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On a visit to Washington this week, former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff contemplated the turbulent past 12 months. It’s been a year since the lower house of Brazil’s parliament voted to start impeachment proceedings against Rousseff on the grounds that she manipulated government accounts ahead of 2014 elections. What followed, she claims, was a “parliamentary coup” where she was ultimately removed from office and replaced by her vice president, Michael Temer, whose government later enacted sweeping austerity measures that are widely unpopular.
Rousseff, 69, was forced out amid heated protests against Brazil’s political establishment, but public dissatisfaction and disillusionment endures. A huge corruption investigation has implicated more than 100 top politicians in the country, including key figures in Temer’s entourage and all five of Brazil’s living former presidents. As new presidential elections loom, a host of unorthodox candidates have emerged and threaten to further unravel the center-left legacy of Rousseff and her predecessor, the charismatic Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
In an interview at The Washington Post’s offices, Today’s WorldView asked Rousseff if Brazilians could elect their own equivalent of President Trump, a maverick — some would say extremist — outsider.
“A few years I would have said it’s impossible,” Rousseff said. “Now I can say it’s very possible. In fact, I can point to a few Trump-like figures.”
Rousseff mentioned the recently elected mayor of Sao Paulo, João Doria, a wealthy entrepreneur who once hosted the country’s equivalent of “The Apprentice.” Despite little political experience, Doria won in Brazil’s most populous city by marketing his business savvy and capacity to get things done. Rousseff also pointed to the far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro, who has publicly hailed Trump and is currently one of the front-runners in 2018 opinion polls.
Brazil, according to Rousseff, is in the grips of a similar “right-wing tendency” to the ones in Europe and the United States, where economic crises and growing inequality stoked anger at politicians and fueled the rise of demagogic populists.
She said her own presidency was victim both to the tumultuous fallout of the global financial crisis, as well as the cynicism of her political opponents. Eduardo Cunha, the former head of Brazil’s lower house and the right-wing politico seen as the architect of Rousseff’s impeachment, was sentenced last month to 15 years in prison for his role in the vast “Car Wash” corruption scandal currently roiling Brazilian politics.
Rousseff herself was accused of using state-run banks to pay upfront expenses for social programs, including Bolsa Família, the popular cash-transfer program for…