by Wendy Wolford and John D. French
The last three presidential administrations in Brazil, including the two presidencies of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2002–2010) and the first term of Dilma Rousseff (2010-2014), have complicated widely held understandings of the Brazilian state. It is no longer possible to characterize recent governments as simply authoritarian, patrimonial, or divorced from the experiences of the Brazilian public (see Pereira in this issue). The path to “deepening democracy” (Fung, Wright, and Abers, 2003) has not been an easy or straightforward one, as recent protests and ongoing corruption scandals have shown, and yet a brief history of the recent past illustrates dramatic change. In 1985 a 21-year dictatorship—what Peter Evans (1989) called a “developmental state”—was defeated only to be followed by debt-fueled crisis and a decade of economic stagnation. Hyperinflation and economic uncertainty led in turn to an era of neoliberal governance, including the privatization of state-owned enterprises, reduction of trade protections, and establishment of regional free-market zones (Baker, 2002; Corrales, 2012; Power, 1998; Wolford, 2005).
As discontent with neoliberal policies rose, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), led by Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (hereafter Lula), emerged as a leading actor in demands for political change. Perhaps one of the best examples of innovation under PT administrations in the early 1990s was the participatory budgeting process pioneered in the southern states (Abers, 2000; Baierle, 1999; Baiocchi, 2005; Novy and Leubolt, 2004) and subsequently extended throughout Brazil (Wampler, 2007). Operating under reasonably sound electoral rules, the PT was eventually successful at the national level, winning the presidency—although not the other branches of government—in four consecutive elections (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) and establishing a remarkably durable left-leaning government that has stood at the center of recent Latin American “left turns” (Barrett, Chavez, and Rodríguez, 2008; …
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Latin American Perspectives
March 2016 vol. 43 no. 2 4-21