July 13th, 2011

Dilma Rousseff, elected President of Brazil last year as Lula’s handpicked successor, has survived her first sleaze crisis (and now the second). They won’t be the last, as sleaze has apparently become the grease that prevents the Brazilian polity, emulating the USA’s veto-rich dual separation of powers on both geographical and institutional axes, from seizing up entirely.

The crisis involved the unexplained enrichment of Antonio Palocci, the Minister of the Casa Civil – roughly White House Chief of Staff – and former Finance Minister. Dilma did not put her own credibility on the line to save him, and he went. In the reshuffle, she also changed the Minister of Institutional Relations, responsible for negotiations with the two houses of Congress. These are generally seen as the two most powerful ministerial offices.

Here are the old and new lineups:
Antonio Palocci – former minister of the Casa Civil

Luiz Nóbrega de Oliveira – former minister of Institutional Relations

Gleisi Hoffmann – new minister of the Casa Civil

Ideli Savatti – new minister of Institutional Relations

On the conventional left-right dimension of politics, Dilma in power has consolidated her Social Democrat conversion or sellout (take your pick) from the militant and violent hard left where she started her political life. She even sent an effusive birthday message to Henrique Cardoso, the 81-year-old conservative predecessor of Lula, and invited him to dine with Barack Obama. Commentators don’t read any significant policy shift in the reshuffle.

But still. The three most powerful politicians in Brazil are now women. Latino machismo has been taking some hard knocks recently. Chile was first to elect a woman president in 2006, then Argentina. [Update: And Costa Rica, with Laura Chinchilla. H/t commenter "Ted from Baltimore".] But Michele Bachelet and Cristina Kirchner had very strong family reasons for their political careers: Bachelet’s father was a general murdered by Pinochet et al, Kirchner is the wife of a president. This follows the semi-dynastic pattern of Indira Gandhi and Chandrika Bandaranaike. Rousseff, Hoffmann and Salvatti are as self-made and hard-boiled as Margaret Thatcher.

How much does it really mean in the wider society to have women reach equality in electoral politics? I don’t know either. Clearly, the answer includes “something”. Brazilian TV soaps routinely include women corporate bosses – to a still unrealistic extent, mirroring the aspirations rather than the realities of the mass audience.
But the feminist revolution, unlike the proletarian one launched two Victorian decades earlier, has actually won. Even the current US Republican Party, in thrall to a generally reactionary ideology, has no sexist qualms about Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann. The objection to their politics from left and right is not that they are weak silly girls, but (in an entirely inclusive, gender-neutral and non-patriarchal way) that they are ignorant and deluded demagogues.

To ward off brickbats and frying-pans from enraged lectrices, I’ll stipulate that the revolution is not complete. Most workplaces do not look like Dilma Rousseff’s Cabinet. See for instance the absurdly and dangerously macho culture of finance. It ain’t quite over yet; but the fat lady is already singing.

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5 Responses to “These are not the revolutionaries you have been looking for”

  1. Russell L. Carter says:

    I enjoy these dispatches from SA very much and would love to see more. Editorial input is included in the price of my subscription, right? ;-)

  2. Ted from Baltimore says:

    Another female Latin American president — Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica.


    From an American perspective, the most amazing part of her biography has to be this:

    “She had a son in 1996 with José María Rico Cueto, a Spanish lawyer who also holds Canadian citizenship; Chinchilla married him on 26 March 2000.”

  3. Randy Paul says:

    I have never understood why Dilma brought Palocci, especially after the mensalão scandal. If you want to avoid the hint of scandal, don’t hire those tainted by it.

  4. James Wimberley says:

    Ted: Thanks, post updated.
    Russell: Glad you like the post, but I know nothing about Latin America (yet) outside Brazil, so that’s what I’ll write about occasionally. Still, it’s a very big country.

  5. Ebenezer Scrooge says:

    I dunno if the fat lady is singing or not.

    On the one hand, women are increasingly moving into positions of power: the glass ceiling appears fragile. On the other hand, poor women remain tremendously disadvantaged in the marketplace by an apparently static role as child-care providers–especially their own, but also others’.