This virtual special issue brings together a set of articles just published by JLAS in order to give some background to the current political situation in Brazil. Together they provide a good summary of how much Brazil has changed in recent years, but also of recurrent problems that have become particularly evident in the last few months.
Three of the articles assess the evolution of the Workers Party (PT)—a key player in the current crisis—over the last 4 decades, and the tensions involved when social movement parties move into government: Hernán Gómez Bruera examines party-civil society links under the Lula administration, asking how the PT maintained relations with civil society organisations in order to secure ‘social governability’, and suggesting that this relied upon the distribution of jobs in the state apparatus and the allocation of subsidies to supporting groups. Pedro Floriano Ribeiro describes the changes that occurred as the PT moved into government from 2003, and the transition from party-civil society links to state-civil society linkages. Oswaldo Do Amaral and Timothy Power review the scholarly literature on the last 35 years of the PT, placing it in the context of scholarship on the regional ‘turn to the left’.
The articles by Gregory Michener and Carlos Pereira, and by Philip Kitzberger explore long-standing problems that seem to be recurring in the contemporary moment, namely corruption and the media, respectively. Michener and Pereira discuss the Mensalão scandal, a direct precursor to the corruption scandals that unseated Dilma Rousseff earlier this year. Kitzberger compares media strategies in Argentina and Brazil, showing the role of the media in developing corruption scandals and enabling (or weakening) social governability, in Gómez Bruera’s sense.
Finally, two articles examine the fate of political issues associated especially with the PT governments. Eve Bratman investigates the activism around the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon, exploring the interplay between transnational activism and domestic economic interests. She shows that the ‘strong state’ philosophy of the PT meant a commitment to the dam despite objections by domestic and transnational indigenous peoples, environmentalists and human rights activists. Teresa Melgar analyses the fate of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre after the PT lost control of local government there in 2004. Despite the promise held out by the initial success of such initiatives, they have proven difficult to sustain in the face of lack of commitment from subsequent regimes.
Taken together, these articles present a complex and nuanced picture of the Brazilian political scene, albeit perhaps not one that is very optimistic. The authors critically explore how the PT managed relations between civil society, party and state since entering federal government in 2003. The reader sees that these relations contained within them fundamental tensions that the PT has to date been unable to resolve. Whether the impeachment process will worsen these tensions or whether it will unify the PT against a common enemy is one of the big questions for the future. The last few months have also highlighted advances in the fight against corruption, but also how many challenges still remain. As editors, we hope that the articles in this collection provide our readers with insight into the background to and some of the medium-term causes of the current crisis.