LATIN AMERICA

Brazil’s presidential candidates heat up race with lying accusations

Rousseff attempts to tie PSDB contender Neves to former Cardoso administration

Rousseff and Neves in their first TV debate ahead of the runoff.
Rousseff and Neves in their first TV debate ahead of the runoff.ANDRE PENNER / AP

Brazil’s two remaining presidential candidates on Tuesday night repeated the attacks that have been heard on radio and TV in the last few days. Incumbent Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party (PT), accused rival Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) of lying about his record as governor of Minas Gerais (2003-2010). Neves then accused the president of doing the same about her federal record. Irresponsibility, lies and omissions were among the allegations they threw at each other during the televised debate.

“I propose we stop arguing over who is lying,” Rousseff said. But Neves made it clear he did not accept her suggestion. “Your campaign is lie after lie. We cannot accept your turning this campaign into a free-for-all,” he said, indignant about being accused of nepotism for hiring his sister and three uncles to work in his administration as governor.

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Rousseff grew angry when Neves said it was former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and his wife Ruth Cardoso, of the PSDB, who created the Bolsa Familia welfare program. “We are inventing things now, we are in the dangerous territory of myth,” Rousseff said, defending her predecessor, Lula da Silva, who launched the project.

The president tried to use the “ghosts of the past” strategy by tying Neves to Cardoso’s administration. Her criticisms focused on the economy and the management of the Central Bank under the leadership of Armínio Fraga, who is Neves’ choice for treasury minister. Under Cardoso, she said, inflation surpassed the target ceiling twice. “He wants you to believe that, with the same recipe and the same cook [Armínio Fraga], they will deliver something different for Brazil,” Rousseff said. In response, Neves blamed PT for failing to control inflation.

But the former governor avoided falling into the trap of comparing PT to PSDB. “Take your eyes off the rear-view mirror. Let’s talk about the future,” he said. He even praised former President Lula da Silva (2003-2010) for taking advantage of the economic boom and pushing for social progress. “But Brazil has stopped moving in the last four years,” he added.

Under the Cardoso government, Rousseff said, inflation surpassed the target ceiling twice

The PSDB candidate tried to present himself as the man of change, saying that the presidential race for the October 26 runoff seems to have two opposition candidates and not just one. “Whoever looks at your campaign would not believe that you’ve governed Brazil for the last 12 years.”

Rousseff replied: “Your social programs are a continuation of my government.”

Both resorted to the “rhetoric of fear.” She said Brazilians feared the return of the high unemployment rates of the Cardoso years, while Neves said people were afraid of seeing the PT lead the country for four more years.

Petrobras and the airport

The discussion also covered corruption. Neves brought up the Petrobras scandal that erupted this year, which, according to the latest estimates, took place between 2004 and 2012. “We wake up every day to be surprised by new complaints,” he said.

Rousseff defended herself by saying she fights corruption. She cited four cases that occurred under PSDB governments that she said were never investigated and for which no one was ever punished. The president also stressed suspicions surrounding an airport in Cláudio, a city in Minas Gerais, that was built by a Neves family member using public funds. The PSDB presidential contender said there had been nothing illegal about the project.

The nearly two-hour debate ended just as it had begun. Both candidates said they were capable of moving Brazil forward socially and economically. Neves thanked Renata, the widow of Socialist candidate Eduardo Campos, who died in a plane crash during the campaign, and Marina Silva, who took over from Campos in the race and came in third in the first round of voting, for their support. He said he was the representative of real change. Rousseff said she was capable of guaranteeing the social advances made over the last few years. When asked who they believed won the debate, both candidates said that decision rested with the voter.

Translation: Dyane Jean François