Brazil faces a severe political crisis that threatens to undermine its democratic architecture. The key to this crisis is Operation Lava Jato (Operation “Car Wash”), the largest anti-corruption investigation in Brazil’s history. Since its inception in 2014, the investigation has uncovered a network of corruption involving billions of dollars across twelve countries and has resulted in more than three hundred indictments and a hundred convictions.1 In particular, the imprisonment of the country’s most popular politician and front-runner, former president Lula da Silva of the center left Workers’ Party (PT), in April 2018 has more or less ensured that Brazil’s upcoming October 2018 elections will be a free-for-all. It seems almost certain that Lula will be prevented from running for election, and political confusion and uncertainty will reign. A recent poll indicates that over 40 percent of Brazilians don’t know who to support or will submit a blank ballot in the election. Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who openly calls for a return to military dictatorship,2 is leading the polls.
Lava Jato played a significant role in the downfall of another president, Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016, for “crimes of responsibility.” Dilma’s supposed crime was to utilize an arcane set of fiscal maneuvers known as pedeladas to pay for social spending.3 She was replaced by her vice-president — the right-wing Michel Temer of the Brazilian Movement for Democracy Party (MDB)4, who currently enjoys an approval rating of 2 percent. Since coming to power in September 2016, Temer’s government has embarked on perhaps the most vicious austerity program implemented in any major economy. Political violence is also on the rise. Over forty activists have been murdered, including the socialist Rio city councilor Marielle Franco.5 Brazilian democracy hangs in the balance and so far the Left has been unable to provide a clear strategy going forward.