Dilma may sink, along with the vestiges of 21st Century Socialism

Populism is fading in Latin America. The impeachment of Dilma could be a turning point in regional politics.

Brazil: the world’s bet as the main regional player in South America, the spoiled girl of the Foro de Sao Paulo, the role model for the rest of the neighborhood… Brazil, a collapsed myth.

Later today, Brazil’s congress is likely to confirm the motion to impeach Dilma Rousseff (Folha de Sao Paulo has been tracking the votes). The process then moves to the Senate (where Folha also ensures that Dilma will lose) a final decision that would suspend Dilma for 180 days pending trial.

It’s a historic turning for South America. More decisively than any event in recent memory, the pending end of PT rule in Brazil serves as a bookend to the Pink Tide that swept the region beginning in 1998, when Hugo Chavez was elected. The regional rumblings have been clear for some time: Cristina’s downfall in Argentina, then Evo’s personal and political problems which prevented him from passing a proposal for indefinite reelection in the consititution, and, of course, the rise of the Venezuelan opposition, which snatched the parliament from the chavistas by a landslide in December’s elections. If the expected happens later today, the days when the Foro de Sao Paulo acted as the de facto ideological rain-maker in the region are well and truly over.

The end of the PT era would leave President Maduro shockingly friendless in the region: both his strongest allies would have disappeared in just a matter of months. When the biggest player of your alliance network is Ecuador, you know the era of shooting for “universal equilibrium, planetary peace and saving the human species” are well and truly behind you.  

More prosaically, Venezuela would lose a pivotal partner in the cross-border corruption scheme forged by the fathers of 21st Century Socialism.

When you take a look at South America, it’s easy to see that 21st Century Socialism rapidly morphed from a political project into a large-scale corruption machine. Mercilessly stripping the state’s coffers, however, is not exclusive the exclusive preserve of the left. It seems that no matter how solid our institutions are, corruption, influence peddling, and bribery are always part of the system. It’s become part of our culture and custom.

Thankfully, despite its propensity for populism, Brazil still has relatively strong institutions. What’s remarkable is that Dilma isn’t accused of corruption: she’s being impeached over technical allegations relating to the violation of tax rules, not her involvement in the the Petrobras scandals and not the financing of her campaign with funds from the state owned oil company. There’s more than a whiff of CAP’s impeachment in 1993, when he was thrown out of office on laughably flimsy charges, following a political consensus that he had to go.

I know of no one who is fully comfortable with the way Dilma is being persecuted for what seems to be the least of her crimes. Yet that’s not the headline here. The headline is the way the populist wave is receding, following more than a decade in the ascendent.

Brazil was the key player holding together the left-populist block (Foro de Sao Paulo). It was widely believed to have the political stability, economic muscle and diplomatic chops to act as regional leader. The real takeaway from the PT’s demise is that it was all a mirage.

Pedro Urruchurtu

Political Scientist and professor (UCV) living in Venezuela -or what remains of it-. Vente Venezuela’s National Coordinator of Political Training and International Officer. Always trying to move forward while the "guagua" goes in reverse. I’m interested in politics, economics, political science and international relations. Carakistán is always a chronicle; our chronicle.