Brazilian Corruption Crisis or Attempted Coup d'etat?

Posted April 6, 2016

MP3 Interview with Ted Snider, journalist, conducted by Scott Harris


For months now, Brazil has been embroiled in a swirling corruption scandal, known as "Lava Jato" (or "car wash") involving the state oil company Petrobras, construction contractors, the ruling Workers' Party and opposition politicians. As the nation prepares for this summer's Olympic games, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been dogged by a slumping economy and an impeachment drive by conservative opponents who charge that she had "cooked the books" in the run-up to the 2014 presidential election.

Prosecutors have attempted to implicate popular two-term President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula." In mid-March, prosecutors questioned Lula on allegations of money laundering involving a vacation home and a construction company, which the former president denied. When his successor President Rousseff sought to appoint Lula as her chief of staff, the move was seen by opponents as a way to shield Lula from possible future prosecution. A justice on Brazil's Supreme Court responded by blocking the appointment, which Lula has appealed.

Amid large anti-government and pro-government street protests, President Rousseff has charged that the allegations against her are false, and part of a coup attempt to remove her from office orchestrated by her political enemies. Between The Line's Scott Harris spoke with Canadian journalist Ted Snider who discusses his recent article, "A 'Silent Coup' for Brazil?", which examines the current crisis in Brazil against the backdrop of the U.S. exercise of "soft power" in the post-Cold War era to destabilize and topple governments it viewed as adversaries in Eastern Europe and Latin America. [Rush transcript.]

TED SNIDER: So what's going on in Brazil right now has the appearance of democracy in action, has the appearance of massive street protests against Dilma Rousseff's (Worker's Party) PT government. And it has the appearance of a noble judicial effort to bring members of the government up on corruption charges. So the way it's being presented in the North American media and most of Brazil's media is sort of this model of mass democracy expressing itself in a really noble way. So you're getting impeachment attempts against Dilma Rouseff. You're getting former President Lula Da Silva being held for questioning. You're getting people arrested for kickbacks and bribery. But what's scary about it is that it fits a pattern that's been occurring in Latin America, but elsewhere in the world since the beginning of the Obama administration since 2009, where things that look like democratic moves to improve government are actually coups that look like democracy.

These are very different from the first stage of Latin American coups that involved the (U.S.) Marines and guns, and the second state of coups that began in 1954 with the CIA covert coup in Guatemala. And the pattern that strikes me in the last few years is that these coups have gone even deeper into the shadows where they don't look like coups at all, they actually look democracy.

I raise the question in my article of whether this appearance of democracy isn't just in fact part of this pattern of what I perceive to be a new style of coup.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I think to the casual reader of the U.S. corporate press, they would look at the stories written and the TV coverage of what's going on in Brazil and believe that there is a lot of evidence that would suggest the Workers' Party leadership has been corrupted and deserved to be held to account. How do you counter the notion that this is some kind of mass democratic rejection of the Workers' Party for this apparent corruption and not somethng more nefarious, like an opposition party-led coup d'etat?

TED SNIDER: So Scott, I think there's two or three things to be said to that. And the first is this thing called "Lava Jato" or "car wash" or "corruption cleaning." I think it did start as a sort of noble judiciary and police action against real corruption in the government. So I don't want to pretend that there's no corruption in Brazilian government or in the Workers' Party (PT). There certainly is corruption.

But I think that two things need to be said about that. The first is the specific charges brought up against the current president and the former president. Actually, they have nothing to do with "lava jato" and they have nothing to do with corruption. The impeachment charge against Dilma Rousseff is that she used borrowed money to make it look like Brazil's budget was still on track. This is not an impeachable offense, it's not even an illegal offense, it's a common practice. So they found no corruption charges against Dilma herself. So the attempt to impeach the president was actually outside of "Lava Jato", it's outside of the corruption charges.

Similarly with Lula da Silva, the charges that have been brought against Lula are that he owns some beachside property that he claims not to own and that he accepted money from corporations for giving speeches. Now, the two things we said about that is that neither one is illegal, neither is an impeachable offense, and more importantly, they both occurred after he was president. So although there is certainly corruption in the PT, the charges against the current and former presidents have nothing to do with the corruption. More importantly, the corruption was present in both parties. It was present in the PT and probably to a greater extent in the right-wing opposition, the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party). So it started off as finding dirt in both parties. But what happened is that the "car wash" got car-jacked and it got transformed from finding corruption in both parties to shielding the PSDB and only really only going after corruption in the PT.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So what is the role of Washington here in supporting what you contend is really a coup d'etat that is in part supported by external forces?

TED SNIDER: Scott, I think that's the ultimate question. I think there are indications that there could be U.S. involvement. But I don't think that those indications have been proven yet. The reason that I raise the question the article I am suspicious of is that the other countries that fit this pattern have been shown to have U.S. involvement.

The two coups that happened first in South America this way were Honduras, when President Manuel Zelaya was taken out in a coup in what looked like a constitutional move and you had a constitutional coup. Shortly after that in Paraguay, the same thing happened, also in Latin America where the right-wing opposition seized power in the legislature, where they took advantage of a skirmish over a disputed land that left about a dozen people dead. They unfairly blamed it on the left-wing President Fernando Lugo.

We know that the Americans knew about both of these coups, because leaked documents, WikiLeak documents show it. The pattern in Brazil is similar, so one wonders if it's backed by the States and certainly, there's that suspicion. So I don't think there's proof yet, but I think the pattern demands that we ask the question.

Read Snider's recent article "A 'Silent Coup' for Brazil?" at

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