After the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, left-wingers created a sort of mantra they use whenever they have the chance: “First of all, out with Temer.” Now, after everything that has happened this year, it is fair to say that all Brazilians are thinking: “First of all, out with 2016.”
By no means was 2016 a “normal” year. Since January 1st, we’ve impeached a President, saw a former head of state forcibly taken by the police for questioning, hosted the Olympics, got infuriated by corruption scandals, mourned the tragic death of an entire football team… Among the sole bright spots of 2016 is the creation of plus55 (although we’ve got to admit, we’re not impartial on that front).
Here’s why 2016 will be an unforgettable year for Brazil, for better or worse (and we’re not even counting what happened abroad):
The Impeachment Vote at the House
On April 18, Brazil’s House held a roll call vote to decide if former President Dilma Rousseff was to be tried by the Senate. Rousseff was accused of doctoring the federal budget. The vote was a chance for Brazilians to see up-close how their political representation measured up. Each of the 513 congressmen had a few seconds to declare their vote on a microphone installed in the center of the House’s semi-circle.
What we saw was a sad variation of Sunday TV programs with humorous skits blending schadenfreude, filmed pranks, and bloopers. Two congressmen took their sons and wanted them to declare the vote in their place. Another two made homages to known torturers who acted under the military dictatorship.
The whole impeachment process, for that matter
This was painful to watch, no matter where you stand in the political landscape. It was a highly questionable process, conducted by a House Speaker who had secret bank accounts in Switzerland and now occupies a jail cell.
The Brazilian public followed the vote very closely, preceded by months of massive anti-Dilma protests across the nation. During the month of the impeachment process, Brazilians divided themselves up by colors: green and yellow for those supporting impeachment, red for those supporting Dilma’s Worker’s Party. On the week of impeachment votes, fights broke out regularly between the different factions. Locals avoided using the national football jersey or wearing anything red in fear of coming across the wrong crowd.
Seven months after taking office, her former VP, Michel Temer, finds himself at the center of a massive corruption scandal. He could also lose his office, as Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court investigates if the Dilma-Temer campaign benefited from corruption schemes. Spoiler: it has.
Rio 2016 Olympics
Not even the 2016 Summer Olympics went quite as planned. Just weeks before the Opening Ceremony, Rio de Janeiro declared a state of “public calamity”- which means near bankruptcy. The state needed a bailout from the federal government to finish a subway line to the Olympic Park.
There was also the Ryan Lochte fiasco. A group of U.S. swimmers reported that armed men robbed them while posing as law enforcement agents. However, the police determined that no robbery happened. Instead, Ryan Lochte and his friends took part in a fight after a party.
But not everything was bad news during the Olympics. Brazil showed the world that a developing nation can – with hiccups and bumps on the road – host an event of such grandeur. The Opening Ceremony was one of the best ever, and Brazilian fans were a show of their own.
Chapecoense Jet Crash
Chapecoense, a small team from southern Brazil, was one of the heart-warming Cinderella stories in Brazilian football this season. Thanks to a responsible administration, the team qualified for the Copa Sudamericana final, against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional. On November 29, however, tragedy struck the team. The plane carrying Chapecoense crashed when approaching Medellín, killing 71 team members, sports journalists, and flight personnel. The loss of 19 young, promising players threw Brazil into mourning, with memorial services held across the nation.
The South American Football Confederation declared the Brazilian team the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Champion. With the title, Chapecoense qualifies for next year’s Copa Libertadores – the continent’s most prestigious competition – and wins a $2 million prize.
Senate vs. Supreme Court
2016 revealed the institutional war between the branches of federal government. During the first week of December, the Supreme Court ordered the removal of Senate President Renan Calheiros from office. In defiance of the order, the Senate dug in its heels to keep Calheiros as president, and the Supreme Court let them do it.
The Supreme Court removed Calheiros from Senate presidency in the first place because of criminal investigations against him. Thus, the Court judged him unfit for an office that would put him in the presidential line of succession. The Court then decided to allow the Senate to keep Calheiros as an attempt to pacify Brazil’s explosive political situation. But instead, the Court’s decision created a legal aberration: justices decided that Calheiros could stay on as Senate President, but would no longer remain in the presidential line of succession.
Lula vs. Operation Car Wash
Another explosive chapter of Brazil’s political environmental had former President Lula da Silva as its protagonist. On March 4, the Federal Police detained the politician for questioning. One week later, state prosecutors asked for his arrest, which was ultimately denied.
Overall, Lula is a defendant in five different criminal cases, three of them within Operation Car Wash. Prosecutors have accused Lula of illegally acting as a lobbyist for construction company Odebrecht. From that unlawful relationship, Lula allegedly received bribes and gifts from the company.
Odebrecht Plea Deal
Late in November, 77 former executives of Latin America’s biggest construction company signed a plea deal. They promised to reveal how corruption schemes work at the federal level. The political establishment nicknamed the deal “the end-of-the-world plea deal.” It wasn’t an overstatement. The inflammatory content of the executives’ statements reveals that nearly all politicians in the highest offices of the Republic profited from corruption schemes.
According to one whistleblower, a high-up executive at Odebrecht delivered 10 million BRL to a close friend of Temer’s. It was a “contribution” to campaigns of the President’s party – the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. Melo Filho stated that “Temer personally requested the money from CEO Marcelo Odebrecht.”
Michel Temer took office with the goal – and obligation – of recovering the Brazilian economy. Seven months later, the economy is in as bad of shape as ever.
However, the President showed political chops by getting a 20-year federal spending freeze passed in Congress. The constitutional amendment essentially freezes public spending for 20 years. Some economists have labeled it the “harshest austerity plan in the world.” Others argue that it is the only way to put the Brazilian economy back on track.
However, there’s no arguing that the plan will jeopardize the public education and healthcare system, which three out of four Brazilians rely on as their only source of healthcare. Public school students occupied schools across the nation in protest of school closings and the austerity measures.
With the approval of the cap, reforming Brazil’s expensive pension system became imperative. The Ministry of Finance presented a proposal that establishes a minimum age for retirement and reduces some of the distortions – but it is far from perfect. It doesn’t change the rules for the military, nor does it end the privileges of politicians and federal judges.
We know, 2016 didn’t bring about Zika, but international health authorities declared the mosquito-born disease a global health emergency and Brazilians were hit the hardest. Since 2014, when authorities first identified the virus in the country, new cases have increased by 850 percent. There were also 1,845 cases of congenital Zika syndrome confirmed in babies up through July 2016.
While the Zika virus is rarely life-threatening for adults, health authorities link it to severe birth defects. Pregnant women diagnosed with Zika risk passing on birth defects such as microcephaly, impaired growth and damaged eyesight to the fetuses. Until July 2016, Brazil had roughly 70,000 confirmed cases of Zika infection.
State Bankruptcy + Bailout
Twelve of Brazilian states are closing out the year billions of dollars in the red. Rio de Janeiro’s civil servants have been protesting delays on their salaries since March. This last week of 2016, Rio’s public employees have started lining for food donations in the capital’s downtown.
In defiance of the federal government, Congress approved a bailout plan of 11 billion BRL for the year-end, with more debt to pay in 2017. So far, President Temer has said he will veto the plan. The four states that will suffer the most without the bailout – Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, and Goiás – have massive debts totaling 30.8 billion BRL.
So, with just two days left in 2016, we can definitely say that this year has been one for the textbooks. As the Brazilians would say, “bora 2017!”