The repercussions of the Lavo Jato corruption scandal continue to rock the foundations of the Brazilian political classes. The whole scandal centres upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in return for a whole gamut of favours. Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.
A little over a month ago, a federal judge, Edson Fachin, released a list of prominent politicians that were to be investigated for allegedly receiving payments from Odebrecht, based on information provided to federal investigators in Brazil by 77 former co-operating Odebrecht executives. At least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the cabinet, were on this list, and it included President Michel Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, and his foreign minister, Aloysio Nunes Ferreira.
Well, now things have taken an even worse turn for the beleaguered government of Michel Temer. Last Friday, tapes were released by prosecutors, given to them by two brothers, Joesley and Wesley Batista, who are in control of the gigantic Brazilian meat packing firm, JBS. As part of a larger plea deal involving allegations of bribery and corruption, the Batista brothers released these tapes to the federal prosecutor, on which we can allegedly hear President Temer approving continued cash payments by the Batista brothers to the former Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, in return for his silence. As part of their testimony, the Batistas also allege that President Temer received millions of dollars over the last seven years in order to fund his electoral campaigns.
The President’s office denies these allegations and disputes the validity of the tape. The Brazilian Attorney General, Rodrigo Janot however, has also accused President Temer of using his power to try and quash the investigation.
The political situation in Brazil has now only become more precarious. As has Temer’s presidency. In response to these revelations, yesterday saw violent protests in Brazil. Protestors in the capital Brasilía started a fire in the Ministry of Agriculture and damaged, and stormed, a number of other government buildings and ministries. There was an estimated 35,000 protestors on the streets of Brasilía calling for the resignation of President Temer and his cabinet in the wake of these fresh allegations of corruption. The protests, organized by labour unions and parties on the left, have clashed a number of times with police and in response, President Temer issued a decree that would allow troops, not only to guard government buildings, but also address the disorder more generally in Brasilía.
Allowing the military onto the streets of Brasilía to tackle public protests, in a country with Brazil’s past history of military authoritarianism is a good indication of how much pressure President Temer is facing. This decree was due to expire on May 31, but due to the political and public backlash to this decision, President Temer revoked this decree earlier today.
The combination of a corruption scandal and mass protests can, and indeed has, forced Latin American presidents to pre-emptively resign, or has forced the house to begin impeachment proceedings. Nonetheless, even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast institutional support have proven very difficult to remove from office.
In this regard, things are looking bleak for President Temer. One of Temer’s coalition partners, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB), announced on Sunday that they were leaving the government coalition and joined opposition parties in calling for the President’s resignation. At the same time, the influential Brazilian bar association voted to support Temer’s impeachment. This decision will be laid formally before the lower house of Congress. Temer’s largest coalition partner, the PSDB, is apparently also considering whether they will continue as part of the ruling coalition.
This all comes at a time when Temer is trying to push an important pension bill through Congress, which would introduce a mandatory retirement age and reduce death benefits, legislation that is deemed crucial in order to deal with Brazil’s very large primary budget deficit. Given the scale of the current political turmoil, it looks like this will have to wait.
 See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; or Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101.