THE MULTIPLE, REMARKABLE crises consuming Brazil are now garnering substantial Western media attention. That’s understandable given that Brazil is the world’s fifth most populous country and eighth-largest economy; its second-largest city, Rio de Janeiro, is the host of this year’s Summer Olympics. But much of this Western media coverage mimics the propaganda coming from Brazil’s homogenized, oligarch-owned, anti-democracy media outlets and, as such, is misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete, particularly when coming from those with little familiarity with the country (there are numerous Brazil-based Western reporters doing outstanding work).
It is difficult to overstate the severity of Brazil’s multi-level distress. This short paragraph yesterday from the New York Times’s Brazil bureau chief, Simon Romero, conveys how dire it is:
Brazil is suffering its worst economic crisis in decades. An enormous graft scheme has hobbled the national oil company. The Zika epidemic is causing despair across the northeast. And just before the world heads to Brazil for the Summer Olympics, the government is fighting for survival, with almost every corner of the political system under the cloud of scandal.
Brazil’s extraordinary political upheaval shares some similarities with the Trump-led political chaos in the U.S.: a sui generis, out-of-control circus unleashing instability and some rather dark forces, with a positive ending almost impossible to imagine. The once-remote prospect of President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment now seems likely.
But one significant difference with the U.S. is that Brazil’s turmoil is not confined to one politician. The opposite is true, as Romero notes: “almost every corner of the political system [is] under the cloud of scandal.” That includes not only Rousseff’s moderately left-wing Workers Party, or PT — which is rife with serious corruption — but also the vast majority of the centrist and right-wing political and economic factions working to destroy PT, which are drowning in at least an equal amount of criminality. In other words, PT is indeed deeply corrupt and awash in criminal scandal, but so is virtually every political faction working to undermine it and vying to seize that party’s democratically obtained power.
In reporting on Brazil, Western media outlets have most prominently focused on the increasingly large street protests demanding the impeachment of Rousseff. They have typically depicted those protests in idealized, cartoon terms of adoration: as an inspiring, mass populist uprising against a corrupt regime. Last night, NBC News’s Chuck Todd re-tweeted the Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer describing anti-Dilma protests as “The People vs. the President” — a manufactured theme consistent with what is being peddled by Brazil’s anti-government media outlets such as Globo:
That narrative is, at best, a radical oversimplification of what is happening and, more often, crass propaganda designed to undermine a left-wing party long disliked by U.S. foreign policy elites. That depiction completely ignores the historical context of Brazil’s politics and, more importantly, several critical questions: Who is behind these protests, how representative are the protesters of the Brazilian population, and what is their actual agenda?