Rio de Janeiro—The two 16-floor condominium blocks called American Flat Service staged repeated panelaços during the weeks before Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment. Residents walked out onto their balconies beating pots with spoons here in Rio’s well-heeled South Zone as darker-skinned cleaners looked on in their frilly uniforms. “Fora Dilma!” (Dilma Out!) shouted the man opposite, at the top of his voice.
The most raucous session was staged hours after Dilma appointed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—the former president and fellow member of Brazil’s Workers’ Party—to the government in a desperate attempt to shield him from anti-corruption prosecutors. “Vergonha! Vergonha!” (shame) was the cry that night, drowning out even the March showers, the aguas de março in Tom Jobim’s bossa nova, which crashed onto the swimming pool below.
The residents at American Flat Service are not the playboy millionaires of Gavea, the much-reviled pale-skinned Brazilian elite who trailed black nannies behind them on anti-Dilma rallies in Copacabana in recent months. But this was impeachment territory nonetheless: predominantly white, middle-class, and avid consumers of O Globo, the media group that has been ringleader of the campaign to oust the president. Stress levels are high. The neighbors here fear economic meltdown, hyperinflation, or the imminent bankruptcy of Brazil. They worry that the gym and reasonably priced self-service restaurant on the ground floor might close. The most paranoid were terrified that the Workers’ Party (PT) government might head down the Bolivarian path and bring the favela-dwellers down from the mountains.
The Kafkaesque quality of Rousseff’s trial—a woman untouched by a sprawling corruption investigation that has now reached two of every three members of Congress—made little impression on the neighbors of American Flat Service, even those versed in the disturbing novels of Kafka’s Brazilian counterpart, Clarice Lispector. Most judge Rousseff guilty by association in the vast scandal that has engulfed the state oil company, Petrobras, which she once presided over. The real crime, perhaps, is a recession that has wiped nearly 8 percent from GDP in two years, along with a 10 percent inflation rate that has torn into real wages. Even the army of auxiliary workers—cleaners, security guards, cooks, dishwashers, and pool attendants—who commute every day from Rio’s periphery for three or four hours on crowded buses or descend from the favelas repeated “Todos ladroes” (They’re all thieves) when asked about Dilma before her impeachment.
For that reason, I expected raucous celebrations on the balconies when the old white men in the Senate delivered the coup de grâce to Rousseff. However, that did not happen last Thursday morning. Silence reigned in the apartments, until a woman strode out onto her balcony and started to wave her hands in the air, shouting, “Golpistas! Golpistas! I know Temer. I worked with him. You’ll soon see!”