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Revisiting Brazil’s 2013 Protests: What Did They Really Mean?

Reading Time: 19 minutesThe so-called “Tropical Spring” erupted, grabbed the attention of the world – and then disappeared (Or did it?). An in-depth look, nearly four years on.
Reading Time: 19 minutes

Sebástian Freire (Flickr) June 20, 2013 CC by SA 2.0

Reading Time: 19 minutes

Brazil’s current political instability began four years ago, with a wave of street demonstrations that virtually no one predicted – and eventually drew more than 1 million people into the streets. In this special report, AQ’s editor-in-chief looks back at what really caused the protests – and whether today’s politicians have fully learned their lessons.


The year 2013 began quietly in Brazil, with no obvious hints of the turmoil to come.

A decade of nearly uninterrupted prosperity had left most Brazilians seemingly happy and optimistic about the future. In a nationwide poll published on New Year’s Day in Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, 92 percent of respondents said they expected their economic situation to either improve or stay stable in the coming year. Notably, in a country still notorious for its inequality, this optimism was equally widespread among all socioeconomic classes, the Datafolha poll found. Meanwhile, President Dilma Rousseff began 2013 as one of the world’s most popular leaders, with the exact same percentage of Brazilians – 92 percent – rating her government “good,” “great” or “average” in a separate Datafolha poll released two weeks earlier. Only 7 percent described her as “bad” or “terrible.” The biggest challenge on Brazil’s horizon seemed to be the Confederations Cup, a global soccer tournament it would host in June that was itself a kind of warm-up for the World Cup in 2014. Would new stadiums be ready on time? Would the country’s crowded roads and airports handle the influx of visitors? Would Rio’s beaches be safe enough? These were the most pressing questions being asked at dinner tables, boteco bars and in the press.

Indeed, almost no one predicted what 2013 would bring: A massive and unprecedented wave of street protests that would in turn prove to be a major turning point in Brazilian history. Just five months later, in June 2013, more than 1 million people would pour into the streets on a single night to protest a dizzying variety of grievances, from shoddy public transportation to corruption to overcrowded clinics and hospitals. Brazil’s political and chattering classes would be unified by their main reaction: Utter shock. Virtually no one saw the demonstrations coming, just as no one would anticipate their equally unexpected medium-term consequences. The protests would cause Brazilians’ perceptions of their economy and their president to completely and abruptly flip – thus ending the narrative of prosperity, the “Brazilian Miracle,” that had dazzled the world in years prior (and won Brazil the right to host the World Cup and Olympics in the first place).

In retrospect, the protests of 2013 started a chain of events that would culminate in Brazil’s worst recession in recorded history and in the impeachment of President Rousseff in late 2016. But the fallout went beyond any one leader or political party – indeed, the entire political class that had governed Brazil since its return to full democracy in 1989 would fall into disgrace. In terms of local and international opinion, a country that had been almost universally heralded as a success story – a vibrant democracy, a Latin American economy growing at China-like rates, the “B” in BRICS – would by 2016 be synonymous with dysfunction, instability and failure.

The suddenness of Brazil’s shift from boom to bust raises several questions: What really caused the protests of 2013? Were they themselves the trigger for the downturn in public opinion, or did they belatedly reflect dissatisfaction and unrest percolating just beneath the surface? What are the lessons for future Brazilian leaders, as well as those in other countries prone to dramatic, unexpected shifts in national destiny? What are the implications for Brazil’s next presidential election, in 2018?

Looking back now, some of the signs of impending trouble were in fact somewhat clear. A closer look at public opinion polls, and at other gauges of national satisfaction, reveals fissures just beneath the surface. Mistakes of hubris and arrogance by President Rousseff, and other members of the political class, had been accumulating for some time. Indeed, the true story of the protests begins just before that fateful year, in December 2012, with a seemingly banal policy decision.


The decision that triggered the protests of 2013 was not regarded at the time as a particularly momentous one: Whether or not to permit an increase in bus fares in Brazilian cities.

The adjustment to public transportation fares was a regular ritual, as much a part of the Brazilian calendar as Carnival or New Year’s Eve (and usually occurring around the same time). The ritual was a legacy of Brazil’s era of extremely high inflation, which lasted from roughly 1968 to 1993 and saw prices rise an astonishing 1.8 trillion percent by one estimate. The Real Plan of 1994, implemented by then-Finance Minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso, successfully brought inflation down into single digits on a consistent basis. But the so-called practice of “indexation,” of making annual adjustments to prices from bread to rent to airline tickets so that prices, costs and wages could remain broadly in sync, remained ingrained in Brazil’s economy more than a decade later.

For public services under concession to the private sector, such as the bus system, municipal, state or federal officials were required in practice to authorize fare increases. For bus fares in São Paulo and several other cities, in 2011 officials had authorized a 10-centavo increase, from 2.90 reais to 3 reais, a 3.4 percent rise. But there had been no such increase in 2012. And now, as 2013 approached, bus companies were asking city governments, which controlled the fares, for a hike of another 20 centavos – an increase of about 6.7 percent.

This time around, though, local officials – acting in concert with President Rousseff’s government in Brasília – were considering rejecting the request for higher fares. Their reasoning: Brazilian inflation had been running uncomfortably high since 2010, when the economy expanded 7.5 percent, its fastest pace in 18 years – perhaps too fast, some economists said, given the inflationary pressure it generated. Even when growth cooled in 2011, Brazil’s main consumer price index had gone up 6.50 percent, coming within a hundredth of a percentage point of missing the central bank’s target range – which would have been a major embarrassment for the government. While inflation slowed to 5.84 percent in 2012, it was still far above the bank’s actual target of 4.50 percent. Now, as 2013 approached, inflation was threatening to exceed the central bank’s range once again. Many analysts inside and outside the government worried that an increase in bus fares could make the overall inflation problem significantly worse, since such fares were known to have a multiplier effect in the economy similar to gasoline prices. In practical terms, if bus fares increased, blue-collar workers in particular were likely to ask for bigger increases in their salaries – feeding the cycle of “indexation.”

Orthodox economists suggest that federal governments should not attempt to so narrowly micromanage prices within the economy, instead advising presidents to tackle bigger issues such as the tax code and overall business climate. But since taking office in January 2011, Rousseff had become increasingly aggressive in her attempts to control input costs and other levers usually left to market forces. A subscriber to “developmentalist” theories, Rousseff believed strongly in the need for the state to guide the economy. In 2012, Rousseff had already used non-traditional measures to push interest rates to a historic low of 7.25 percent and also engineer an 18 percent decline in electricity prices. In the short term, these interventions had produced no obvious side effects.

Emboldened by her apparent success in managing the economy, and with inflation once again on the rise, Rousseff decided to act. In late December 2012, she instructed her finance minister, Guido Mantega, to negotiate agreements with municipal and state governments throughout Brazil by which bus fares would not be allowed to increase until May or June 2013, instead of in January or February as usually occurred.

This decision would bring short-term benefits in the form of slower inflation in the initial months of 2013. But it would have unforeseen consequences as well. The usual increase had the (little-appreciated) benefit of occurring during the peak of the Brazilian summer, when school was out and many middle-class Brazilians were at the beach, disengaged from politics and the economy. The June increase, by contrast, would occur while universities were in session – and also give a chance for further strains to accumulate throughout Brazil’s economy. This would later be regarded by several of Rousseff’s aides as a disastrous – and eventually terminal – oversight.


The transformative effects of the Brazilian economic boom of the mid-to-late-2000s are already well-known to most readers. Thanks to the stabilization of Brazil’s finances following the Real Plan, the implementation of creative and effective social programs and voracious global demand for Brazilian commodities such as soy and iron ore, especially from China, economic growth was robust, long-lasting and broad-based. An estimated 40 million people were pulled out of poverty, and many gained access to consumer goods for the first time. All income brackets saw gains, but those at the bottom of the wealth pyramid did best – making Brazil one of the few countries that reduced inequality during that period.

Yet by the turn of the decade, the strains from that growth were apparent, too. For example, while Brazil sold a lot of cars during the boom – its auto fleet grew 80 percent from 2002 to 2012 – that expansion was not matched by a similar expansion in roads. This led to endemic traffic jams in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and other cities. Some commutes that previously lasted 45 minutes now took two hours or longer, with especially long delays for poorer Brazilians living on the periphery of large metropoli. On the evening of Friday, June 1, 2012 in São Paulo, traffic congestion shattered an all-time record, with an accumulated 295 kilometers of gridlocked roadways throughout the city. This severe imbalance between supply and demand was repeated elsewhere throughout other sectors of the economy, too – at airports, health clinics, schools and elsewhere. Simply put, infrastructure had not come remotely close to keeping up with the previous decade’s growth – creating tremendous strain and frustration throughout society.

Simultaneously, expectations had risen. Many poorer Brazilians had previously accepted their de facto second-class status within society – the very concept of “favelas” indicated people who were separated by geography, income and other barriers from the rest of society. But now, upon ascending into the lower strata of the middle class, millions (rightly) believed they had the same right to quality healthcare, education, and transportation as anyone else. Back in 2003, at the beginning of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s presidency, Brazilians named basic hand-to-mouth issues such as unemployment (31 percent), hunger/misery (22 percent) and violence/crime (18 percent) as the country’s “main problem” in polls. After a decade of prosperity, by 2013 those concerns had receded into single digits, replaced by healthcare (48 percent), education (13 percent) and corruption (11 percent) as Brazilians’ top concern. It was no longer enough to have a job; people also wanted a government that provided them with high-quality infrastructure and services.

However, this new generation of demands from society was not being met. Within the same Datafolha poll that seemingly showed all was well for both Rousseff and Brazil on New Year’s Day 2013, there were in fact clear signs of frustration, especially with the quality of those services people now saw as the government’s top priority. Only 17 percent of respondents gave Rousseff good marks for her handling of healthcare and education, now seen as the country’s two most important issues; 26 percent approved of her handling of public transportation; 25 percent said her policies on corruption were good. Rousseff’s most positive marks (on housing, unemployment, and communications) were mostly related to the economy – raising the question of what would happen to her popularity if the consumption boom of recent years suddenly ended, and focus shifted to the very issues Brazilians said were most important to them.

As 2013 wore on, several events fed the perception of a country failing to live up to the promise of the past decade, especially among the middle class. In January, a fire at the Kiss nightclub in southern Brazil killed 231 people. Many investigators blamed the high death toll on authorities’ failure to enforce building codes. Meanwhile, the ongoing trial for the so-called mensalão, a corruption scheme involving Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and others, reached its zenith in the early months of 2013. The trial, which was widely televised, especially in its final phases, fed growing public unrest over fraud and graft in Brasília, with anger particularly pronounced among more educated Brazilians, polls showed. In the first six months of 2013, the number of Brazilians who said they viewed corruption as the country’s most pressing issue tripled.

In retrospect, Brazil was much more of a powder keg than its politicians or pundits believed. And the spark would come during the first week of June, from a previously obscure group of university students in the country’s biggest city.


The flames spread slowly at first.

The initial protests against bus fare hikes occurred in late May in mid-sized cities such as Natal and Goiânia. They were led mainly by far leftist groups composed of university students. While they resulted in police repression with tear gas and some arrests, they did not generate much national media attention. After the bus fare hike went into effect in São Paulo on June 2, a Sunday, a group known as Movimento  Passe Livre (MPL) organized a small demonstration the following day on a highway on the city’s southern edge. MPL, whose name translated as “Free Fare Movement,” was founded at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2005 on the principle that public transport fees should be free for all university students – who made up most of its members. The MPL was widely seen as a fringe movement with unrealistic goals, and was unknown to most Brazilians. As such, the first protest gathered only a few dozen people, and was also mostly ignored by mainstream press.

Indeed, MPL only began to generate headlines a few days later, when on Saturday night, June 6, the group held another protest on Avenida Paulista – the city’s most famous thoroughfare – and violence erupted. Members of the group sprayed graffiti and vandalized subway stations, buses and newsstands, and 12 people were arrested. Two nights later, on June 8, the MPL again gathered – this time with an unannounced protest that interrupted traffic on the Marginal Pinheiros, the city’s most important highway, connecting some of its wealthiest areas with its poorest. Chaos ensued, contributing to total traffic congestion that night reaching 231 kilometers – a near record – and angering thousands of commuters. São Paulo Governor Gerardo Alckmin condemned the group’s vandalism and obstruction of key thoroughfares, and pointedly ruled out any reversal of the bus fare hikes. Editorials by Folha de S.Paulo and other newspapers called for authorities to prevent the group from using such tactics again. At this point, MPL was still seen by many Brazilians as a marginal movement and, to a large extent, an annoyance.

The night that changed everything – for the MPL, for the government and for Brazil – was June 13, 2013. MPL members were eager to harness the newfound spotlight to advance their demands, while the police were under pressure to halt vandalism and disruptions to traffic. The march began peacefully. But as demonstrators turned down Rua da Consolação in downtown São Paulo, police began firing tear gas and rubber bullets to stop them from reaching Avenida Paulista again. Battles between police and demonstrators erupted in at least half a dozen spots. The onslaught wounded not only MPL demonstrators but also journalists, neighborhood residents and other bystanders. Giuliana Vallone, a reporter for Folha, was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet and hospitalized. Police commanders and outside experts would later call the police tactics unnecessarily heavy-handed. All told, 130 people were arrested and about 105 were wounded, according to media reports.

Graphic images of Vallone with blood pouring from her eye socket were splashed across several newspapers the next morning. Other photos and video circulating on Facebook and Twitter showed university students and other middle-class bystanders covered in blood. At this point, many within the Brazilian public began to see the protests in an entirely new light. Instead of seeing the police as targeting a radical student group, many now perceived the June 13 protest as a brutal crackdown on the middle class as a whole. In the complex class politics of Brazil, this was a far worse offense in many eyes. Making matters worse, for many Brazilians the images of bloody police repression recalled the 1964-85 dictatorship, which routinely cracked down on young, educated middle-class students. Literally overnight, the protests stopped being about solely bus fare hikes – and they became about an unlimited list of causes including freedom of speech, the right to protest, and generalized anger with police and elected officials.

From that point, the protests mushroomed in size and became more frequent. On the evening of June 17, roughly 300,000 Brazilians demonstrated throughout the country. The atmosphere was tense but overwhelmingly peaceful. Protesters included people of all ages – some parents carried small children on their shoulders, while others brought their pets. Some university students brought beer, and the smell of marijuana was often present. Indeed, the protests on that night – and others, over coming weeks – sometimes felt more like a night out at a street party than a tense political act. Social media played an important role in the spread of both the details of the marches and the underlying grievances – 81 percent of protesters said they had heard about them via Facebook.

Meanwhile, the list of grievances continued to expand. A Datafolha poll taken among demonstrators at the June 17 march showed that 56 percent were there to protest against bus fare increases, 40 percent were protesting corruption, 35 percent against “politicians” and 31 percent against police violence. Only 14 percent said they were there to demand free public transportation. Other grievances registered included poor healthcare and excessive spending on the upcoming Confederations Cup. The poll indicated that demonstrators were significantly wealthier than most Brazilians and three times more likely than average to have a university degree. But a separate poll released on June 18 showed that, nonetheless, the demonstrations enjoyed overwhelming support from all sectors of society – with 77 percent of respondents voicing their approval, up from 55 percent prior to the violent police crackdown. In other words – even though Brazil’s working class was not massively present at the protests (some media speculated they were simply too busy working or commuting), they did support the demonstrators’ aims.

At this point, the demonstrations also began to generate international media attention and comparisons with contemporary protest movements in Europe and the Arab world. Brazil’s “Tropical Spring” was portrayed with notable shock, and not just because the prevailing international narrative of previous years had been one of a “rising global power.” Brazil had precious little tradition of street demonstrations compared to neighbors like Argentina. The only comparable protests in Brazilian history were those in 1992-93 calling for the impeachment of then-President Fernando Collor. The main traditional source of unrest in Brazil – labor unions – had been mostly quiet for more than a decade because of their strong alliances with Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (which itself had its roots in the trade union movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s). What opposition did exist to the ruling party was poorly organized, and tended to express itself via relatively muted means such as newspaper columns. No longer.

The peak of the protests would prove to be the night of June 20, 2013, when an estimated 1.2 million Brazilians took to the streets in more than 100 cities. In Rio de Janeiro, turnout surpassed 300,000. In São Paulo, demonstrators cut off Avenida Paulista once again. In Brasília, some protesters attempted to break into the foreign ministry, setting a fire (which was quickly extinguished) and shattering some of the building’s windows. All told, dozens of people were injured. Many Brazilians began to ask, incredulously, how far the protest movement would go.

But instead of continuing to expand, the movement began to lose steam as July approached. There were several reasons: Many cities including São Paulo and Rio announced they would roll back the bus fare hikes. Even though this was no longer the protesters’ only grievance, it did demonstrate that the political class was listening and willing to compromise – which some saw as a sufficient concession. Similarly, on June 23 Rousseff invited several protest leaders (including members of the radical MPL) to Brasília, where she listened patiently to the demands of these twenty-somethings without explicitly ruling them out. In a televised address to the nation, a relaxed and smiling Rousseff reminded Brazilians of her own background as a dissident during the 1960s and praised the protesters for embodying “the force of our democracy and the youth’s desire to make Brazil go forward.” Beyond these conciliatory gestures from the ruling class, many Brazilians – particularly those in the middle class – were scared away by the vandalism and clashes with police that characterized the marches on June 20 and ensuing nights. Some commentators said the scenes of fire and shattered glass at the foreign ministry building on June 20, in particular, fed a belief that the protests had become too dangerous and might threaten Brazil’s institutional order.

As July turned into August and September, the protests dramatically shrank in size and soon began numbering only in the hundreds. Once again, they became concentrated in São Paulo. As they became smaller, the percentage of hard-core protesters committed to violence and vandalism increased – and the demonstrations once again became perceived by the broader public as the realm of an angry, perhaps dangerous fringe minority. By October, the protests had almost disappeared altogether.

Inevitably, some said the protests vanished as quickly as they arrived – and that their lasting effects would be negligible, perhaps even forgotten. But in truth, the political fallout was only beginning, and would in the end prove just as unexpected and dramatic as the demonstrations themselves.


In some ways, it was surprising that Rousseff would suffer the harshest short- and long-term consequences of the 2013 protests. Unlike authoritarian leaders facing similar protests in Venezuela, Turkey or Russia, for example, she welcomed them in her public comments with a degree of pragmatism and even accommodation, praising them as reflective of Brazil’s democratic values. And while it is true that she bore political responsibility for the way the bus fare hikes were executed, the public was not largely aware of this fact. Indeed, the politicians charged with implementing the fare hike – and explaining it to the public – were governors and mayors. Nevertheless, the protests caused the president’s approval numbers to fall dramatically. The percentage of Brazilians calling Rousseff’s government “good” or “great” in a Datafolha survey plummeted from 57 percent at the beginning of June to 30 percent by the end of that same month. In that same span, those calling her government “bad” or “terrible” rose from 9 to 25 percent. (The remainder of respondents, 43 percent, called her government “average.”) Other politicians, such as São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin and Mayor Fernando Haddad, expected similar though less dramatic declines in their public approval. 

In the weeks and months after the protests peaked in June 2013, Rousseff made some overtures to accommodating the protesters’ demands. For example, she spoke of a political reform that might have reduced the number of political parties, or reformed the system for campaign finance, in order to make Brasília more responsive to citizens’ demands. But within two days of the announcement of the political reform, Michel Temer, her vice president and a key guarantor of the necessary votes in Congress to approve such a measure, said political reform was unviable (a betrayal that, in itself, foreshadowed future trouble ahead). Meanwhile, Rousseff continued her interventionist approach to economic management by, among other things, seeking to precisely define the rates of return private companies would receive under a new infrastructure concessions plan. In summary, whether because of legislative obstruction or because Rousseff’s overtures were never more than lip service, almost nothing concrete in Brasília would actually change in 2013 or 2014 as a result of the protests.

However, if politicians were eager to forget the lessons of the 2013 protests, the Brazilian public was not. Approval ratings for Rousseff and other politicians would never come close to their previous lofty heights. Everyday citizens’ heretofore rosy view of the economy also never recovered. Expectations for future inflation and unemployment both deteriorated in polls during June, and would continue to worsen as 2013 progressed.

Faced with an increasing public demand for change, but unable or unwilling to deliver it, Rousseff adopted a strategy that would prove disastrous – touting the need for change without actually doing enough about it. For her re-election campaign for the October 2014 election, Rousseff adopted the slogan “For Brazil to Continue Changing.” This produced the unusual spectacle of a party that had been in power for 12 years presenting itself as the opponent of the status quo. Party officials openly acknowledged this was a nod to the “voice of the streets” as expressed in 2013. But a closer look at the party platform revealed hardly any change at all. Indeed, in practice Rousseff vowed the continued expansion of social programs and vilified her main rivals – Senator Aécio Neves and former Environmental Marina Silva – as evil “neoliberals” who would implement austerity measures, cut welfare programs and undo the gains of the past decade.

Rousseff won the election. But her tactics – and her refusal to act on the lessons of the 2013 protests – would ultimately cause her to lose the Brazilian public. By late 2014, as her second term was set to begin, the economy entered free fall under the weight of low expectations from investors and Brazilian consumers alike. As a result, she appointed a new and more orthodox finance minister, Joaquim Levy, who would attempt to implement the same austerity measures Rousseff had demonized just a few months before. However, she had failed to prepare the public for anything resembling this scenario, instead raising expectations of both change and untrammeled prosperity. The public’s rage was rekindled once again.

In this environment, a new wave of protests would begin shortly after Rousseff’s second term began. By March 2015, fully two-thirds of Brazilians said they favored Rousseff’s impeachment – a shocking reversal less than six months after they had voted to re-elect her. Making matters worse were unprecedented revelations of corruption at Petrobras, the so-called Lava Jato probe, which had begun gathering steam in mid-2014. With anger over the economy and now concrete proof of rampant corruption, more than 1 million people once again poured into the streets on March 15, 2015. The demands were different – people yelled “Dilma, out!” and the subject of bus fares was now forgotten – but the spirit and composition of the crowd remained virtually similar to 2013.

Unlike in 2013, this public dissatisfaction now did in fact mobilize Brasília to act – to impeach Rousseff. More than a year would pass between the initial demonstrations and her formal removal from office, in August 2016. While impeachment occurred on grounds that Rousseff had manipulated the federal budget, her abysmal approval rating and inability to fix the economy – plus the revelations of systemic corruption in a government her party had controlled for 14 years – were the clear underlying causes for her removal.

Yet even with Rousseff gone, and Temer in her place, demonstrations continued – with more than 100,000 taking the streets on September 4, 2016, to protest the new government. Temer’s popularity also quickly plummeted to levels similar to Rousseff’s prior to her impeachment as, at least in his initial months in power, he proved no better prepared to heed citizens’ call for clean government or a meaningful recovery in the economy. The level of nearly constant popular unrest that characterized Brazil as 2017 dawned would have been unthinkable prior to the events covered in this article. In some ways, it seems since as if Brazil’s protests of 2013 have occasionally paused – but still not really ended.


The dramatic, long-lasting effects of the protests of 2013 provide a number of cautionary tales to present to future leaders of Brazil, as well as possibly other countries facing similar situations.

One concerns the power of narratives in modern-day politics, and how quickly they can change. In the Brazil of the early 2010s, the perception was still of a nation on the rise – that the “country of the future” had finally arrived, to cite an old cliché. But by 2012, the eve of the protests, the underlying economy was struggling with rising inflation, slowing economic growth and deteriorating public services. The triumphalist declarations of Rousseff, Lula and the rest of the political class remained unchanged in their bombast and optimism, and they were echoed by many mainstream media outlets. But the dissonance couldn’t last forever.

In this sense, the 2013 protests were a powerful example of how a single event can cause an entire nation to take “another look” at reality – and draw a very different conclusion. In the course of a month, during June of that year, between a quarter and a third of the population changed its fundamental view of their government and economy. The reality did not change overnight. But the popular mentality did, and especially in the age of social media, Brazilians saw their friends (or friends’ friends) had begun telling a different story about Brazil’s fate. It was as if millions of people simultaneously said: Hmm, things aren’t so great after all…

Indeed, Brazil’s experience of 2013 shows how popular perceptions can lag reality – but when truth does catch up (as it inevitably will), the disruptive effects can arguably be even greater and more traumatic than otherwise. In light of this experience, and contrary to conventional wisdom in today’s political environment, Brazil shows how it is ultimately preferable for leaders to be as honest as possible about a country’s present and future reality. Even if dishonest optimism may win the day in the short term (as it did for Rousseff in the 2014 election), the payback may well be worse in the long term (as evidenced not only by Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment, but also the jailing of several leaders in her party).

The final major lesson is a more familiar one to students of political science: the danger of hubris. The Workers’ Party, and Brazil’s political class in general, had become supremely confident after the triumphs of the mid and late-2000s. That period did, indeed, see a run of transformative success. But certainly, by the time Rousseff took office in 2011, the policies that had yielded such positive results had run their course, and a new wave of reforms was necessary. Instead of changing her approach, Rousseff doubled down on her interventionist economic policies, while embracing, perhaps cynically, the call for public change as her own. Her failure to reconcile her own beliefs with the demands of 2013 would ultimately lead to her demise – and perhaps, over time, the rise of an entirely new class of Brazilian politicians willing to listen to the cries from the streets.

Photo credits: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr (Wikicommons); Yan Boechat (Wikicommons); Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz Mariordo (Wikicommons); Isaac Reibero (Flickr); Valter Campanato/ABr (Wikicommons); Marcelo Camargo/Agencia Brasil (Wikicommons); Fabrio Rodrigues Pozzeborn/Agencia Brasil (Wikicommons)


Reading Time: 19 minutes

Winter is the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and a seasoned analyst of Latin American politics, with more than 20 years following the region’s ups and downs.

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Tags: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Lava Jato, protests
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