Today in “Terrible Historical Analogies” (or, Brazil in 2016 is not Iraq in 2005)

The impeachment of Dilma Roussef in Brazil has led to no small amount of writing over where Brazil heads next. Some of those pieces are thought-provoking as they shed light on the current situation in Brazil as well as outlining quite reasonable (if not guaranteed) possible outcomes.

Then there are pieces like this one.

A sense of uncertainty, and even fear, in Brazil right now is not irrational. The democratic process has suffered a massive setback, one that will take years to recover from (and there’s no guarantee there, either). But to say that Brazil “might become a new Iraq, but much worse” demonstrates overreaction of the worst kind.

It starts off benignly enough, highlighting the reality that a majority of the senators who removed Dilma over allegations of corruption are themselves corrupt. However, things quickly turn from a reasoned assessment to the comparison of Dilma and….Saddam Hussein. And not even in the vilifying way you might first think.

Amidst such scenario, Dilma Rousseff became the scapegoat of Brazil, in the same fashion perhaps that the Bush administration initiated an intentional and widespread fear mongering and deception campaign as to gain support to invade Iraq after the 9/11 attack.

In that case, however, the scapegoat was Saddam Hussein who was also perceived as a hindrance by the American oligarchy. So, history repeats itself but on opposite sides of the hemisphere. Truth is that both Hussein and Rousseff became guilty by association.

This is just a bizarre analogy on so many levels that it’s hard to tell where to begin. Yes, the removal of Dilma is  politically traumatic and institutionally concerning, but thousands of people didn’t die in a single day died because of Dilma’s removal from office. [And I’m not fetishizing 9/11 here, but at some point, context matters, and this seems to be well beyond that point]. Additionally, Saddam fell because a foreign power decided that he was public enemy #1; the impeachment of Dilma has been a strictly internal issue from the start, a question of the struggle between the traditional political oligarchy that served the interests of private capital and the economic elite vs. a political party that worked to improve inequalities in society more generally (while still operating within a market-friendly policy, for better or worse). Nobody was invading Brazil if Dilma remained in office (or if she’s removed), and nobody’s blaming their own domestic security issues on Dilma and Brazil. And even if the “American oligarcy” is satisfied with the outcome of impeachment, they weren’t the main engine behind it, nor were they the catalyst for it. This is, first and foremost, domestic politics in Brazil, not some Cold War US-led coup a la Guatemala in 1954.

And its not just the international context that seems so skewed here – even the domestic context seems….exaggerated. Is the rivalry between the PT and the PMDB real? Yes. Is it a rivalry of over 1000 years, with a long history of warfare and territorial acquisitions based upon a vision of what the supreme divine being intends for Earth, with centuries of religious doctrine blended modern political ideology, all with a contested history at play, as the Sunni-Shia split in Iraq is? In a word – No.

This isn’t to diminish what are very real problems like political corruption and violence that the piece mentions (and even issues that the piece does not mention, like ongoing inequalities, police brutality and impunity, environmental issues, etc.). But to say that these issues, and the uncertain impact they will have, is akin to what happened in Iraq between 2003 and the present, is to demonstrate a complete failure to understand either the situation outside of Brazil or any decent concept of useful historical analogies.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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