Remember when Brazil was an emerging success story? Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva proved that even a so-called leftist could run a market-friendly economic policy that produced big (and long overdue) results. Brazil won the right to host the World Cup and the Olympics. The country of the future had finally arrived. Lula endorsed a successor, former chief of staff Dilma Rousseff, who was easily elected President in 2010.
Then reforms stalled, and things began to slide. The financial crisis took a toll, though strong trade ties with China cushioned the blow. The middle class that emerged under Lula demanded better services, but government was slow to deliver. Two years ago, a clumsy police crackdown on demonstrators angry over a fare increase for public transportation in São Paulo triggered massive nationwide protests.
Now President Rousseff faces gale-force political headwinds. Growth is sluggish, unemployment is high, inflation is higher, wages are lower, and people are angry. A scandal involving the state-owned oil company Petrobras dominates daily headlines. Even former President Lula, still popular, is reportedly under preliminary investigation for influence peddling, and Rousseff can’t afford a rift. Her approval rating has fallen below 20%, and demonstrators assemble regularly to demand her impeachment.
There is a silver lining. Brazil needed a reason to escape its lethargy, and now it has one. While the Petrobras investigations threaten to grind government to a halt, they also provide an opportunity to clean house. Rousseff will salvage what she can, enacting plans to restore investor confidence by raising more revenue and spending less. That’s important in a country where the public deficit last year was nearly 7% of GDP.
The government must also provide foreigners with favorable terms to attract substantial investment in rich deposits of offshore resources and in basic infrastructure. The Petrobras investigations might make it more difficult for Rousseff to deliver those, but paradoxically, the campaign against corruption will make it easier for her successor.
Brazilians may not have wanted a crisis, but hopefully they’ll soon realize they needed one.
Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy
‘He can’t stand that the National Front continues to exist without him in charge.’
MARINE LE PEN, head of France’s far-right National Front party, speaking about her father Jean-Marie Le Pen on May 3, two days after the party founder, 86, walked onstage uninvited as she prepared to give a speech; on May 4, the party suspended the elder Le Pen for inflammatory remarks about the Holocaust as it seeks to distance itself from its anti-Semitic image ahead of France’s presidential election in 2017
THE COST OF ‘BREXIT’
A German study forecast how much a British exit from the E.U. might reduce GDP per capita in regional nations in 2030. Here’s a sample:
SOURCE: BERTELSMANN STIFTUNG AND THE IFO INSTITUTE
Migrants on a packed wooden boat off the Maltese coast wait to be rescued on May 3. Roughly 60,000 migrants have attempted the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe this year, but many others have died in the attempt, prompting European Union nations to boost funding for rescue efforts in April. Over 1,800 fatalities had been reported by early May.
Africa’s Season of Change
Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to run for a third term in June has sparked violent protests amid a recent surge of opposition movements in sub-Saharan Africa against leaders who may have overstayed their welcome.
[The following text appears within a map. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual map.]
President Blaise Compaoré resigned in October after his bid to extend his 27-year term was met with mass protests. A transitional government now rules ahead of October elections.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat in March marked the first time that an incumbent lost a re-election bid in Nigeria.
The opposition says Nkurunziza’s bid violates the country’s constitution. But a top court ruled on May 5 that he could run again, further stoking tensions.
Share of the planet’s largest herbivores, including elephants, gorillas and rhinos, at risk of extinction, according to a new study
A researcher in Norway is leading a push to legalize drugs like LSD and ecstasy for health purposes, in a country that has banned them for decades. Pal-Orjan Johansen’s group, EmmaSofia, is being advised by a retired Supreme Court justice.
French authorities say Andreas Lubitz, the pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a German airliner in the French Alps in March, apparently rehearsed the fatal dive on his previous flight by briefly setting the autopilot to descend to 100 ft.
Thousands joined demonstrations in Tel Aviv against police harassment of and discrimination against Israelis of Ethiopian descent, after a video emerged of two officers beating a 21-year-old soldier. About 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel.
This appears in the May 18, 2015 issue of TIME.