Written by Charlie Hankin, July 2017
Protests calling for the return of the military dictatorship were visible throughout Brazil during 2015 when I was living there. A paradoxical request: protesting against one’s right to protest. Negative sentiments toward President Dilma Rousseff culminated in her impeachment, what she and many others have called a political or parliamentary coup.
Rousseff’s visit to Princeton could not have been more timely. In addition to Brazil’s recent struggles with the democratic process—something Sérgio Buarque de Holanda called “a lamentable misunderstanding”—in the United States and elsewhere we have additional problems to consider. Notions of “fake news,” violence and resentment toward the press, referenda yielding unforeseen and unexpected results, erratic international diplomacy, etc.
“The Challenges for Democracy in Brazil” doubles as a larger reflection on the challenges for democracy in today’s world. Dare we continue to have faith in the democratic process? President Rousseff responds with an emphatic yes. Having lived through two coups, the first that imprisoned her and the second that culminated in her impeachment, the first female Brazilian head of state has every reason to be skeptical toward the possibilities of democracy. Yet she reminds us that politics and democracy were born together, each designed to serve the other. Rousseff argues that we have no choice but “democracy and more democracy.” We can only hope she’s right.
Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian past president, presented a lecture followed by Q&A at Princeton University on April 13, 2017. Introduction by Pedro Meira Monteiro. English subtitles (CC) available (by Charlie Hankin). The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Program in Latin American Studies and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.