Brazil | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Brazil is a democracy with competitive elections and vibrant civil society engagement. However, a severe economic and political crisis has significantly challenged the functioning of government. Corruption, crime, and economic exclusion of minorities are among the country’s most serious difficulties.

Key Developments: 
  • Brazil faced its worst economic recession in recent history as well as a political crisis that included the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in August.
  • Large demonstrations took place on several occasions, with participants marching for or against Rousseff’s impeachment and expressing dissatisfaction with pervasive corruption, among other issues.
  • A major investigation into a multibillion-dollar bribery scandal at the state-controlled oil company Petrobrás continued, with prosecutors pursuing several active court cases and continuing to file charges against public servants and officials from private.
  • Rousseff’s impeachment prompted heightened scrutiny over judicial independence and the country’s checks and balances. 
Executive Summary: 

Serious political and economic challenges marked the year in Brazil. Since 2014, a high inflation rate and growing unemployment have characterized what has become Brazil’s worst economic recession in more than two decades. The situation was further exacerbated in 2016 by paralyzing disagreement between opposing parliamentary parties as well as the controversial Petrobrás bribery investigation, so-called Operation Car Wash. The investigation, which began in 2014, focuses on bribery, money-laundering, and bid-rigging involving the state-controlled oil giant and private construction companies. Its findings have implicated former Petrobrás executives, heads of major construction firms, and elected officials from across the political spectrum. In December, approximately 80 employees of Odebrecht, a conglomerate involved in the scandal, accepted plea deals. Their testimony is expected to inform prosecutors about dozens of politicians who took kickbacks as part of the scheme.

Rousseff, who faced low approval ratings in 2016, proved unable to sustain her political coalition or to meaningfully address the country’s economic challenges. Ongoing efforts to impeach her for manipulating the country’s budget, initiated in late 2015, further frayed her position. In May, legislators suspended Rousseff’s presidential powers ahead of the commencement of her trial and appointed Michel Temer, Rousseff’s vice president, to be interim president. Temer’s party had departed from its coalition with Rousseff’s in March, and upon his appointment, the new president fully withdrew from the leftist platform that had led to his and Rousseff’s reelection in 2014 and installed a right-of-center, all-male cabinet. In August, the Senate voted to impeach Rousseff on charges of budgetary manipulation, and confirmed Temer to serve out the remainder of her term. Temer himself faced allegations of past involvement in corruption, and at the time of the impeachment vote, more than half of all members of the National Congress had been charged or were under investigation for serious crimes, including corruption, kidnapping, and murder.

 Rousseff’s ouster heightened scrutiny over the reach and strength of Brazil’s judicial bodies and processes, with promoters and detractors weighing in on the constitutionality of the impeachment process and judicial independence. Some legal scholars pointed to the political implications of prosecuting officials in a system where corruption reaches most of the ruling class, and others raised questions about Judge Sergio Moro’s use of pretrial detention and treatment of sensitive wiretap recordings.

 Large, mostly peaceful protests took place throughout the year. Protesters marched for or against Rousseff’s impeachment, as well as against the National Congress, corruption in general, and controversial preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 

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