Despatch from Sao Paolo | International

A very Brazilian ‘coup’, captured on celluloid and sent for Oscars

Former Brazilian Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the Workers Central Union (CUT) headquarters in Sao Paulo.   | Photo Credit: NELSON ALMEIDA

In June 2013, after U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden escaped to Hong Kong, stories about how the Americans were spying on the world began to appear in global media. In Brazil, one of the biggest targets of U.S. spying, the NSA documents revealed that everything was under surveillance: from oil giant Petrobras to mining firms to the then-President Dilma Rousseff’s phone. Ms. Rousseff was furious: she snubbed President Barack Obama by cancelling a White House visit and junked a multi-million-dollar fighter jet deal.

In 2013, Brazil was all set to announce its arrival on the world stage with two mega events — FIFA World Cup 2014 and Rio Olympics 2016 — under its first woman President who had stood against U.S. surveillance. But within months, the streets exploded with protests and violence, setting off a chain of events that led to Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016. Despite having won a re-election in 2014 and not facing any corruption charges, she was removed from office on charges of “budgetary indiscipline”— a move seen by most political observers as a coup against the centre-left government. The country’s right — and the U.S. — maintained that the impeachment followed the “right procedure”. The debate has remained unsettled.

Rise of Bolsonaro

Last year, Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa released a documentary The Edge of Democracy to show how Brazil’s ruling elite orchestrated a coup against Ms. Rousseff in 2016 and paved the way for far-right Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to power two years later. With a brilliant mix of her personal life story with the country’s political trajectory, Ms. Costa showed how 14 years of Workers Party rule, which brought fundamental social change in the country, made the Opposition plot its demise. In 2014, the documentary shows, the main Opposition candidate who lost to Ms. Rousseff refused to accept the result. “Immediately after Rousseff’s second inauguration, the Opposition candidate started talking about her impeachment. That was the beginning of the process that resulted in the coup against Rousseff,” says Valeriano Costa, a professor of political science at Campinas University.

This month, The Edge of Democracy was nominated in the best documentary section of the Academy Awards, sparking a huge debate in this country. “The nomination of this documentary is really important because during the 2016 coup process, the mainstream big media acted as if everything was working normally in Brazil. The movie puts to rest any doubts over the fact that what happened in 2016 in Brazil was a coup against the Brazilian democratic system and (former President) Lula’s imprisonment was a continuation of that process,” says Brian Mier, a Sao Paulo-based commentator. “The documentary also shows how the rise of Jair Bolsonaro was directly linked to the illegal removal of Dilma from power.”

Few people would disagree that Mr. Bolsonaro hugely benefited from the vacuum created by Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment and the imprisonment of her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A day after the Brazilian movie got the Oscar nomination, Mr. Bolsonaro dismissed it as “fiction”. “Am I going to waste time with garbage like that?” the President told reporters, when asked to comment on the nomination. As other right-wing politicians dismissed the film as “fiction and fantasy”, Ms. Costa took it as a compliment. “It’s like being nominated a second time in less than 24 hours,” Ms. Costa quipped on Twitter. “At a time when the far right is spreading like an epidemic, we hope this film can help us understand how crucial it is to protect our democracies,” she added.

The most significant part of the documentary is how Ms. Costa links the 2013 protests with the elections in 2014 and the impeachment process in 2016. In a major revelation, the documentary shows that Ms. Rousseff’s confrontation with Brazil’s all-powerful banks over the issue of lowering interest rates was the beginning of her end as the country’s elites decided Ms. Rousseff had to go. Ms. Rousseff, who has always maintained her innocence — and dignity — said what happened was a scam. “The film shows my removal from power and how the venal media, the Brazilian political and economic elite attacked democracy in the country, resulting in the rise of a right-wing candidate in 2018,” she said, adding that the documentary shows “the history of the 2016 coup”.

The film may or may not win an Oscar, but with the Brazilian coup story now going to a global audience, the political debate in this country will certainly become more heated.

The author is a journalist based in Sao Paulo, Brazil

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 4:25:46 PM |

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