government on the ropes

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By PAULO NOGUEIRA BATISTA JR.*

Bolsonaro was not knocked out, but he is staggering. It is quite possible that we will not be forced to wait for the 2022 elections

What a month, reader, we have just experienced! March 2021 entered Brazilian history. I don't remember having gone through such an agitated month in social, economic and political terms. Most impressive, of course, has been the alarming, not to say terrifying, escalation of the public health crisis associated with Covid-19. I need not describe the picture, which is common knowledge.

The uncontrolled spread of the virus, with an exponential increase in the number of cases and deaths, has just buried the chances of a significant recovery in the Brazilian economy. An economy that was not doing well suffered yet another blow. It is true that projections are still indicating economic growth in 2021. The weekly survey carried out by the Central Bank among banks, non-financial companies and consultancies records a median expectation of an increase of around 3% for GDP. This data is misleading, however. The interannual rate (calendar year over calendar year) carries a carry over (statistical inheritance) of around 3,5% in 2021. This means that a growth rate of 3% would correspond to a drop in activity throughout the year. In other words, comparing the fourth quarter of this year with the same period last year, there would be a slight reduction in GDP.

With the economy in a downturn, the job market inevitably suffers. Unemployment, underemployment and precarious work are at record levels and are expected to increase, at least in the short term. Open unemployment, narrowly defined, affects more than 14 million Brazilians. The unemployment rate reached 14,2%, the highest in the IBGE historical series that started in 2012. Poverty and misery spread across the country. The only chance to revert this situation – broad and rapid vaccination of the population – is not on the immediate horizon. A tragedy.

It should be noted that several countries, even developed ones, are also not doing well in facing the pandemic. Brazil is not the only failure. Significant, for example, were the stumbles of European Union countries. Any Brazilian government, no matter how good it was, would have great difficulty in dealing with the pandemic.

But who dares to deny that the Bolsonaro government has been singularly incompetent? Criminal incompetence that is leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Deaths that could have been prevented. Unfortunately, we had to experience the biggest crisis in our history with the worst government in our history.

The President of the Republic is seen by a growing number of Brazilians, and rightly so, as the main person responsible for the tragedy. I am well aware, reader, that opinion polls are still indicating support for the government. Something like 25% to 30% of respondents consider Bolsonaro good or great as president, which is staggering, considering everything that has happened. However, this support has been falling since the beginning of the year and should continue to fall.

In politics, the turnaround in March was dramatic. Decisions favorable to Lula in the Federal Supreme Court placed the former president back on the political board, eligible, with recovered political rights. Lula suddenly appears as the favorite for the 2022 elections.

Meanwhile, the federal government, which looked strong in February, is on the ropes. It was clear that a good part of the Brazilian leaders realized, albeit with a truly unbelievable delay, the disaster that Bolsonaro represents for the country. The open letter about the public health crisis with severe criticism of the government's actions, signed by bankers, businessmen and economists, is a sign of this. The buffoon gang had an access of lucidity. The delay is inexcusable, of course. Patience. As that motel sign in Barra da Tijuca said, better late than never.

It is also important to note that the corporate media, or most of it, has disengaged from the government. There is still an attempt to preserve Paulo Guedes and his economic agenda, but with diminishing conviction. How can we not recognize that the performance of the Minister of Economy is characterized by a highly problematic mixture of radical ideology with political and administrative ineptitude? It becomes increasingly difficult to ignore that the ultraliberal fundamentalism of the economic team is an integral part of the disaster. It is no coincidence that Guedes is Bolsonaro's minister.

The government's parliamentary support base appears shaken and perhaps has begun to unravel. The centrão, which is the key piece, indicates that it may abandon the Bolsonarist boat. The mayor, Arthur Lira, even threatened the government with “bitter political remedies, some of which are fatal” if the “primary, unnecessary and useless” errors continue. A reminder that the center does not carry a coffin strap.

To culminate, a military crisis emerged, leading to the replacement of the Minister of Defense and the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, who were reluctant to unconditionally subordinate themselves to the follies of the President of the Republic. The support of the armed forces, which seemed to be the government's main asset, is already uncertain, to say the least.

All this is very positive. Bolsonaro was not knocked out, but he is staggering. It is quite possible that we will not be forced to wait for the 2022 elections to get rid of this regrettable and dangerous government for the country.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai, and executive director at the IMF for Brazil and ten other countries. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard: backstage of the life of a Brazilian economist in the IMF and the BRICS and other texts on nationalism and our mongrel complex (LeYa.)

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letter 02 in April 2021.

 

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