The Brazilian Congress has just voted not to start the Impeachment process on its current president Michael Temer, even after overwhelming evidence, including audio and video tapes, surfaced of him personally endorsing and receiving bribery. All that only a year after the same Congress removed the elected President Dilma Rousseff for lower level budgetary maneuvers. Maybe he has the people by his side? No. His approval rate is 5%. He does have a corruption pact with Corporate Media, Congress, and the Brazilian Judiciary. After reading the details of this odyssey on Glen Greenwald’s post today, on The Intercept, I felt compelled to write my first blog post.
I’m an American citizen and an immigrant from Brazil. As I got to know and experience this Country, I began nurturing a great admiration for so many aspects of what it means to be an American and to live in the United States.
Here, I experienced for the first time a political system where the 3 branches of government are actually equally powerful – not only on paper. And checks and balances are real and active.
I got to witness Freedom of Speech as a true and live concept and experience what a Free Press really is.
I’ve learned the true concept of community engagement and also was amazed to realize that it was only natural for every one of us to know that we have a voice and a saying in the policies and decisions that affect our lives, from Local to Federal levels.
Then I chose the United States to be my Country because, especially after being a journalist in Brazil, it was fascinating to see a Democracy that is much more of a reality than the one that pretended to exist in Brazil. Unfortunately, there are way too many governments around the planet calling themselves Democracies and being anything but. So many immigrants like me know it is all too easy to claim “for the People by the People” when you’re governing for only a handful of your peers.
I have been increasingly worried, though, that things are starting to look too familiar around here. We see the press being discredited, we see media outlets being controlled by Oligarchs and spreading alternative realities and propaganda. We are watching in disbelief the formation of a One Party Government aimed at taking full control of all Branches of Government, determined to eliminate any and all opposition, even inside its own Party. And now we even already have the alt-right media chanting it is all in the name of God.
So tell me Greenwald or anyone who has witnessed Brazil, Venezuela, or Russia, or any of the many Kleptocracies installed around the planet: does it feel like you’ve seen it somewhere?
I can hear History screaming at us from the top of its lungs! I hope all the freedom, values and Civil Rights history of this country, along with my voice and millions more will bring it back from this dark chapter. Brazil is yet to experience what a solid founded Democracy is. We can still protect ours.
Unlike the US, community engagement, political participation, civil rights mobilizations are not embedded in the Brazilian culture. Historically, dictatorships and extreme social inequalities and divide have always targeted any such tendencies in its roots. The people are made to believe they are powerless in face of corruption and injustice, and most do.
I believe that is when Democracy dies when the people go silent, helpless, indifferent, or numb.
We have been seeing so much wrong here on a daily basis that I’m afraid I’ll be put in a straight-jacket, kicking and screaming if I react to each one of them. Still, we can’t be silent. We can’t go numb and normalize bigotry, conflict of interest, discrimination, nepotism, obstruction of justice, denial of civil rights.
In Brazil, corruption became cultural, it has always been common since the times of the Empire. Brazilians hate when it is said to other people, however, every Brazilian knows. An all too used metaphor for how embedded it is in everyone’s lives: “a man arrives home with a counterfeit DVD he bought from a sidewalk dealer, as he condemns to his wife the actions of a politician that is being investigated for tax evasion”. That would be a quite normal picture to imagine.
In the late nineties, I was hired as a Marketing consultant for a big government agency in Brazil. After only a couple of weeks on the job, a group of workers in that department came to me with 2 years’ worth of documentation from ghost hires to overbilled equipment and hours. The head of the department was pocketing more than twice the salary of all his 12 subordinates combined. I helped them prepare a letter to be sent to the Agency’s Director (Appointed by the President) along with copies of all documents. I also handed a copy to an editor for the Brazilian’s Capital major newspaper.
The newspaper considered it too common and too small to care. The agency’s director only action was to place the department under probation for a few months. The thief’s reaction? He was the only one who was outraged. You could hear him cursing and yelling: “Now what? Are they expecting me to work only for my salary? This is ridiculous!”. Somehow, not many people around me seemed to be bothered by the absurdity of that statement.
Corruption became natural, was normalized. Almost to a point that you are a fool for not doing it. Now you fast-forward 20 years and you see Greenwald’s article. Revolting? Yes! Surprising? No.
Then you look a bit up to the north. You see a President complaining that by doing what he had to do, the AG was “not fair to him”? That he should have let him know he would not help him obstruct justice before he took the job, “so he would pick somebody else”.
The fact that not everybody is very bothered by the absurdity of that statement, and many others similar in nature made by 45; bothers me a lot!
I have been facing a constant and personal fear in the back of my mind that all this that I’ve grown to love, admire and be part of might cease to exist. The reality of what can take its place sends shivers down my spine and I will not ignore it. I have never felt this afraid for our Freedom, not even when we were buying plastic sheets and duct tape for our windows to protect ourselves from chemical weapons. We were united then, we were proud, we felt strong, we protected each other.
Back then I had recently discovered the amazing feeling of no longer needing a family name to be respected. I was nobody’s daughter, granddaughter or niece; I didn’t have newspaper credentials to protect me or a fat bank account, but I have rights nevertheless! By moving here, I got to be just another person, just me. And this was great because here, this “nobody” had the same rights as anybody! It was an absolutely freeing and humbling experience, and that’s how I wanted to raise my family.
And so I did, and so I intend to keep doing. And I want my grandchildren to have the same opportunity, I hope they will raise their children in an even better Democracy, where we all will know that science is real, human rights are civil rights, and we don’t need to remind anyone that black lives matter, because lives matter, and we finally understand we that are all equal.
So I will keep fighting how I learned to fight as an American. I will not be silent. I refuse to be numb. I will voice my opinion, I will let my representatives know where I stand, I will mobilize.
Simply because the alternative is not acceptable. I had the displeasure of paying taxes only to have terrible roads, no public safety, no education, and a handful of politicians living opulent lives from the money stolen from these services. I didn’t find it normal then, and I don’t find it normal now. I hope most of America is still awake enough to react before it’s too late.
One thought on “As an immigrant, what just happened in Brazil is giving me nightmares here in the US”
Hi. I enjoyed your post and your perspective as an American born and raised in Brazil. I am Canadian but was married for many years to an immigrant from Brazil who left there at the age of 22 because he could see no future beyond the systemic corruption and social stratification. Twenty some years later, after the optimistic years during Lula — when his own family rose from years of childhood poverty to professional/middle class lives — he is cynically hopeless about the turn of events there. And of course there are forces globally as you rightly point out (in the U.S., too, of course) driving a seemingly heartless agenda of plutocracy and everything required to keep that in place, that we should all be terrified of. You make it real by describing that it’s liberating to just ‘be’ who you are, to get service, have access to education, jobs, health care, options – not by virtue of your last name, your socio-economic class — as is true in so many places. We are lucky this way too in Canada, but I fear for this gift when I see what’s happening. And the way you talk about paying taxes but seeing no improvement in the social sphere – no road repairs, no better social services — if people en masse could truly understand that this is what the result is (it’s already underway in the U.S. and other developed nations moving to a plutocratic agenda) — who would want this (greedy billionaires exempted)? We can only hope that persuasive leaders will rise up to somehow capture the popular imagination and express this in a way that speaks to everyone. I think that’s the only hope.