On Saturday night, the UFC will host arguably the most impressive line-up to date on a Brazil-based PPV. Unfortunately, they will do so amidst a national crisis - one rooted in deep-set political corruption, and potential presidential impeachment.
Despite a weak economy, the infamous Petrobras scandal and rapidly rising tensions ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the UFC reportedly sold 45,000 tickets in nine hours for the Curitiba show. The UFC general manager in Brazil, Giovani Decker, even proclaimed it to be "one of the biggest events this year in Brazil, only a bit behind the Olympics." Much of the success is due to the slew of iconic names featured on the card, including Anderson Silva (now no longer on the card), Mauricio Rua, and Cris Cyborg.
The Petrobras scandal, which was uncovered back in 2013, highlighted the extent of corruption in Brazil. The state-controlled multinational corporation in the petroleum industry created a cartel and purposely inflated the worth of Petrobras contracts, which allowed them to charge exorbitant prices. Employees turned a blind eye while this occurred, while executives enjoyed the profits reaped from the scheme—over $5 billion. They bribed politicians to allow the perpetual cycle of corruption and negligence to continue indefinitely.
While the scandal was uncovered several years ago, it wasn't until the Supreme Court announced an investigation of dozens of politicians involved in 2015 that the Brazilian people decided to riot against the ruling class. Millions of angry Brazilians flooded the streets to protest the ongoing corruption and the weak government that refused to put an end to it. The widespread corruption that they protested dates back many years and has impacted generations of Brazilians and added to the already prevalent class divide. With income inequality at an all-time high and poverty an inevitable truth that many had to wrestle with, the Petrobras scandal was seem as the culmination of a lifetime of fraudulence.
There was still more to come.
Since then, the international bribery investigation led to over 160 arrests from more than a dozen companies. Operation Carwash, a money laundering investigation that has already toppled key members of suspended President Dilma Rousseff's inner circle, including members of her Workers' Party. The U.S. Justice Department expanded the operation to cover allegations of corruption in the Petrobras scandal.
Rousseff, who was chairwoman of Petrobras for a portion of the scandalous period, has since been suspended from office and placed on trial for impeachment. Her suspension is technically unrelated to the scandal, and instead focused on financial discrepancy during her 2014 presidential campaign. Senators voted to suspended her by 55 votes to 22 following a 20-hour session that allowed each individual a 15-minute time slot to air their grievances. The decision brought an end to the Worker's Party's 13-year rule.
Naturally, the impeachment caused a schism between the Brazilian population, as well as the powerful political parties. Some deemed the impeachment a "coup," because it involved a decision to remove a democratically elected leader from office. Other suggested that the impeachment trial was an opportunity for Rousseff's enemies to eliminate her from the equation. The Guardian noted the sort of people who protested against Rousseff and her leftist party:
"In Rio, the crowd was predominantly white, middle class and predisposed to supporting the opposition. Several of the more prominent figures who spoke from sound trucks had rightwing backgrounds.Among them was Marcelo Itagiba, the city's former state security secretary and ex-federal police superintendent, who has been investigated for ties with militias and was one of the inspirations for the gritty film Elite Squad 2."
During a speech on Thursday morning following the vote to suspend her from office, Rousseff proclaimed the impeachment to be the result of a coup d'etat.
Under the 68-year-old president's watch, over $5 billion was stolen in the Petrobras scandal. This has greatly influenced Brazilian civilians' perspective on the impeachment. Despite Rousseff being cleared of any wrongdoing during the scandal, it remains the primary force behind the support for her impeachment. To many, if she was not directly involved in the scandal, she was undeniably incompetent.
The other influential factor was Brazil's worsening economy and the inevitable plunge into a recession. Following a decade of growth and prosperity at the start of the 21st century, Brazil's economy began to suffer around 2012 when the price of commodities fell considerably. Brazil, dependent on exports such as soy and oil, began to suffer.
These factors reached a boiling point with gradual build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio, as well as the corruption and gross mismanagement of funds involved. As Brazil sank deeper into a recession - GDP dropped by 3.8% in 2015 - the government remained stubbornly focused on the prestigious sporting event.
The series of events helped shape a portion of the Brazilian population's perspective on the suspended president. The economic crisis occurred during her reign, which is enough reason for many to stand firmly against her.
Back in 2013, the "Free Pass Movement" in Sao Paulo eventually transformed into a nationwide against political corruption and gross overspending on the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. The protests were an opportunity for the country to show a united front against a common enemy, though it was eventually marred by hooligans and vandalism. At the time, UFC welterweight Demian Maia expressed his hopes and concerns with the protests and what a government is allowed to do. His words remain remarkably relevant to the crisis three years later.
"In the first place, I think it's great that the gatherings have occurred. Brazilians are finally learning to assert their rights. Only with public pressure can we change our society. From now on, I believe we need to start focusing on deeper targets. For example: questioning the perks of politicians -- early retirement, more vacations than the rest of the population, money for clothes... As for the spending on the World Cup, a great protest would be to not even go to watch the games.
"On the other hand, unfortunately, I'm realizing that some people do not have any understanding about what a democracy is. I saw people asking for the impeachment of democratically elected politicians. That's a coup! Just because I disagree with some political positions doesn't mean I want them expelled. In the next election, take voting more seriously, try to influence people, make demonstrations. This is part of the democratic game." (h/tSherdog)
It appears the majority of the country does not share Maia's perspective on impeachment, as approximately 60 percent of the population is in favor of Rousseff's removal. Vice President Michel Temer, took over as Brazil's new leader and vowed to protect the corruption investigations from political interference. Though the 75-year-old lawyer urged to "form a government of national salvation," some analysts have suggested that the investigation would be influenced under his interim rule because of his political party's deep implications in the scandal. At the very least, it is expected that his government will gradually shift toward right-wing politics and embrace a "more conservative disposition" by decreasing public spending and inducing a sharp rise in privatization.
Ultimately, Brazil is at a crossroads that will greatly impact its long-term future. Rousseff will likely remain suspended during the Rio Games, which means the highly controversial Temer will represent the nation during that event. However, it remains unclear who will take over the leadership further down the line. The Brazilian people are in dire need for political and socio-economic reforms, though they are unlikely to receive those as long as the political parties continues to play the long-drawn game of cat and mouse.