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Sorry Glenn Greenwald, But You're Wrong About Brazil

Updated on August 30, 2016

Strangest Coup Ever

While many Americans likely have a cursory understanding of the political happenings in Brazil, it is important to make sure that the American public has a complete picture of what is going on. Unfortunately, many, such as CNN, have basically used only one source for the impeachment trials in the South American government. That source. Glenn Greenwald.

Now, I would like to preface this article by showing my utmost respect for Mr. Greenwald as an investigative reporter. His work on Edward Snowden and the uncovering of the NSA spy program was a great service to our country and he should be commended.

Unlike his work on the NSA program, Mr. Greenwald has allowed his personal relationships and political leanings cloud his viewpoint on what is happening in Brazil.

As an American living in Brazil - Greenwald is also an American living in Brazil - I think it is my duty to clarify many of the misleading comments and assumptions Mr. Greenwald has made about the political situation. Let's use the interview he gave to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! to start the conversation.

Mr. Greenwald's first response starts with him explaining how Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's currently suspended president, was arriving at the Senate to give a final 30 minute plea and to answer questions from senators. This is precisely the problem when Mr. Greenwald and others have described what is going on in Brazil as a golpe or coup. This loaded word, especially when considering Latin American history, gives listeners and readers the impression of a military takeover or undemocratic force of power in order to remove Rousseff. Yet, how can it be that Rousseff is a victim of a coup if she has been afforded all the legal provisions including the aforementioned 30 minute speech and the question and answer session?

Is it possible that Brazil does not know how to successfully stage an actual coup? Recent history of a military dictatorship would suggest otherwise.

Below are some examples of the other legal provisions Ms. Rousseff was afforded since accusations of fiscal fraud were brought upon her.

  • The question and answer session includes senators of all parties including Ms. Rousseff's own Partido de Trabalhadores, or PT, and parties that have aligned in favor of Ms. Rousseff including, the Communist Party of Brazil and the Party of Socialism and Liberty.
  • The sessions of the House of Representatives (Camara de Deputados) and Senate to impeach Ms. Rousseff were shown live on Brazil's largest TV station, Globo, and not done in secrecy. All members, including congressmen and congresswomen against impeachment, were allowed to publicly speak.
  • Ms. Rousseff has used the services, even while suspended, of the government's attorney general, Jose Cardozo. Mr. Cardozo has been responsible for Ms. Rousseff's defense before and after her suspension.
  • Ms. Rousseff has been afforded all benefits of her presidency during her suspension including a monthly food budget, housing, etc. Before her suspension Ms. Rousseff spent approximately R$62 thousand reais (approx. $21 thousand dollars) per month in food, while her country is experiencing one of its worst economic crises in history.

Furthermore, Ms. Rousseff was provided with all the benefits and provisions outlined in the country's most recent constitution written in 1988 following a military dictatorship. Moreover, the nation's supreme court, which has played the important role of checking and balancing the executive and legislative branch, is mostly made up of appointees from Ms. Rousseff's ruling party. Of the 11 supreme court justices 3 were appointed by Ms. Rousseff's predesccor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, while 5 were appointed by Rousseff herself. Currently, the head of the supreme court and the justice presiding over the question and answer sessions, Ricardo Lewandowski, was appointed by Lula.

As a party that started on the outside fighting for the working class, PT likes to constantly give the impression that they are victims, while after 13 years they had consolidated power in each branch of the government.

Don't Believe Ms. Rousseff is Victim of a Coup

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Half Truths, Lies and Misinformation

In his first response, Mr. Greenwald gives the impression that Ms. Rousseff is being brave by giving this 30 minute speech, a speech whichshe doesn't have to give. Of course, this ignores the obvious fact that Ms. Rousseff, rightfully so, wants to defend her legacy as she is likely to be removed from office on Saturday. Again, where in an actual coup does the leader get to officially defend themselves?

Mr. Greenwald also fails to tell the audience that Ms. Rousseff is currently a subject of a documentary that is expected to show her in a positive light, and that her defense would make great footage for the film.

Ms. Rousseff won the 2010 with no political experience. Her previous role was that of Minister of Mines and Energy. Ms. Rouseff headed this department, while the Petrobras bribery scandal was taking place. Ms. Rousseff claims ignorance as she does with the current charge, which makes one wonder whether or not she is unfit for her dishonesty or incompetence.

Next, Mr. Greenwald goes on to say this about the interim president, Michel Temer:

"And it’s really quite a remarkable contrast with her former vice president, now the interim president, who’s about to become the country’s unelected president, Michel Temer. During the Olympics, Mr. Temer broke protocol by demanding that his name not be announced at the opening ceremony, because he was scared of being booed by the crowd. That’s how unpopular and hated he is. And yet, when the crowd actually saw him, even without his being announced, they did boo him, quite viciously. And then he hid during the closing ceremony by skipping that. And while he’s hiding, Dilma, who, of course, has a history as a fighter against this country’s former military dictatorship, who went to prison over that, who endured years of torture while imprisoned as a political prisoner, chooses to go and confront her accusers face to face and will give what, by all accounts, will likely be a very strong and aggressive and defiant speech consistent with her character and her political persona."

Let's start with the Olympics. Ms. Rousseff decided of her own accord - again, not a coup - to not participate in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, because she didn't want to be seen in a secondary (below Mr. Temer) position. Here. Mr. Greenwald, who is a former lawyer and should know better, does not disclose two pieces of information. First, the International Olympics Committee discourages political speech during the games regardless of the political party in power. In Rio, an Iranian woman was asked to leave after protesting the Persian country's treatment of women. As a host of the games, Brazil must abide by this provision. Secondly, just before leaving office in May, Ms. Rousseff herself signed a law prohibiting political speech at sporting events. Ms. Rousseff was regularly booed at World Cup matches in 2014 prior to her reelection.

Bringing the first World Cup since 1950 and the first ever Olympics Games to South America was a crowning achievement of Lula, Rousseff and PT. One wouldn't get that impression if they watched leftist protests or listened to Mr. Greenwald.

Mr. Greenwald is also disingenuous when he claims that Mr. Temer was "unelected." This gives the impression to outsiders that Mr. Temer and his party simply took over, which would qualify as a coup. However, Mr. Temer of the political party, PMDB, is Ms. Rousseff's vice-president! He has been so since 2011 when Rousseff took office for her first term. His succession follows the Brazilian constitution. Mr. Temer was elected just as much as Ms. Rousseff was. More on this later.

Mr. Greenwald gives the impression that Rousseff is popular and popular sovereignty is being usurped. He is correct in stating that Mr. Temer is unpopular in the country, but he fails to mention two important pieces of information; Mr. Temer's unpopularity is based on the fact that half of the country did not vote for the Rousseff/Temer ticket, and that Ms. Rousseff is even less popular than Mr. Temer. In fact, by July 2015 Rousseff's approval rating was 9%. Since then, it has stayed in the high single and low double digits. Mr. Temer has actually slightly higher approval ratings.

Furthermore, Rousseff's predecessor and mentor, Lula, also ran on a ticket with a vice-president - Jose Alencar of PRB - that was not of his own party in 2002 and 2006. Apparently, the issue of vice-president's of opposing parties is not an issue when it is convenient political maneuvering to win elections, but a big issue when it doesn't help one's cause.

Watching the coverage of the impeachment trial and the politics involved, I find it fascinating the left's attempts, especially when talking to those outside of the country, to frame the situation as if Rousseff is popular "among the people." Of course, that is simply not true and proven not only by data, but by the dismantling of her former political bloc. One of the problems with using populism as a political tool is that it only works when you're popular.

Do You Think Dilma Rousseff Is a Victim of a Coup?

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Corruption As a Get Out of Jail Free Card

In his interview with Democracy Now!, Mr. Greenwald continues with an argument made by many on the left that Ms. Rousseff cannot be found guilty since many of those judging her are also corrupt. In fact, many of his arguments, which are similar to this one, are simply talking points of PT and similar leftist parties.

This logic follows that in a country in where many of the lawmakers are corrupt, one who is corrupt is immune from prosecution.

Mr. Greenwald you may need to go back to law school.

Now, it is true that corruption is a major problem in Brazil and that all political parties are guilty to varying degrees. Corruption is so expansive and has such a long history in Brazil that it has become part of the social fabric of the society. Even on the local level, political positions, such as city councilman are not offices for citizens to improve their lives and the lives of others but simply free passes to give away jobs to friends and relatives and allocate money to one's own checking account. Despite corruption in Brazil being widespread and affecting the everyday lives of millions and millions of Brazilians, it doesn't excuse any politicians actions, even Ms. Rousseff's.

Another point to make is that Mr. Greenwald and many on the left rightfully pointed to the highly corrupt former Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha. Mr. Cunha, who was found guilty of hiding money in Swiss bank accounts, has since been removed from office. However, following the previously established logic, why was it okay for Mr. Cunha to be sentenced by peers that are also corrupt, but it is not okay for Ms. Rousseff to be removed from office?

Mr. Greenwald also cites the president of the Senate and a corruption scandal that he faced in 2007. Mr. Greenwald fails to state that this man, Renan Calheiros, supported Dilma Rousseff during the proceedings to suspend her.

Next, Mr. Greenwald compares these corrupt politicans with Ms. Rousseff by stating, "So you have a band of criminals removing this woman who became twice the elected president of her country, in a country that had never previously elected a woman, only 19, 20 months ago with 54 million votes. It’s really extraordinary to watch it unfold, given what a young and vibrant democracy Brazil is and how this group of people in Brasília are literally trifling with the fundamentals of democracies before our eyes."

Let's clear some things up. Not only was Rousseff elected, so were these "band of criminals." If being elected supports Ms. Rousseff's position, why is this not afforded to the other elected officials? He calls them a band of criminals, but stated many were under investigation, which is the same case for Ms. Rousseff, hence the impeachment. Thirdly, being elected does not immune one from impeachment proceedings. If that were the case, no official would ever be impeached since it is as accusation of a crime of a sitting official.

Mr. Greenwald also throws in the fact that Ms. Rousseff is the first woman elected president of Brazil. Admittedly, a victory for gender equality, being female does not immune an official from impeachment. He next argues that Ms. Rousseff won the 2014 election with 54 million votes. This is true, but he leaves out some important facts, such as that this was a runoff election since Ms. Rousseff did not have 50% or more in the first vote, the fact that 54 million Rousseff votes were also 54 million Temer votes and that Ms. Rousseff won by 51.64% of the votes, a victory, but hardly a resounding landslide.

Furthermore, the issue at the heart of Ms. Rousseff's impeachment has to do with this very election. We explore this more in the next section.

Finally, in response to this question Mr. Greenwald continues with, "It’s really extraordinary to watch it unfold, given what a young and vibrant democracy Brazil is and how this group of people in Brasília are literally trifling with the fundamentals of democracies before our eyes."

Once again, Mr. Greenwald is giving the impression that the will of the people is being usurped, even though, Ms. Rousseff and her party are very unpopular and these proceedings are following parliamentary procedures.

Moreover, Mr. Greenwald perverts the truth by suggesting that all of these workings are happening in a bubble in Brasilia. He fails to recognize that Ms. Rousseff's unpopularity - fairly or not - can be found in the large agriculture industry in the Midwest region, the manufacturing sector in the South region and the poverty stricken Northeast region where PT has most of their support.

Earlier today, it was learned that unemployment has reached 11.6%. This is not the case in Brasilia.

Does This Picture Capture the Coup?

Dilma Rousseff converses with "golpistas" Aecio Neves and Ricardo Lewandowski.
Dilma Rousseff converses with "golpistas" Aecio Neves and Ricardo Lewandowski. | Source

Why It is a Crime

Amy Goodman next asks Mr. Greenwald about the crime Ms. Rousseff is accused of, he responds with "So, the formal charge against her that they’re using to justify impeachment in Portuguese is called pedaladas,... It refers to a budgetary maneuver where the government borrows money from a state bank and then delays repayment in order to make it appear that the government owes less money. So she’s essentially accused of using budgetary tricks to make the state of the government budget look better in order to win re-election..."

Mr. Greenwald is correct about the charge, a charge Ms. Rousseff no longer denies. Instead, she claims this is a fiscal crime and not a "crime of responsibility," which is needed for removal of office. However, Mr. Greenwald and others don't paint the whole picture here. While this manuveuring has been used before, never has it been used on such a large scale. In fact, Ms. Rousseff moved R$18 billion reais, which is worth approximately 1% of the country's GDP.

The movement of money just so conveniently took place before Ms. Roussef's tough reelection bid in October 2014. However, it wasn't just a matter of making the economy look stronger than it was, it also included the fact that Ms. Rousseff's platform relied heavily on the accusation that her opponent, Aecio Neves of PSDB, would cut social programs like Pronatec (training programs), Minha Casa Minha Vida (housing) and Bolsa Familia (stipends for the poor), while Ms. Rousseff would retain these programs.

This strategy seems to have worked since Ms. Rousseff was able to garner enough in the poor Northeast region to squeak by. Since then, Ms. Rousseff has cut funding for most of these programs. Her accusations against Neves - a politician also facing numerous corruption charges - and her owns assertions were not only indigenous, they helped her win reelection.

In essence, Ms. Rousseff and her party scared the poor and bought votes to take a stranglehold on the presidency.

When Mr. Greenwald talks about the opposition, he demonizes others in a fashion more commonly found among TV pundits than a newsman,

"And there is no way that the opposition, which is composed of oligarchs and business interests and media barons and conservatives and uber-nationalists—this opposition faction has concluded that they are incapable of defeating this party in the ballot box, meaning within the democratic process, and so they are opportunistically using her unpopularity and the serious mistakes she’s made to remove her undemocratically."

First, even though these groups and people do exist as they do in any nation, the assertion is not logical. Even before Ms. Rousseff became immensely unpopular, she won her reelection by just 51.64% of the vote meaning nearly half of the country supported these candidates that Mr. Greenwald broad brushed and made into caricatures. According to Mr. Greenwald, the left was so enlightened to choose Ms. Rousseff, while the rest of the population was hoodwinked.

About the media in Brazil, Mr. Greenwald said, "And I think the most important thing to realize about this process, Brazilian media elites, who are almost uniformly behind impeachment,...But the big difference is that in the United States, if you impeach the president, if you had impeached Bill Clinton in 1997 or 1998, Al Gore would have become president, the Democratic Party would have continued to remain in power, and the agenda and ideology that the American people ratified would have been the same. In Brazil, it’s exactly the opposite. The vice president, who has now become the interim president, who’s about to become the president, is not part of the Workers’ Party. He’s part of the centrist party and has aligned himself with this right-wing party, the PSDB, that has continuously lost at the ballot box. Their candidates have been rejected. And yet, as a result of this impeachment process, the very party and the very ideology that the Brazilian people have over and over rejected, when asked to vote, when asked to consider their candidates, is now ascending to power. And their agenda of privatization and cutting social programs and keeping taxes low to benefit the oligarchs is now gradually being imposed, as is their foreign policy of moving away from BRICS and regional alliances, and becoming once again extremely subservient to the United States and to Wall Street and to international capital. And so, you can call it a coup, you can debate whether that word applies, but what it is is a complete reversal of democracy in a way that is ushering in an agenda that benefits a small number of people that the Brazilian citizens have never accepted and, in fact, have continuously rejected."

As if listening to a broken record, Mr. Greenwald continues to try to make the argument that PT, Rousseff and Brazilians were all the victims of the evil, fire breathing Mr. Temer. Interestingly, if Ms. Rousseff were to stay, so would Mr. Temer since he still is in the role of vice-president. Those chanting "Fora Temer" (Out with Temer) are the same one's who voted for a Rousseff/Temer ticket in 2014.

Next, the comparison of Bill Clinton is another attempt to deceive readers. Those in the US on the left, including myself, believe that the US's political system would benefit from having more viewpoints in the way of third party candidates. Many, again myself included, voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Bernie Sanders brought thousands to rallies behind his movement of social change, and many are considering Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, as an alternative to Donald Trump and Hilliary Clinton.

What Mr. Greenwald needs to understand, that if you want third parties you must be willing to accept the risks involved, which include partnering with other political parties that you may favor in the future. As noted before, never has a PT candidate won the presidential election with a PT vice-president. The party requests political support from other, smaller parties in exchange for concessions including positions in the candidate's cabinet.

Mr. Greenwald is acting like a child who plays a game with friends, but takes the ball and goes home when he starts to lose.

Let's now discuss Mr. Greenwald's comments about the media. The media has been a major target of the left - it normally is of the group that feels they are losing. Just look at Donald Trump and his absurd, conspiracy theory that the elections will be rigged against him in November.

It's important for those outside of Brazil to understand a few things about politics and media in the country. First, all registered candidates on the local, state and national level are allotted TV and radio time by law. This time is given free of charge - candidates must pay for any production costs - and is aired during popular times. Media outlets are not compensated for the loss in revenue from advertising.

Besides being afforded the same media exposure as all other parties - actually more as larger parties have more candidates and thus more time - Ms. Rousseff and PT has the political machine behind them. These machines tend to favor incumbent candidates, but in Brazil this effect is magnified given the size of the state's bureaucracy.

It is also important to note that the federal government uses billions of reais each year in advertising. While the advertising is intended to inform the public, it ends up being a vehicle to promote the incumbent party and candidate and their programs. Granted, this did not start with PT or Ms. Rousseff, however, it is deceptive of them and people like Mr. Greenwald to claim to be victims of a media conspiracy when they have the preponderance of resources behind them.

Even more damning is that a few months ago it was discovered that Rousseff and PT had been paying media outlets including, social media websites and bloggers, money for years to push their agenda. One of these particular media outlets is UOL, which has millions of monthly users.

In a particular ostentatious case, PT and Ms. Rousseff used taxpayer money to create a website in support of her campaign against impeachment. This is precisely one of the many reasons why many Brazilians have become sick and tired of the incumbent president. She and her party use the government as a private piggy bank.

From the decision of the Electoral Court to not approve Ms. Rousseff's electoral expenses and documentation to the coverage of House and Senate proceedings, the media has covered everything. It is shocking to me that someone like Mr. Greenwald who fought against the NSA program would suggest that this essential part of a democracy be ignored. Mr. Greenwald, apparently, thinks that the media should turn a blind eye when negative news is delivered against his political leanings.

Finally, media coverage of the former Speaker of the House's trial was also covered by the media as well as anti-impeachment protests. In fact, Globo covers protests from both sides citing participation numbers from the protest organizations and the federal police.

In a final attempt at misleading the audience, Mr. Greenwald said, "All of that law, all of those corruption issues are being completely ignored, for one reason and one reason only. And that is that the most powerful people in this country want this right-wing agenda. They know they can’t make it happen through the ballot box, and so they’re making it happen through brute force, which is exactly what’s taking place."

For not the first time, he is suggesting that not only are those who are going to impeach Ms. Rousseff so against the will of the people, but that Ms. Rousseff, PT and her supporters are being bullied when there is no evidence there has been any physical violence. Actually, it is leftist groups like MST and CUT, that have organized protests with hundreds of machete wielding participants.

Finally, it should be noted that not once has Mr. Greenwald disclosed the fact that his partner David Miranda, who was famously interrogated by British police, is a candidate for the leftist, pro-PT and Pro-Dilma party, PSOL. Mr. Miranda, who calls himself a LGBT "militant" also works for Mr. Greenwald's media outlet, The Intercept.

In conclusion, Ms. Rousseff is not a victim of a coup. In fact, she and her party held onto political party for the last 13 years, appointed 8 of the 11 supreme court justices, created political blocs with parties, such as PMDB, PRB, PSOL and more. Additionally, Ms. Rousseff was afforded every defense afforded her by the Brazilian constitution. Ms. Roussef, her party and her allies all had the right to express their opinions on the subject via traditional media outlets and social media alike. They pleaded to their own people as well as the international community.

Before finishing this article, I would also suggest that media outlets in the US and around the world, such as CNN and Democracy Now!, look to vary their sources. These sources do exist as Globo News hosts several international correspondents living in Brazil every Monday on their program, Clube de Correspondentes. When it comes to issues involving other countries, it is important to be careful not to jump to conclusions without proper context or without knowing of the source's potential conflict of interest in reporting the story with a significant bias.

Finally, I would like to ask Mr. Greenwald to stop using the loaded word "coup." As talented, intellectual reporter and lawyer I was disappointed in having to use a thesaurus in order to convey the numerous times in which you were dishonest with the public in reporting this news to the world. You, of all people, should know the seriousness of using a word like "coup" in a country like Brazil.

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