A bribery scheme involving state-controlled energy conglomerate Petrobras has engulfed many leading politicians
Zika is another worry as Brazil prepares to host the 2016 Summer Olympics
At the Jean Louis David Salon, just a short walk from the famed Copacabana Beach, the blow dryers are roaring and the nail trimmers are clipping but blaring on the salon’s television is hardly what you’d expect: It’s the news.
These days, the political scandal riveting Brazilians is as intriguing as any Latin soap opera they’ve ever obsessed over. The problem is this time the plot line isn’t fiction, and the whole country is living it.
“It’s a scary telenovela,” says Marco Magalhaes, a makeup artist who divides his time between Rio and Los Angeles. He says he’s embarrassed for his country every time someone asks him the question now posed even in California cafes, ‘What the heck is happening in Brazil?’
“Thieves, that’s sad; but they’re thieves” he says referring to the country’s political and business elite before uttering what has become a national chorus of outrage, “People pay taxes and feel robbed, they feel robbed.”
The scandal is so sordid that it has already tainted more than half of the country’s national politicians both in government and the opposition, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva. The bribery scheme is linked to the once revered state-controlled energy conglomerate Petrobras, a company that in the past has been an enduring symbol of Brazil’s economic aspirations.
President Dilma Rousseff is not implicated in the corruption scandal, but she is now cornered by a nasty budget battle that could see her impeached within weeks. Her political opponents accuse her swindling voters by rigging her government’s finances.
Watergate-style deception in full view
But what is really keeping the salon humming with gossip is the Watergate-style deception on full display.
In conversations recorded by investigators and leaked to the media or released by courts, Brazilians are hearing politicians and business people in the crudest of terms discussing their manipulation of power, politics and the proceeds of bribes.
Wiretaps are now are devoured and debated in every corner and crevice of people’s everyday lives.
“What’s happening now should have happened a long time ago, I think Brazil is looking at its politics with a different set of eyes. Brazilians used to turn a blind eye to politics, now people are seeing clearly for the first time,” says Milena Emanuels, a hairstylist.
And each new investigation or court case, and there have been dozens, seems to pull further on a thread of corruption that is now unraveling the entire economic and political establishment in Brazil.
All of this is buttressed by dire economic warnings of a second year of recession and the worst economic performance in two generations.
“The scope of this (crisis) is the worst I’ve ever seen,” says Narciso Rocha, a Rio restaurant and bar owner who’s been in business for more than a half century.
Zika and the Olympics
And then there is the Zika virus. It has been a particularly menacing addition to all that plagues the country. Zika is a mysterious virus still stalking Brazil. It is spread by mosquitoes and alarmingly it may have caused a devastating neurological disorder in hundreds of newborns.
Through all this, Brazil is inviting the world to its doorstep in August for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
Some now see it as the equivalent of holding the largest house party of your life while the place is being renovated and the family is at each others’ throats.
“Everything happened so fast, right before the Olympics. It’s not a good time, so shame,” says Magalhaes. “I feel like this is not going to be an Olympics that is going to be remembered.”
What worries many Brazilians is that the games may be remembered for all the wrong reasons.