Rio de Janeiro and the 1964 Military Coup
As one engaged Brazilian friend keeps reminding me, “our democracy is a system that has to be exercised every day.” And in contemporary Brazil where, not just an ever-skittish military but an oligarchy that has banked its gold plated privileges on centuries of authoritarian rule, popular vigilance has not been lacking. Half of Brazil’s population was not even alive in 1964, and, as a spate of mass street protests demonstrated throughout 2013, the youth in particular of an emerging middle class have signaled that the culture of corruption in which the country’s elites remain contemptuously entrenched, is the principal target of their social and economic struggles.
The season of street protests has momentarily subsided. The response of the government, despite being headed by Dilma Rousseff, who herself had a serious brush with armed struggle back in the days of the dictatorship, has been cosmetic. Today, her Worker’s Party (PT), the senior member of a coalition of ruling parties that makes Italian politics look almost transparent, attempts to play by neo-Keynesian rules while bound in the structural and historical straight jacket long fashioned by the landed and industrial oligarchs.
The PT, first under the presidency of former trade unionist Lula da Silva, and now Dilma, is rightly credited with many of the reforms that have brought this emergent Brazilian middle class into existence, delivering a solid increase in the standard of living that has taken an impressive bite out of the chronic poverty the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian masses have suffered throughout the country’s history. But over the last several years, the PT leadership, if not the more militant rank and file, has also sullied the party’s reputation in a vote buying scandal that has placed some of its most powerful founding members behind bars.
Further fueling the social protests was the fact that the political class almost across the board seduced itself into lavishing billions of $Reis generated by Brazil’s fleetingly robust export economy to build stadiums and hotels in support of the World Cup, which the country will host this June, followed by even more extravagant plans for the Olympic Games in 2016. Rio will be the epicenter for both events and the city is undergoing a frantic pace of remodeling, much of it by displacing favelados who traditionally inhabit the city’s extensive, crime infested shanty towns.