The Cable

Yet Another Presidential Corruption Scandal in Brazil

Forget the U.S. presidential scandal. Brazil is pillorying its second president in two years, both on allegations of corruption.


It seems like just last August that Brazil’s previous president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached among corruption allegations. And that’s because it was just last August.

Less than a year later, Brazil is gearing up for another presidential corruption scandal, this one focused on Michel Temer, Dilma’s vice president before succeeding her.

On Thursday, Brazil’s Supreme Court approved an investigation into Temer’s own possible involvement with corruption. Temer allegedly agreed to pay off a witness regarding the “Car Wash” case, in which Brazil’s biggest companies paid for contracts from government enterprises — and was recorded doing so. That witness, Eduardo Cunha, was a key player in the ouster of Rousseff — and is currently in prison himself. (In April, Rousseff called the impeachment a “parliamentary coup” and said she was forced out “to stop the political class from being victims of investigations for their own corruption.”)

The court also suspended a Temer ally from the government. He had reportedly negotiated bribes. Calls rang out Thursday for Temer’s resignation but Temer insisted he would not step down.

Critics are trying to get him to jump, because they may not be able to push him: Unlike Rousseff, Temer will probably not be impeached — his party controls congress — but if calls for his resignation are loud enough, perhaps he will have to do so. (A close friend of Temer’s says he is ready to bail out, despite what he told the nation today.)

If he is forced out, he will be replaced by Rodrigo Maia, who is currently being investigated for graft, for 30 days. After that, according to Brazil’s constitution, congress would elect a president to serve the rest of Temer’s term, which ends next year.

To judge by the impeachments and scandals, money is evidently trickling down to the Brazilian political class. But it’s not making its way to the people: Brazil’s economy is still in a recession, the worst unemployment in 20 years, and its stock market fell more than 10 percent after the court opened its investigation into Temer.

What remains to be seen is whether popular discontent with establishment politicians — and Brazilians at this point clearly have plenty to be discontent about — will translate into a genuinely populist, burn-down-the-barn movement, as has happened in the United States and in some European countries. The mayor of São Paulo, João Doria, is considered a rising star — and has been likened to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Photo credit: MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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