Brazil News & Current Events

Updated September 9, 2022 | Infoplease Staff
Brazil Elects Its First Woman President

In Oct. 2010's second round of presidential elections, Dilma Rousseff, an acolyte of Lula and his former chief of staff, defeated José Serra 56% to 44% to become the country's first woman president. Because of term limits, Lula could not run for a third consecutive term. Rousseff is expected to follow through with Lula's agenda, but faces the task of improving the country's education, health, and sanitation systems. The vote was seen as an endorsement of Lula and his social and economic policies.


Former Student Behind Worst School Shooting Brazil Has Ever Seen

On April 7, 2011, A 23-year-old former student returned to his public elementary school in Rio de Janeiro and began firing, killing 12 children and wounding 12 others, before shooting himself in the head. While Brazil has seen gang-related violence in urban areas, this was the worst school shooting the country has ever seen. Tasso da Silveira elementary and middle school, the site of the shooting, is located in the working class neighborhood of Realengo, on the west side of Rio.

The shooter, Wellington Menezes de Oliveria, age 24, entered the school around 8 a.m., telling a teacher who recognized him that he was there to speak to a class. Oliveira opened fire a few minutes later with a .38-caliber pistol in one hand and a .32-caliber gun in the other. He killed 10 girls and 2 boys. When Oliveira ignored a police officer's order to drop his guns, the officer, Sgt. Marcio Alves, shot him in the leg. Oliveira then shot himself in the head. A letter found in Mr. Oliveira's pocket made it clear that he intended to die and that the attack was premeditated, but offered no clear motive for the shootings.


Rousseff Faces Political Crisis as Top Aide Steps Down

In June 2011, top cabinet official Antonio Palocci resigned. President Rousseff's chief of staff, Palocci, was accused of increasing his personal wealth as a corporate consultant while he was also serving in congress and coordinating Rousseff's presidential campaign. Out of the last four chiefs of staff, Palocci was the third to resign amid accusations. Palocci's resignation did not cease investigations which continue to explore if there was a connection between Palocci's business dealings and Rousseff's presidential campaign.


Security Measures Begin for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Around three thousand soldiers and police officers moved into Rocinha, one of the largest slums in Rio de Janeiro, on November 13, 2011. It was part of an operation by the government to gain control over troubled areas in the city before the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2014 World Cup. The operation, named "Shock of Peace," involved military helicopters, tanks, snipers stationed on rooftops, and police squads patrolling alleys.

Rocinha, a community of more than 80,000, is located near some of Rio's wealthiest neighborhoods. Occupying the area was an important step in imposing order in the city and cracking down on drug traffickers who control most of the city's slums. Shock of Peace was made possible by the arrest of Nem, a drug lord whose real name is Antônio Bonfim Lopes, as well as months of gathering intelligence.


Club Fire Kills 233 People

In the early morning hours of Jan. 27, 2013, a fire broke out in a nightclub in Santa Maria, a southern city in Brazil. The cause of the fire was a flare from pyrotechnics used by a band performing on stage at the club. At the time of the fire, the club was packed with hundreds of students from nearby universities. According to officials, at least 233 people were killed.

The fire stunned the nation. President Dilma Rousseff immediately left a summit meeting in Chile and traveled to Santa Maria to console the victim's families. As she left Chile, in tears, she said to reporters, "This is a tragedy for all of us."


Judiciary Council Rules on Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies

On May 14, 2013, the National Council of Justice ruled that notary publics in Brazil could no longer refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Many saw the ruling as an opening for gay couples to get married in Latin American's largest country.

Legal scholars said that with the ruling the National Council of Justice, a 15-member panel led by Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, legalized gay marriage in Brazil. The ruling follows recent decisions by lawmakers in Argentina and Uruguay to legal same-sex marriage. The National Council of Justice voted 14 to 1 in favor of requiring notary publics to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Notary publics would also be required to convert same-sex civil unions into marriages. In 2011, Brazil's high court ruled in favor of allowing same-sex unions.


Demonstrations Stun Nation

Throughout June 2013, nationwide protests were held over increases in bus fares. The protesters were mainly part of an organization called the Free Fare Movement and included students and political activists from leftist parties. The Free Fare Movement had been pushing for either decreasing public transportation fares or completely abolishing them and paying for them with tax increases.

The most intense protests happened in São Paulo, where dozens of demonstrators were arrested. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to separate thousands of protestors. Several journalists were injured. Reoccurring protests also happened in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Natal and Goiânia. The protests, which became larger as the month went on, were the biggest Brazil had seen in twenty years.

On June 25, 2013, President Dilma Rousseff attempted to address the concerns of protestors by suggesting changes to the country's political system. Rousseff met with members of the Free Fare Movement and proposed a Congressional overhaul as well as a change to campaign-finance methods. She also suggested that the government spend $22 billion in public transit improvements, including building subways. Finally, she proposed increasing political corruption penalties, which has become another chief concern of the protestors. Announcing her proposals in a televised address after meeting with the Free Fare Movement, Rousseff said, "Now the people out on the streets want more."


NSA Leaks Chill Relationship with the U.S.

President Rousseff learned in Sept. 2013 that the U.S. government had spied on her, senior government officials, and Petrobras, Brazil's national oil company. The revealation was one of many details about the National Security Agency's surveillance program that were uncovered by Edward Snowden and leaked to the media. Outraged, Rousseff demanded an apology from President Barack Obama. Dissatisfied with his response, she canceled a state visit to Washington scheduled for October.

However, two months later, Brazil's government acknowledged that it had spied on countries such as the United States, Iran and Russia. The country's top intelligence agency, the Institutional Security Cabinet, released a statement that it had spied on diplomats from other countries about a decade ago. The diplomats were under surveillance while they were in Brazil. The acknowledgement came after Brazil had repeatedly criticized the U.S. for its spying operations.


Rousseff Narrowly Wins Re-election

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff

President Dilma Rousseff

Source: Jacquelyn Martin for Associated Press

In the 2014 presidential election, President Rousseff led the Oct. 5 first round of voting by 42%. However, she faced Aecio Neves in an Oct. 26 runoff. Neves, popular with investors, was a surprise second-place finisher in the first round, coming in with 34% of the vote. In the Oct. 5 parliamentary elections, Rousseff's Workers' Party won the most seats, taking 70 of 513.

Rousseff won the Oct. 26 runoff by a slim margin. She took 51.6% of the vote to Neves 48.4%. Throughout the election, Rousseff campaigned that her party's 12-year rule had helped 35 million citizens overcome poverty. However, Brazil has also seen a recession in recent years, as well as a major oil company go bankrupt, and corruption charges, all factors in making the presidential election a close one. The controversial $11.5 billion price tag to host the World Cup almost threatened Rousseff's re-election, but the event ended up being hailed a success.

Protests were held throughout 2015 against President Rousseff, calling for her impeachment, due to allegations that she had been involved with the Petrobras scandal. Rousseff's alleged involvement in the scandal includes knowledge of kickbacks and corruption from 2003 to 2010, when she was on the board of directors at Petrobras. Rousseff denied having any knowledge of the scheme and no evidence of her involvement has been found. Federal Judge Sergio Moro led an investigation, approved by the Supreme Court, into the matter.

In Aug. 2015, Judge Moro ruled that there were signs that Rousseff's former Chief of Staff Gleisi Hoffmann had received bribes. In addition, a Federal Accounts Court prosecutor accused Rousseff of delaying $40 billion reais ($11.5 billion dollars) in payments to hide the country's poor financial situation in 2014. President Rousseff was told by the court that she needed to respond to the accusations by the following month. The new accusations, along with country's stalled economy, increased calls for Rousseff's impeachment.

On Dec. 3, 2015, the Chamber of Deputies opened impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff for allegedly manipulating government funds and laws in order to secure her re-election. In response, Rousseff expressed her outrage in a television address to the country. In the address, she said, "I have received with indignation the decision by the head of the lower chamber to the impeachment process. There is no wrongful act committed by me, nor are there any suspicions that I have misused public money." For the impeachment to succeed, the proposal to have Rousseff removed would need the support of at least two-thirds of the deputies, meaning 342 of 513 lower house votes.

Dilma Rousseff Impeached

Following a long a contentious battle between the executive and the legislature, Dilma Rousseff was forced to resign her position as President. The Brazilian Senate successfully impeached Rousseff on grounds of violating fiscal regulations and limitations; Rousseff stood accused of moving money between budgets (in violation of Brazilian law) to plug deficits in popular social programs. Her aim, her opponents claimed, was to cover over shortages that would have ruined her popularity leading up to the election. 

Rousseff did not deny having manipulated the budgets, however she claimed that she acted within the precedent set by the last few presidents of the country. In response she accused the opposition party, the PMDB led by former house speaker Eduardo Cunha, of trumping up the charges to enact a legal coup d'état. In the case of her impeachment, the PMDB would stand to make significant gains in government. Her vice president, Michel Temer, was a member of the PMDB. 

Despite Rousseff's efforts, her once record-setting popularity plummeted toward single digits. Proceedings began in the lower house of Congress in April, and by August the Senate had completely removed her from office. Michel Temer was sworn in as president immediately after. Eduardo Cunha, whom Rousseff had claimed stood to gain the most from the ordeal, was accused and convicted on charges of corruption in July. 

See also Encyclopedia: Brazil

U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Brazil

Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) .

Summer Olympics 2016 in Rio de Janeiro

In the midst of the impeachment proceedings, Brazil welcomed upwards of five hundred thousands foreign visitors for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Although attendance numbers did not reach quite the same heights as London 2012 (which sold around 96% of its available tickets, versus Rio's 87%), the event was still a major success by comparison to flagging attendance in the early 2000s (with Athens seeing somewhere around 70% attendance). 

Rio was not without its problems, however. The popular tourist city was already facing significant issues with sanitation and housing, which were grossly exacerbated in the lead up to the games. Domestic and international spectators commented on the hazardous conditions for both residents and visiting athletes, and many nation's Olympic committees raised concerns about health and safety. 

Perhaps the biggest scandals of Rio 2016, though, were at the hands of the visiting athletes themselves. The Russian team was complicit in a serious and widespread doping scandal that would see them barred from competition in Pyeongchang 2018. And, much to the outrage of the Brazilian people, U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte faked a claim of being robbed to cover up his own belligerent and harmful behavior.

Lochte and several other American swimmers, after a night of drinking, vandalized a Rio gas station. They were confronted by security guards and escorted off the premises. Lochte claimed the next day to have been robbed at gunpoint by men in police uniforms, only to be proven false by gas station security footage. Critics accused Lochte of playing into damaging stereotypes of Brazil as a dangerous or corrupt country to save his own image. Lochte was fined $100,000 and suspended from the competition.