The Other Corruption: On Missed Opportunities In Brazil

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (R) and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva participate in the celebration for the
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (R) and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva participate in the celebration for the 10th anniversary of the social welfare program Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance), in Brasilia, on October 30, 2013. The Family Allowance scheme was initiated by Rousseff's predecessor, Lula da Silva. AFP PHOTO / Evaristo Sa (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)

The trials based on alleged corruption charges have prevented the assessment of Lula/Dilma's government in terms of the transformation of the Brazilian socioeconomic structure. No party has ever come to power with such promises of changing the Brazilian reality and no party has ever ruled the country for such a long period, except for Getúlio Vargas (1930 - 1945 and 1950 - 1954).

But when one looks around, the assessment is not positive.

The "Bolsa Família" (the main social welfare program), which started in the previous government by the name of "Bolsa Escola," and which distributes annually 0.5 percent of the GDP, should be acclaimed for the rare generosity shown by the governing elites, but it has not been a truly transformational program. The transformation would have been to emancipate the population so that it wouldn't have to rely on this social program. The Lula/Dilma government did not accomplish that.

In a country with a legacy of slavery, the Lula/Dilma government had the noble gesture of creating instruments to include the underprivileged population and slave descendants into higher education with affirmative actions, such as quotas, the Prouni (University for All Program) and FIES (Student's Higher Education Financing) programs, and opening more than 14 federal universities. Creating mechanisms to allow the sons and daughters of a few working men to enter university is a positive gesture, but it doesn't automatically suggest a change in the social structure. The transformation would result from a change in the educational system so that the sons and daughters of every working man would be able to compete in the entrance exam with the same chances as the sons and daughters of their employers.

The Lula/Dilma government did not advance the cause of civic and political awareness: it soothed the masses and co-opted the social movements such as CUT (the National Trade Union Federation) and UNE (the National Union of Students); it opened the doors of consumerism to groups that had been previously marginalized, but it didn't embrace them as full citizens; it increased the number of consumers but not of citizens.

By abandoning truly transformational proposals, the progressive parties and the social movements act as former abolitionists who, when coming to power, were satisfied with emancipating a few slaves and reducing the suffering of others, without actually abolishing slavery itself.

In the future, besides the ethical stain over the Workers' Party (PT) and other allied parties, the assessment of the Lula/Dilma government, which lasted 13 percent of a century, will show how a great historical opportunity was lost. We'll look back on a party that came to power with promising proposals, represented by a charismatic leader of popular origins, and which won four elections in a row but eventually abandoned modesty and the strength to transform.

The Lula/Dilma government found a socially and politically divided country, aggravated the political gap and instead of bringing down the wall that divides us socially, it simply threw some crumbs to the excluded and failed to fulfill the promise of true structural reforms.

The danger is that the post-Lula/Dilma government won't implement the reforms that are necessary. Judges may be able send politicians to jail and clean the political scene for a while, but they don't bring down the "golden curtain" that divides Brazil; they judge the corruption of the politicians' behavior, but not the corruption of policy priorities.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Brazil. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.