Two of President Dilma Rousseff’s ministers have resigned recently amid accusations of corruption, complicating her efforts to run Latin America’s largest country after taking over from Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in January.
Transport Minister Alfredo Nascimento resigned late Wednesday after accusations that officers in his ministry had acted inappropriately, including accepting bribes in awarding government contracts. Last month, Antonio Palocci, Rousseff’s chief of staff and most senior minister, resigned after news reports said his personal wealth had risen sharply during his time as a congressman and did not seem to match his apparent sources of income.
Nascimento and Palocci have denied any wrongdoing. Neither has been charged with any crimes.
But the suspicion of high-level corruption is hampering Rousseff’s ability to govern despite widespread public support, a booming economy and Brazil’s emergence as a global player preparing to host both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
“These scandals make it harder for her to oversee the coalition she needs to push through her legislative agenda,” said David Fleischer, a political analyst at the University of Brasilia. “She’s being forced to deal with these skeletons in the closet, and it’s extremely difficult, because corruption has been in the DNA of the transport ministry for a long time, as it is in many other parts of the government.”
Hand-picked by Lula to succeed him and boosted by his popularity, Rousseff won the presidency by a large margin. But her center-left Workers Party needs the cooperation of a loose coalition of diverse parties to get laws passed. During the Palocci turmoil, she was outmaneuvered by opponents and failed to push through both her favored version of the forestry code, focused on protecting the Amazon, and an anti-homophobia bill.
With Brazil’s economy strong and unemployment at a historic low, the scandal is not likely to dent her popularity, Fleischer said. Rousseff will need her coalition partners in the next few months to keep spending under control and to approve a “truth commission” to investigate crimes carried out by Brazil’s dictatorship, which imprisoned and tortured her in the 1970s.
Bevins is a special correspondent.