Latin America & Caribbean

What has gone wrong in Brazil?

A Brazilian flag and a inflatable doll of former President Lula in prison clothes can be seen at a protest on 12 May 2016 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Political divisions in Brazil are deepening as more and more politicians are accused of corruption

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended from office pending an impeachment trial over accusations that she illegally manipulated government accounts, which she denies.

Ms Rousseff will remain suspended for the duration of the trial which can last up to 180 days. Her vice-president, Michel Temer, is serving 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 Reuters
Image caption Dilma Rousseff is facing an impeachment trial in the Senate

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.


Fight against impeachment

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ms Rousseff's supporters have taken to the streets to protest against what they say is a "coup"

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

Her opponents say what she did was illegal and warrants her impeachment. She argues it is a common practice which previous presidents also engaged in.

Ms Rousseff says her opponents are trying to mount a coup against her and are using the impeachment trial to oust her and her Workers' Party from office.


Corruption

Image copyright AP
Image caption Brazilians are fed up with corruption in government and want those accused "swept from office"

Much of the public discontent is based on 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.

Widening scandal

Image copyright AP
Image caption Interim President Michel Temer has lost two ministers since he took up office

Operation Car Wash has uncovered a widening corruption scandal with dozens of politicians accused of paying or receiving kickbacks.

One of the most well known politicians to have been named in connection with the investigation is former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Brazil's Attorney General has accused him of playing a key role in the scandal, which Lula has denied.

But it is not just members of the Workers' Party who have been named in connection with Operation Car Wash.

Since Michel Temer took over as interim president, two of his ministers have resigned after leaked recordings suggested they had tried to obstruct the investigation.

Both ministers said their words were taken out of context.


A country divided

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms Rousseff's supporters were distraught when Congress voted to go ahead with her impeachment trial
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption But anti-government protesters met the news with celebrations

The political crisis has deepened old political rivalries.

Supporters of the Workers' Party point to the achievements the Rousseff administration and that of President Lula 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 Ms 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.


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.

The forecast for 2016 does not look any rosier with GDP expected to decline by 3.8% again and inflation expected to rise.

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