Rio 2016 was a “great frustration” for Brazilian people amid an ongoing corruption scandal and rising populism that threatens to worsen a lengthy political crisis, a presidential hopeful has said.
Marina Silva, an environmental activist who is currently third favourite to win next year’s election, said the Olympic Games was an example of misplaced priorities in the face of more pressing fundamental needs.
The event, which came two years after Brazil also hosted the World Cup, failed to deliver on promised improvements, she said, while the country became mired in political scandal .
“Unfortunately, all the expectation created around what could have left a great legacy for Brazilian society – in terms of urban mobility, transport, environmental values, the greater possibilities for tourism – did not happen,” she told the Telegraph during a recent tour of Europe.
“Today, a good part of the facilities built for the Olympics have been abandoned, causing huge losses.
Instead, the Games took place during near-daily revelations of bribes and money laundering among the political elite from an unprecedented anti-corruption probe, Operation Car Wash .
The investigation’s biggest political scalp to date has been former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who left office in 2010 with an 83 per cent approval rating and is still yet favourite to win the 2018 race.
An enduringly popular figure, the Leftist Workers’ Party stalwart was sentenced to ten years for money laundering and corruption offences, which may rule him ineligible to run for president if his appeal fails.
But despite the extortionate scandal – which has uncovered kickbacks totalling around $2 billion – Ms Silva, 59, knows that next year’s election may not be the simple anti-corruption vote that might see her finally take power.
Ms Silva, who grew up in the Amazon and only became literate in her teenage years, knows well the vagaries of the Brazilian electorate.
In 2014, she ran against the then divisive incumbent Dilma Rousseff in place of her running partner Eduardo Campos, who was killed in a plane crash .
Ms Silva was knocked out in the first round of voting with just over 21 per cent. She won a similar proportion to come third when she first ran for president in 2010.
While Ms Silva has yet to formally confirm her candidacy for the presidency in 2018, she is ranked third in opinion polls behind Mr da Silva and Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing former army captain who has been dubbed “Brazil’s Donald Trump”.
“In Brazil, like in the rest of the world, we have a wave of populism from the left and the right,” Ms Silva, who served as environment minister under Lula and whose Rede Sustentabilidade party runs on an environmental platform, said.
“This is a phenomenon that’s happening around the world with serious costs to Latin America. Brazil and Venezuela are paying a high price for this..
“Brazilian society wants to see the country cleaned up but there are also other serious problems. The theme of corruption is important but society will also want to have strong commitments in other priority areas. I hope that the fight against corruption can have weight in the decision of people, precisely so we don’t go back to those who are now being investigated.”
An equally important factor is likely to be the country’s economic recovery after Brazil suffered its worst ever crash while the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff produced political uncertainty.
The problems, said Silva, started with measures taken by the government to stabilise the economy during the 2008 financial crash with controlled prices and welfare programs.
“The problem is that afterwards, when it was necessary to end these measures, the government kept the same things to maintain popularity to win again in 2010,” she said.
“Our problems are problems that were created by bad politics. We were not victims of any catastrophe. Most don’t discuss a project for the country but a project for power.
“They don’t talk about what’s best for the country.”
Despite her two failed attempts, she insisted the most important lesson she learned in 2014 was the importance of offering a manifesto with substance.
And her 20 million votes last time around were a testament, she said, to the growing relevance of environmental issues to the Brazilian public.
Sustainability was the focus of her lecture at the Brazil Institute at King’s College this week but she could not escape questions about the continuing political saga in Brasília.
“It’s impossible to have a championship of corruption in Brazil – who would win?” she told the lecture hall.
“The parties, which never united to do anything good for society, have united against something that should never been allowed: to fight against [the anti-corruption investigation].”
Earlier in the day, she said she was neither optimistic nor pessimistic but persistent in the hope of returning Brazil to prosperity.
“The problems we have don’t have magic exits, they don’t have easy ways out,” she said. “And it won’t be through force, fear or deconstruction of opponents that we will build something good and positive.”
Originally published by the Telegraph on November 6, 2017