Latin America & Caribbean

What has gone wrong in Brazil?

A woman holds a sign that that reads in Portuguese; "Bye Dilma" next to a man holding a puppet in the likeness of Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, designed wearing a prison uniform, during a protest outside the hotel where Silva is attending the seminar, "Democracy and Social Justice", in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, April 25, 2016. Image copyright AP
Image caption Protests were held in Brazil to demand the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff

Dilma Rousseff has been suspended from Brazil's presidency and will face an impeachment trial over accusations that she illegally manipulated government accounts.

She denies the allegations, saying they are common practice in Brazil, and has accused her opponents of mounting a coup.

Ms Rousseff will remain suspended for 180 days, while the trial lasts. Vice President Michel Temer will serve as interim president.

Here we take a closer look at the problems in Brazil and what has gone wrong since Ms Rousseff was elected for a second term in October 2014.

President Rousseff under fire

Image copyright AP
Image caption President Rousseff is fighting on several fronts at the same time

President Dilma Rousseff's approval ratings have plummeted since she narrowly won her second presidential election in October 2014.

According to a Datafolha poll (in Portuguese) released on 11 April, 63% of respondents across the country said her government was "bad or terrible", with only 13% saying it was "good or excellent".

Experts say this reflects voters' disillusionment with a deep recession and a corruption scandal involving the state-controlled oil company Petrobras.

The investigation into the corruption scandal, dubbed Operation Car Wash, has implicated important figures from Ms Rousseff's Workers' Party, but also some of her opponents.

Brazil's prosecutor general has requested that the Supreme Court open an investigation into the alleged role of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the scandal.

Lula is not just Ms Rousseff's predecessor in the top job, but also her mentor and political ally and charges against him would reflect extremely negatively on Ms Rousseff.

Fight against impeachment

Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Rousseff has vowed to fight the impeachment proceedings against her until the end

The impeachment motion against President Rousseff is based on allegations that she manipulated the government's accounts in 2014 when she was seeking re-election.

She says these are common practices in Brazil and has accused her rivals of mounting a coup.

The vote in the lower house on 17 April in favour of the impeachment proceedings going ahead was a serious setback for Ms Rousseff.

Out of 513 members of the lower house, 367 voted in favour, exceeding by a comfortable margin the two-thirds majority needed to send the case to the Senate.

Senators then voted on 12 May to open an impeachment trial against her - 55 to 22. The president was suspended from office.

Economy in the doldrums

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Critics say Brazil's fairytale is over as its once booming economy has tanked

Brazil's economy is going through its worst recession in more than three decades following a drop in prices for Brazilian commodities such as oil, iron ore and soya.

In 2015, the economy shrank by 3.8%, its worst annual performance since 1981.

Inflation reached 10.7% at the end of last year, a 12-year-high.

Unemployment increased to 9% in 2015 and economists predict it could go into double figures in the coming months.

Brazil's currency, which lost a third of its value against the dollar in 2015, has regained some ground as investors seem to celebrate Ms Rousseff's recent defeats.

They criticise her for interventionist policies and believe Vice President Michel Temer will lead a more market-friendly government, experts say.


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Demonstrators want to "sweep Brazil clean of corruption"

One of the main complaints by protesters who have taken to the streets recently is the high level of corruption that has tainted the highest echelons of business and politics in Brazil.

Since the Workers' Party came to power in 2003, there has been a series of corruption scandals involving politicians from the governing party and also opposition parties. The two biggest are:

  • Mensalao: Name given to a corruption scheme in which public funds were illegally used to pay members of Congress in exchange for backing the government in crucial votes. The scandal first broke in 2005. By the time the Supreme Court concluded its trial in 2012, 25 politicians, bankers and businessmen had been convicted, some of whom were top members of the Workers' Party.
  • Operation Car Wash: Name given to an investigation launched in March 2014 into allegations that Brazil's biggest construction firms overcharged state-oil company Petrobras for building contracts. Part of their windfall would then be handed to Petrobras executives and politicians who were in on the deal. Prosecutors allege that the Workers' Party partly financed its campaigns and expenses through these kickbacks.

A country divided

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Supporters of President Rousseff have also been holding rallies

The political crisis has deepened old political rivalries.

Supporters of the governing Workers' Party point to the achievements the Rousseff and Lula administrations brought about, such as lifting millions of people out of poverty and reducing inequality.

They say the allegations against them are a smear campaign designed to drive Ms Rousseff from office and prevent Lula from standing for the presidency in 2018.

They say the massive corruption investigations are a sign that under the Rousseff government, such crimes are being punished rather than swept under the carpet as in previous administrations.

The fact that high-ranking members of the Workers' Party have been convicted, they argue, is proof that there is no immunity.

Opponents of President Rousseff accuse her of mismanaging the economy and say her government is deeply corrupt.

They say they are fed up with the Workers' Party after its 13 years in power and demand a clean slate.

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