she shouts incantations against the “republic of the snake”; the popular leftist musician and supporter of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) Chico Buarque confessing that he didn’t in fact write his own songs, but rather bought the lyrics and melodies off the street from a guy named Ahmed. This last video is clearly a joke, but this is a time of unintended ironies, and so the video is widely shared by opposition supporters, who use it to denounce the left’s cunning and malevolence.

At a samba concert in the hilly neighborhood of Santa Teresa, a singer changes the lyrics of a popular standard: “Não vai ter golpe, não” (“there will be no coup”), she sings, and soon the whole room is overtaken with claps and stomps.

Cab drivers explain to me how ridiculous Dilma is—occasionally throwing in a gratuitous sexist expletive—and then ask where the country is going, a question I always assume is rhetorical until I realize that some reassurance, gentle or otherwise, is expected.1 I usually stay quiet, less out of annoyance than exhaustion.

At home, during dinner, my wife tells me about one of her closest friends, whose boyfriend decided to attend an anti-government rally the previous week. The guy is a coxinha; the word, which usually refers to a delicious deep-fried pastry, has inexplicably become shorthand for “right-winger.” Later, as we lay in bed, she exchanges audio files with her friends on WhatsApp. Roughly 60 to 70 percent of the content is political. I fall asleep to the faint repetition of the word golpe (coup), a word that can have a strangely soothing effect when overheard.

Days go by like this. It’s the inverse of that German TV series Heimat, where social and political turbulences of the 20th century flicker in the background of mundane lives. Here, political talk and turbulence are at the center; mundane pleasures—a nap, a drink, a quiet meal—form the backdrop.

Even when times were flush, tensions between the PT and the rightwing opposition were high. Dilma carried the 2010 election fairly easily, on the back of a booming economy and the successful government of her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A former guerrilla, imprisoned and tortured during the country’s long dictatorship, Dilma began her presidency as a technocrat who had never before held elected office (she had been Lula’s chief of staff). She sought to appease those who doubted her, and spent her few months in office dispelling the notion that she owed anything to her political godfather. She criticized Iran for its treatment of women (Lula had notoriously maintained a good relationship with Ahmadinejad); she was stately and gentle toward Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the economically liberal former President (1994–2002) and main opposition figure, often a target of the PT’s more aggressive attacks; she flirted with a drastic cut in government spending and put in measures to cool down inflation. In a move that many in the local press saw as brave at the time, she decided to fill her cabinet with low-profile technocrats, shunning overtures by members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB)—a vacuous center-right ally that during the Lula years had successfully bargained for influential positions. All these attitudes were broadly welcome by the electorate. Two years in, Dilma was approaching her predecessor’s level of popularity, with a stunning 75 percent approval rating. At one point, according to some polls, she hit a high of 79 percent.

Then, between 2012 and 2013, cracks began to show. The economy, instead of maintaining a moderate level of growth as expected, began to stall—and Dilma, like a jittery broker who can’t bear to watch her stocks go down, abruptly changed course. A series of measures, not unlike the ones taken by Lula during the financial crisis, were put in place, a sort of half-baked stimulus package that included energy subsidies and cheaper credit. Initially popular, these measures failed to create the desired effect on growth, which remained stagnant. Inflation, however, did not recede, and in early 2013 the central bank went against the government by raising interest rates.

In June 2013, a small protest over a bus fare increase in São Paulo was violently repressed by the state’s Militarized Police (PM), and it quickly mushroomed into a bigger wave of national protests, with millions of people taking to the streets. These massive protests—comprised of participants with widely varying backgrounds and political orientations, not all of them anti-PT—are still difficult to explain, but their immediate effect was a precipitous drop in the president’s approval ratings, from 55 to 30 percent. Meanwhile Dilma’s playing hardball with the PMDB had become a liability, because the party’s strong presence in both houses of the legislature meant that bills and projects were continually stymied. The mainstream press was quick to invert its previously admiring stance: on second thought, the pundits said, Dilma’s ignoring the PMDB wasn’t brave at all it was uselessly stubborn, and it showed an authoritarian leader unwilling to compromise, as leaders in a multi-party system must.

With the tightening economy and millions-strong bus fare protests, Dilma’s support began to ebb. Still, she entered the 2014 elections from relatively strong position, if not exactly a comfortable one. After staving off a first-round threat by Marina Silva—a former PT member who had been trying to build an ideologically offbeat, occasionally confusing alternative to the government—Dilma went to a run-off with Aécio Neves, of the rightwing Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). To gain an edge, Dilma emphasized her leftist cred, warning voters that if the PSDB were elected it would cut government benefits and impose austerity measures. Aécio, in turn, focused his campaign on the numerous corruption scandals involving the PT, the most notorious being the “Petrolão”—a large corruption network within Petrobras, the state-owned oil company—which according to investigations has siphoned off billions of dollars of revenues in bribes to politicians and members of the private sector. Reacting to Dilma’s born-again leftism, Aécio appealed to the far right, pledging to shrink the government and liberalize the economy. It made for the most vicious election in post-dictatorship history, with fervent rhetoric on both sides. Supporters of the PSDB called the PT communists; the PT, in turn, called the PSDB fascists. In the end, Dilma beat Aécio by three percentage points (roughly 3 million votes), the narrowest margin in decades. The results showed that regional divisions were sharper than ever: Brazil’s rich southeast (São Paulo in particular) voted overwhelmingly in favor of the opposition, while the poorer northeastern states went for the government.

Soon after her victory, Dilma made an about-face. After months of trumpeting her leftwing stolidity, she appointed a new Minister of Economy, Joaquim Levy, a pro-market economist who had previously been a banker, and who promised a punishing austerity program to balance the budget.

Dilma’s intention might have been to build unity after a fierce and divisive presidential race. The move, or at least some move along these lines, was arguably necessary, given the dire state of public accounts. But politically it was a disaster. It confounded and alienated Dilma’s base, including the social movements and labor unions that had always been reluctant to endorse her as strongly as they endorsed Lula. And the move appeased no one on the opposition, emboldening them instead. Sensing the precariousness of Dilma’s position, they voted against most of the proposed austerity measures.

In 2015, as Dilma’s approval settled around single digits and the economy slipped into recession, right-wing critics of the government took to the streets. Support for an impeachment grew. In March of last year, nearly 1 million anti-government protesters went to demonstrations nationwide, with roughly 210,000 people concentrated in São Paulo. Since then there have been other protests. The last one, on March 13, 2016, was the biggest yet, with roughly 500,000 people in São Paulo alone.

Meanwhile, the PMDB was slowly mulling over the decision to leave the ruling coalition. In February 2015, Eduardo Cunha, a slick, old-school, backroom-dealing member of the party (who often gets compared to Frank Underwood), ran for the chairmanship of the lower house. Correctly sensing that Cunha’s victory would leave her hostage to a hostile Congress, Dilma backed another candidate in the race, who in the end suffered a humiliating loss.

Soon after his victory, however, Cunha became the target of an investigation over accounts found in Switzerland, in which he’d allegedly stashed millions of dollars. Although investigations are ongoing, it seems that some of these accounts may linked to the “Petrolão” scheme. With his position as lower house chairman at risk—a Congressional Ethical Committee was set up to judge the case—Cunha allegedly held talks with both the PSDB and the PT throughout last year, presumably to assess which horse to bet on if he wished to save himself from ouster. He cannily went with the opposition.

The deterioration of the political situation, the constant presence of anti-government protesters on the streets, the increasingly unabashed campaign of big business against Dilma, the insistent and often biased coverage in the mainstream media—all led to the official filing of several impeachment requests. Three months into Dilma’s second mandate, there were already nineteen impeachment requests made to the lower house chairman by opposition congressmen and individuals (mostly lawyers) sympathetic to their cause. The main impeachment requests involved accusations of illegal campaign financing in the 2014 elections (now under scrutiny in the Superior Electoral Tribunal) and the claim that the government used an illegal accounting trick to artificially inflate the budget. This latter accusation—filed on October 15 by Hélio Bicudo, a former PT member; Miguel Reale Junior, a former Minister in Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government; two old, renowned lawyers; and Janaína Paschoal, a lesser-known lawyer who would later be caught on camera at giving a speech at a formal event at the University of São Paulo (USP) waving the Brazilian flag and decrying the “republic of the snake”—was the one the opposition rallied behind. The lawyers argued that the government, throughout 2015, had delayed or postponed payments to public and private banks as a way to meet fiscal targets. According to the lawyers, this artificial form of accounting constituted a crime of fiscal responsibility. The lawyers used balance statements of state-owned bank Banco do Brasil to show that the government had used this tactic systematically. According to the official impeachment request, such delays in payments for Banco do Brasil amounted to approximately 3 billion reais (roughly $900 million) in 2015.

Based on this last request, Eduardo Cunha—who, as chairman of the lower house, had the authority to create a motion for an impeachment vote—decided to move forward with proceedings to oust the President.2 On April 17, 2016, 367 Federal Deputies voted for the impeachment proceedings to move forward onto the Senate, far surpassing the necessary two-thirds. On May 11, the Senate ratified the lower house’s decision 55 to 22, and Dilma stepped down to await trial. A final decision will be issued in six months. It is unlikely she will finish her term.

A left-wing President presides over a corrupt party, and though she has never been indicted for wrongdoing, is put on trial by a Congressional impeachment commission strewn with crooks. The government, in a move that will stand as a historic electoral betrayal, tries to impose orthodox austerity measures after running a presidential campaign based on leftist ideals. Senators prepare to impeach a President based on budgetary maneuvers that, not so long ago, many of them approved.

One feels we didn’t need to be here, living out this farce. There was a moment, sometime in the first half of last year, when the opposition decided: We’re through with her. After that, nothing else mattered. No overture was enough; no compromise would satisfy. Dilma, always accused of not negotiating, virtually put her cabinet up for sale. It wasn’t pretty. Her Ministries became a grotesque mix of former enemies and dubious allies, mediocrities all around. But opposition forces—the PSDB, a great deal of the business lobby, most of the mainstream press, and those taking the streets in São Paulo—had already decided her government must end.

But what comes after Dilma? Michel Temer, the vice president, is an embodiment of his own party, the PMDB: an insipid figure, despised by the majority of the population, whose chances of winning a direct election are laughable. Temer’s first moves show what kind of President he aspires to be. On May 12, he announced his new cabinet. Sepulchral colleagues, most of them from his own party—23 conservative white men, most of them old, not a single woman to speak of. The new Minister of Agriculture, Blairo Maggi, is one of the country’s biggest soy producers and a fierce proponent of destroying environmental regulations. The new Minister of Development, Industry and Commerce, Marcos Pereira, is a bishop (on leave) of the Igreja Universal Reino de Deus, a big evangelical church that is generally believed to be a business racket. Until a few days ago, he was almost certain to take over the Ministry of Science and Technology, but Temer backed down after some media scrutiny over his religious background. The new Minister of Justice, Alexandre de Moraes, is better known for his tenure as Security Secretary in São Paulo, when he ordered the police to beat up poor high school students, after they had occupied their buildings to protest the planned closure of several public schools (the government eventually backed down from its plans). Temer has spoken of the need to streamline government and cut down the number of cabinet jobs—a curious proposition from the PMDB, whose existence is predicated on securing those same cabinet jobs no matter what government is in power. The streamlining so far has affected only Ministries which he finds superfluous. These are the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Human Rights, the Ministry of Racial Equality, and the Ministry of Women’s Rights, which were all made extinct on May 12—or, to use the new administrations’s euphemism, “incorporated” into other Ministries (most of them into the Ministry of Justice).

Cunha, who had been the next in line until recently, is a bully who is even more despised than Temer. Before his resignation was demanded by the Supreme Court, a Datafolha poll showed that 77 percent of the population wished to see him stripped of his political rights—and he is even more feared than he is despised. These men, if they succeed in their task, will have an overwhelming majority in Congress, possibly enough to allow them to change the Constitution at will. There are rumors that Temer wants to change the constitutional mandate to have a percentage of spending go toward education and health; to give the government—ironically, given the impeachment charges—more room for budgetary maneuver. So much for checks and balances.

One has to admit that Dilma’s government has been a disaster. Its aimlessness and perpetual indecision over economic policy; its fickle, sometimes nonexistent commitment to its working class base; its bitter, lethargic acceptance of the corrupt tactics immemorially used in Brazilian politics (by all parties)—all of this is worthy of the loudest condemnation, and it will be debited on the left’s balance sheet for years to come. Dilma may even turn out to be, in hindsight, the worst president since the end of the dictatorship. But the new administration is led by one of the most hated politicians in the country, who is swiftly moving to implement a conservative agenda that no one has ever voted for; an agenda that even today with the PT in the shape that it’s in, would lose resoundingly were it put to a poll.

People will forget Dilma very soon, and then they will forget Temer, and they will also forget Cunha. What they’ll remember in ten, twenty years, is that there was an impeachment in 2016, a break with institutional norms that set the country back. That in 2016, the opposition engineered a coup.

In mid-March of this year, local pollster Datafolha released numbers about the socioeconomic backgrounds of the street protesters in São Paulo, both those for and against the government. It turned out that the majority of the right-wing protesters had levels of income much higher than the average population: 61 percent said they earned between five and fifty times the minimum wage; roughly 75 percent of the total population of São Paulo makes less. Based on a similar poll carried out during a pro-government demonstration in the city some weeks later, roughly 50 percent of participants were found to earn at the same level, again far above the city average. On a national level, only 5 percent of the population earns more than five times the minimum wage.

Another, more pointed poll from Data Popular showed that many members of the poor population—those who earned less than 3,500 reais, or $1,000, a month—told pollsters that they didn’t go to the protests because they were a “rich person’s thing.” And although support for impeachment is widespread (roughly 60 percent), the intensity and nature of this support varies. Many protesters on lower incomes are angry with the president for cutting back on social programs—the same programs that rightwing protesters often scoff at in their marches.

But the poll results don’t look good for the left, either. The PT has always claimed to look out for the poor. Even with the party’s seemingly bottomless moral decay, with several of its main founders jailed on corruption charges, Rousseff and Lula have often pointed to the huge strides they have made in poverty reduction and wealth redistribution during their presidencies. Though the prolonged bad economy has started to erode these gains, their success is inarguable (more so for Lula’s presidency than Rousseff’s). Since it cannot simply dismiss these achievements, the opposition has tried to downplay or take credit for them—for example, arguing that social programs like Bolsa Família come from the PSDB’s inflation-targeting in the ’90s.3

Why aren’t these voters taking to the streets to defend a party that has supposedly done a great deal for them? The answer may lie with Lula’s original political vision, and his focus on bringing the lower classes into the fold of consumption. Helping poor people buy more stuff may sound like a weak utopia, but in Brazil, where class prejudice is unspeakably entrenched—flanked by the country’s late abolition of slavery and an upper-class culture of self-aggrandizing patronage, which romanticizes and debases the poor—this vision has inspired real urgency and passion. To great narrative effect, Lula often wrapped this outlook in personal anecdotes. With a novelist’s feel for nouns, he talked about fridges, TVs, ovens, and how great it felt to be able to buy them. Eschewing the imagery of working-class pride in manual labor, he spoke of how much he hated wearing steelworkers’ overalls, preferring the feel of bespoke suits. The opposition’s crucial failure over the past fifteen years has been its underestimation of this narrative—seeing it only as the vulgar boast of some “populist.” For the message reaches far beyond economics, touching on questions of pride and self-esteem, words that Lula often used in his speeches.

But new fridges and gadgets eventually lose their aura. So, too, does a politics based on them. Lula’s project, which became synonymous with the PT, began to fare poorly when faced with new and not-so-new demands on the left. One crucial contradiction is that for a supposedly leftist project, it relies heavily on the notion that consuming better and more stuff is a kind of liberation. “A love of physical gratification,” “the notion of bettering one’s condition,” the “charm of anticipated success”: all these phrases, once used by Tocqueville to describe early America, could be used to describe the charms and limitations of Lula’s rhetoric.

The June 2013 bus fare protests were the first sign that something was amiss. These protests appeared apolitical, and at first the general reaction was one of hopeful approval. Brazilians, long accustomed to a passive self-image, were out on the streets: naturally, this had to be good. Soon, though, the amorphous character of the protests—one found people from the left and right, old and young, upper-class kids wrapped in national flags marching alongside hooded Black Bloc activists smashing bank windows—bred confusion, and the anxious search for a meaning took over. Analysts suggested that the new middle classes had become demanding: more than suits and fridges, they wanted functioning infrastructure and safe cities and reasonable commutes. There’s truth to this story, but it doesn’t explain how the “apolitical” masses broke down into various conflicting factions: pro-market supporters vs. welfare state supporters; feminists vs. defenders of the patriarchy; pro-choicers vs. pro-lifers; and so on, all taking to the streets.

In strategic terms, 2013 was good for the right and bad for the left. On the right, the protests bred confidence. Not so used to getting out of the house, opposition supporters realized the streets weren’t so daunting after all. Youth factions like the Movement for a Free Brazil—aggressively pro-market and socially conservative—helped transform a widespread anti-PT sentiment into political action, backing the impeachment and inflating perceptions of public support for their ideas. Even now, amidst the biggest crisis of the left in decades, center-left candidates still lead most presidential polls, a little known fact. One million people on the streets in São Paulo is an arresting image, no doubt—but Brazil is a big country.

On the left, meanwhile, the result has been not so much division as dispersal and exhaustion. The PT addressed problems of inequality but failed to reinforce political solidarity among its base. Its focus on commodity-fueled growth (PIBão, which means something like “awesomely huge GDP,” was a neologism made popular by Dilma) relegated other demands to the backburner. Several measures (or the lack of them) have led to a feeling of guilt and sense of impotence among leftist voters: the party’s demurring on the legalization of abortion; its disinterest in making changes to the country’s grotesque tax system, which penalizes the poor and rewards the rich; its rightwing stance on the environment and brushing off criticism over large hydroelectric dam projects like Belo Monte. Though many labor unions and social movements are now united against the impeachment, six months ago they were on the verge of breaking with the government.

Linked with this exhaustion is the party’s moral debasement somewhat consistent with the idea—explicit in the government’s barely disguised sale of cabinet positions—that, whether it’s an individual buying a fridge, or the Executive branch purchasing support in Congress through monthly stipends deposited in dubious accounts, money solves everything.4

Five of us took the bus around dusk, and it went at a reasonable speed, which seemed like a good sign: Rio bus drivers don’t often drive at reasonable speeds. The light outside was autumnal, and when it reached the gum-speckled windows it broke into a diffuse glow. We got down a couple of blocks away from the square and hung around the church for a while, on the square’s fringes, waiting for a couple of others. When they arrived we all waded into the crowd, which seemed to expand and huddle closer as it grew darker. A friend from São Paulo, a longtime PT militant, kept sending me anxious texts. He asked if there were a lot of people where I stood. And as I looked around, it did in fact feel like there were.

It was March 18th. The rally at Praça XV, in downtown Rio, had been called after an escalation of hostilities between the government and Sérgio Moro, a judge involved in the sprawling investigations into corruption at Petrobras. For a long time, the Federal Police had been investigating Lula’s purchase of a triplex apartment and a country house. In early March, under the auspices of an investigation suggestively entitled “Operation Aletheia,(aletheia being Greek for truth), the police arrested the former President for interrogation. The decision to take him into custody rather than request that he testify implied that he might try to run. This was interpreted by government supporters and most on the left as an insult, an affront, a measure to induce a media spectacle.

After he was released, Lula gave a speech saying that the judiciary had become too politicized. After a couple of days of mutual accusations between the government and Moro, Dilma interfered, appointing Lula as her new chief of staff, a move that according to Brazilian law meant he would no longer be under Moro’s remit, but would instead be judged by the Supreme Court, like other active politicians. Moro doubled down. In a move that was likely illegal (but unlikely to be punished) he leaked a series of wiretapped conversations between Dilma and Lula, in which Dilma appeared to indicate that she would save Lula from indictment by appointing him. The conversations were deeply embarrassing, close to but not exactly criminal. For a long, lurid week the conversations played constantly on the radio and TV, further inflaming the protests.

I had refrained from joining any protests before March 18, and secretly I wanted to withdraw, since I didn’t want to attend a protest in favor of a government I dislike. But the leaks felt different than other events, more ominous—a grotesque abuse of power amidst ugly abuses on both sides. I also admit to a personal bias against Moro, and to a deep suspicion of the figure he represents: the self-assured, young judge who believes himself the righteous guardian of the Constitution; a man whose vacuous rhetoric occasionally resembles that of a minor Marvel superhero. (On the release of the wiretaps, Moro said: “Democracy in a free society demands that those who are governed know what those who govern are up to, even when the latter attempt to act protected by the shadows.”) Catapulted by rightwing protesters to the status of a celebrity, Moro released a statement affirming that he was “moved” by the confidence of the Brazilian “People” in the investigations.

The São Paulo protests were and remain impressive. Like the alter-globalization protests of the early 2000s, they employ cheerful props—huge inflatable ducks; air balloons in the shape of Dilma and Lula dressed in prison uniforms—to convey a dark mood that is visually disconcerting and intimidating. What these furious protesters make clear is this: whatever they want, they want it far more than whatever you want. Rage is often thought of as a stupid emotion, but there are gradations of it, and the rightwing protesters are by far the most pissed off. It’s true that the financial backing of entities like FIESP—the São Paulo State Federation of Industries, one of the country’s main business lobby organizations, now in an explicit campaign against Dilma—helps them. But to downplay the surprising force of the rightwing protests seems like a contrived form of denial.

The leftwing protests on March 18th were meant to be a response; the name of the rally, “In Defense of Democracy,” said as much. From the middle of the square, protesters tried to lead the crowd through various chants. Each one received a different response from the crowd—some were enthusiastically taken up, others politely refused, fading out quickly. The most consensual chant of the night was Não vai ter golpe! (“There will be no coup!”). The least popular—though it was tried out at least three times—was “Lula 2018!”

It felt less like a protest than like a mildly cheerful gathering, or a festival of unknown bands where people pay more attention to hanging out than to the music. Sometimes the “Não vai ter Golpe!” chant took over the crowd and then there was a bit more excitement, or rather, a prelude to a state of excitement that never materialized. Groups kept chatting among themselves. I told our group—now about ten people—that maybe we should move closer to the stage. This turned out to be easier than I expected, and I realized that perhaps the square was not so full after all. It grew dark, we got hungry. My friend from São Paulo kept sending me pictures of the crowds on Avenida Paulista, the city’s biggest boulevard. Later, to his dismay, we learned that the demonstrations in São Paulo were about five times smaller than the ones held by rightwing protesters the previous week.

At one point I noticed a woman hovering near us with a placard. You don’t need to be a Workers’ Party supporter to be in favor of Democracy, the sign read. It conveyed exactly what I felt, and yet there was no pang, not even a dim suggestion of the intimate glow one experiences when vague feelings are articulated by someone else. Then I realized this numbness had less to do with the message than the medium: a tired, worn out protester, whose eyes seemed lazy and distracted; an improvised, shitty piece of cardboard; a sentence written in weak, ballpoint ink—a sentence that you could only make out if you were close and strained your eyes a little. We left early that night. From the inside of the cab (we were too tired to take the bus) the noises from the square grew muffled, and then disappeared.

  1. Brazilians usually refer to politicians by their first name 

  2. Cunha was recently ordered to resign from his position by the Supreme Court, based on his corruption charges—an unprecedented interference by the judiciary in the legislative body. 

  3. A successful government program which provides cash disbursements for lower-income families, on the condition that their children are enrolled in school. 

  4. In 2005, investigations revealed that the PT used a cash-for-votes scheme to buy off support in Congress (called the “Mensalão,” after the monthly nature of the payments). It was the government’s first major corruption scandal, and it threatened to derail it. 

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