Why does ev­ery­one in Brazil hate their pres­i­dent?

The Post’s Lally Wey­mouth meets scan­dal-mag­net Dilma Rouss­eff

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @Lal­lyWey­mouth Lally Wey­mouth is a se­nior as­so­ciate editor at The Washington Post.

Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff ’s re­la­tion­ship with the White House hit the skids two years ago, when she learned that the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency had tapped her cell­phone. This com­ing week, with the Brazil­ian econ­omy in trou­ble, her poll num­bers at an all-time low and po­lit­i­cal scan­dals loom­ing large, Rouss­eff will visit Washington to re­store re­la­tions with Pres­i­dent Obama and at­tract U.S. in­vest­ment. On the eve of the trip, she spoke with The Washington Post’s Lally Wey­mouth at her home in Brasilia. Edited ex­cerpts fol­low: When I was here last, your econ­omy was boom­ing, but now it is re­ally strug­gling. Your in­fla­tion rate is high. The com­mod­ity boom is over. Your new fi­nance min­is­ter, Joaquim Levy, is car­ry­ing out tough aus­ter­ity mea­sures. This is quite a change for you to be call­ing for aus­ter­ity. How does Brazil get out of this sit­u­a­tion? Brazil has been strug­gling for six or seven years so as not to adopt mea­sures that would re­duce em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties or in­come. But this hasn’t worked, has it? It worked for seven years. We didn’t see any re­duc­tion in the lev­els of em­ploy­ment or in­come. But then you had the com­mod­ity boom, which has now fallen apart, and also there is a slow­down in China. Yes. We ex­pe­ri­enced the end of the su­per­cy­cle of the com­mod­ity boom.

In the past, you thought that gov­ern­ment could do ev­ery­thing? No, I don’t be­lieve that. If you think the state can take care of ev­ery­thing, you are not tak­ing into ac­count the fact that the econ­omy is much big­ger than that. Brazil has a very strong pri­vate sec­tor. We did not want the pri­vate sec­tor to ex­pe­ri­ence a de­pres­sion. We low­ered taxes for the pri­vate sec­tor. You’re run­ning a deficit now? It’s not very high be­cause our cur­rency has de­pre­ci­ated. Now, with your new fi­nance min­is­ter, you have pro­posed aus­ter­ity mea­sures and cuts to the bud­get. Your own party op­poses these changes, as do some in the op­po­si­tion. Do you think you can get them through the Congress? Yes, the cur­rent pro­gram is not run by my fi­nance min­is­ter— it is, of course, run by my gov­ern­ment. We are ab­so­lutely cer­tain that it is es­sen­tial to put in place all the mea­sures that are re­quired, no mat­ter how hard they are, in or­der to re­sume the growth con­di­tions in Brazil. Some mea­sures are fis­cal. Oth­ers are struc­tural. Re­forms in the la­bor mar­ket, for ex­am­ple? Yes, un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ben­e­fits as well as death ben­e­fits and sick leave al­lowance. We do not be­lieve ad­just­ments are an end in and of them­selves. We have an ob­jec­tive— to re­sume growth. What do you ex­pect from your visit to Pres­i­dent Obama? The United States is the big­gest pri­vate in­vestor in Brazil. We share a vi­sion that may lead us to a ma­jor part­ner­ship on the cli­mat­e­change agenda. On this trip, I ex­pect to draw closer ties on science, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion. We also ex­pect co­op­er­a­tion in the field of ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly in pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. Where do you think things stand in the scan­dal in­volv­ing Petro­bras, the state-run oil com­pany? Two CEOs of Brazil’s largest con­struc­tion com­pa­nies were ar­rested this month, in ad­di­tion to prior charges against politi­cians and for­mer Petro­bras ex­ec­u­tives in con­nec­tion with fix­ing con­tracts and giv­ing the pay­offs to politi­cians, Petro­bras ex­ec­u­tives and po­lit­i­cal par­ties. You were chair­man of Petro­bras for a long time. Did you have any idea this was go­ing on? We to­tally sup­port all in­ves­ti­ga­tions. It was un­dermy [pres­i­den­tial] ad­min­is­tra­tion that these [ar­rested for­mer Petro­bras ex­ec­u­tives] were re­moved from of­fice— way be­fore the scan­dal came to the fore. These peo­ple did com­mit crimes, or at least that is what the public pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice is say­ing. I can­not say that. What about the al­le­ga­tion that the Brazil­ian Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Bank [BNDES] was in­volved in this scan­dal? That it was giv­ing loans to the large con­struc­tion com­pa­nies at fa­vor­able rates? And that the Work­ers’ Party was given pay­offs by Petro­bras and those who ben­e­fit­ted from it? The BNDES was not in­volved. There is no in­ves­ti­ga­tion into this. The op­po­si­tion wants to know about all loans that were made by BNDES to for­eign coun­tries, and that does not in­volve Petro­bras at all.

Does it in­volve the con­struc­tion com­pa­nies? Yes. But these con­struc­tion com­pa­nies are just that. Just as En­ron and U.S. banks were in­ves­ti­gated in the U.S., this is part and par­cel of democ­racy. When you were chair­man of Petro­bras, you had no idea of the cor­rup­tion that was go­ing on? No. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion had to be con­ducted by the fed­eral po­lice and the public pros­e­cu­tors be­fore we could find it out. You don’t usu­ally see cor­rup­tion go­ing on. That is typ­i­cal of cor­rup­tion— it con­ceals it­self. Peo­ple say that you are a mi­cro­man­ager. But they also say that since the last elec­tion, you have changed and de­cided to em­power peo­ple like your fi­nance min­is­ter and your vice pres­i­dent, Michel Te­mer— to en­able Te­mer to ne­go­ti­ate with Congress. Have you ever heard some­one say that a male pres­i­dent puts his fin­ger on ev­ery­thing? I’ve never heard that. So you think that is a sex­ist com­ment? I be­lieve there is a bit of a sex­ual bias or a gen­der bias. I am de­scribed as a hard and strong woman who puts her nose in ev­ery­thing she’s not sup­posed to, and I am [said to be] sur­rounded by very cute men. Your ap­proval rat­ing is at 11 per­cent. You must worry about it. Yes, wor­ry­ing doesn’t mean I pull out my hair or lose my bear­ing. You have to live with crit­i­cism and with prej­u­dice. I do not have any prob­lem with mak­ing mis­takes; when one does make a mis­take, one should change. There is no ready-made plan to say, “This is the right path, this is the wrong path.” In any ac­tiv­ity, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment, you must end­lessly be mak­ing ad­just­ments and changes. If you do not, re­al­ity will not wait for you. What does change is re­al­ity. Was there a mo­ment in your first term when you thought, “This isn’t go­ing well”? We saw a wors­en­ing of the Brazil­ian eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in late 2014 as well as a drop in gov­ern­ment rev­enue col­lec­tion. Do you think it is time for Brazil to be able to look be­yond re­gional trade as­so­ci­a­tions like Mer­co­sur? Is it time for Brazil to trade with the E.U.? How do you feel about free trade? Mer­co­sur is a ma­jor achieve­ment. . . . We have al­ready in­formed our E.U. coun­ter­parts that we stand ready to sub­mit a trade of­fer. We also signed a good agree­ment with Mexico re­cently. It is im­por­tant to have trade re­la­tions with sev­eral dif­fer­ent re­gions of the world, such as the U.S. and China. Do you see a light at the end of the tun­nel for Brazil’s eco­nomic prob­lems? Our ex­pec­ta­tion is that next year we will be in a much bet­ter sit­u­a­tion. And from next year on­wards, we will start grow­ing at the so­called “new nor­mal” rate. The world will no longer grow at the past rates. The IMF says the world will not grow be­yond 3.5 per­cent— and even that is not a given. What do you want your legacy to be? I be­lieve the most im­por­tant part ofmy legacy is en­sur­ing that a huge re­duc­tion of in­equal­ity is still pos­si­ble. I ex­pect that at the end ofmy term in of­fice, I will have built the con­di­tions to make these gains per­ma­nent. We were able to up­lift 50 mil­lion peo­ple into the mid­dle class, and our main ob­jec­tive is for Brazil to be­come a mid­dle-class coun­try. In­equal­ity did shrink dur­ing your first term, but it may be in­creas­ing now be­cause of the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. Might peo­ple take to the streets if un­em­ploy­ment in­creases?

I don’t be­lieve it. You don’t worry about that? Of course I worry about it, and I’ve been wor­ried about it from day one. There has been an in­crease of un­em­ploy­ment in the past two months. But be­fore that, we had al­ready cre­ated 5.5 mil­lion jobs. We want a quick ad­just­ment to be car­ried out, be­cause we want to re­duce the ef­fect of un­em­ploy­ment. To­day our un­em­ploy­ment rate is be­tween 6 and 7 per­cent, which is not high. What about Brazil’s re­la­tion­ship to Africa? Africa will al­ways be a con­ti­nent where we play an ac­tive role be­cause we have a hu­man, so­cial and cul­tural debt to­wards Africa. Fiftytwo per­cent of the Brazil­ian pop­u­la­tion de­clare them­selves of black ori­gin. We view our­selves as the largest black coun­try out­side Africa. Our re­la­tions with Africa are ul­ti­mately about re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing our past history, con­sid­er­ing the slav­ery prac­tices that pre­vailed in this coun­try since the 16th cen­tury. This coun­try lived un­der slav­ery un­til 1888, and it must over­come the his­tor­i­cal wound left by slav­ery.

“Have you ever heard some­one say that a male pres­i­dent puts his fin­ger on ev­ery­thing? I’ve never heard that.” Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent

Dilma Rouss­eff


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