What About Lula? Why Brazil's Economic Mess Isn't All Dilma's Fault

Lula da Silva spent liberally when the Brazilian economy was booming, leaving Dilma Rousseff to face the deferred impact of the global recession. His personal popularity aside, the country's current woes are largely his fault.

Rousseff and then Brazilian President Lula, back in 2010
Rousseff and then Brazilian President Lula, back in 2010
Danilo Arbilla


Whatever the exact figures, the March 15 protests in Brazil were among the biggest in its history. There were anti-government demonstrations in no fewer than 65 cities and 17 states. Those not protesting presumably included the 40 million Brazilians who receive "Bolsa Familia" benefits — about $35 a month for every member of a poor household — which previous President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva boasted had ended poverty.

His tenure was marked by prosperity and easy money, neither of which describe today's Brazil. Lula's strategy was to give fish to the poor, without bothering to teach them how to make their own catches. The annual cost of this subsidy is around $11.5 billion. What would happen if the government of President Dilma Rousseff were to start making cuts there? Best not to think about it. The government has committed for now not to touch those benefits even though money is not something it can simply print at will, as Lula's successor and precarious election victor is discovering.

What would Lula say? Almost two years ago, at the time of the 2013 protests, Lula wrote a piece in The New York Times offering his support for the protests and saying the country needed major political reforms. These would be the reforms he had not undertaken as president, when he enjoyed throwing money around and keeping his party's voters. Yet in 2013, he gave his blessing to all the young people demanding cleaner, more transparent institutions.


Today, the young and not so young are making some very specific demands in their protests. They are calling not just for Rousseff to go but also the Workers' Party that Lula founded. Some protesters even carried placards calling for a return of the military. All protesters are demanding punishment for those responsible in the Petrobras scandal, in which it is estimated that some $4 billion was siphoned off to pay the Workers' Party and opposition politicians.

The Petrobras case has overshadowed the 2005 "mensalão" scandal, in which the Lula administration was accused of buying congressional votes. That led to the conviction of José Dirceu, Lula's right-hand man and cabinet chief, and several other senior Workers' Party officials. But nothing happened to Lula, and he's not facing any heat now with Petrobras or in the protests, even though he was president when all this began.

March 15 anti-government protest in Rio — Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Pacific Press/ZUMA

"The thing is, in Brazil they see Lula like some kind of god who never does anything wrong," a Brazilian colleague told me.

Yet they vent their fury on Rousseff, the president fighting corruption and paying the price for the fact that money was spent in such a frivolous, irresponsible manner during the good times. Lula was regarded as some kind of a miracle worker, and Rousseff is left with the bill: rising inflation, tax hikes, gasoline and electricity bills, cutbacks, a stagnating GDP, an imminent trade deficit and a more expensive dollar.

People are protesting, refusing to accept that the problems are caused from outside the country. There is an element of truth to this: The demand bonanza came from abroad, until it stopped coming. The problem is that measures weren't taken in time to anticipate a recession.

Since people weren't told the truth in "good times," but were instead promised World Cups and Olympic Games and told they had the world's biggest oil reserves, they're not buying now the idea that problems are coming from elsewhere.

They've not yet realized what Lula's share of the responsibility is, and that he certainly was not the god he had the Brazilians and many others believe.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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