The 45 mistakes in The Edge of Democracy

Those who live in Brazil and watch the documentary The Edge of Democracy, directed and narrated by Petra Costa, can realize that it is a documentary with heavy partisan narratives. In over two hours, most of the narrative from the film can be boiled down to omissions, falsehoods or conspiracy theories about Brazilian politics.

Some good examples of this are the scenes where Petra and her mother deify Dilma and Lula, to the point of calling Lula “A sculptor whose material is human clay”.

But the movie fulfills its goals of ignoring facts, data, and evidence to sell to the world nothing but the views of the Workers’ Party about the impeachment process, Lula’s imprisonment, and the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro.

Here we listed 45 of those mistakes, omissions, and lies from the film.

1. It overlooks the dimension of the impeachment protests against Dilma

There were many protests against the government of Dilma Rousseff, and five of those are notable. The protests of March 13th, 2016 were the biggest political act of the country’s history, surpassing even Diretas Já. The documentary only shows a few of the most reactionary protesters, hiding the actual scale of the acts and how much her removal from office was desired by the population.

2. “No one expected such a quick arrest. It took everyone by surprise”

The documentary says that “his case [Lula] got to the appeals court quicker than any other case from Car Wash, but that was not the case. A review made by the economist Carlos Goés showed that the duration of the proceedings, from the trial court to the appeals court, was not abnormal.

“Even if we look only at the processes against the accused under Car Wash, we can’t say that there was anything extraordinary on Lula’s proceedings”, said Goés.

3. “Of the 443 congressmen, only 2 were of the working class”

Petra says that Lula decided to turn to politics when he saw that only 2 of the 433 congressmen were from the working class. Blindly trusting Lula’s word (a method that can be seen throughout the entirety of the film), she did not check there were never 443 congressmen on both houses, so the statement is most likely a lie. As a matter of fact, since the end of the military regime and the writing of the present Constitution, the number of congressmen is fixed, which at the moment is 594.

4. “PT represented the hope that the country’s dire injustices would finally be addressed”

A study done by the World Wealth and Income Database pointed out that income inequality did not decline between 2001 and 2015. Economic growth in the country had little impact on the reduction of inequality, as it benefited only the 10% richest people, according to the report.

5. “[With Lula] Unemployment rates reached the lowest number in history”

A thesis from 2017 by the economist Rafael Baccioti showed that the unemployment rates registered in Brazil in periods of the 1950s, ’70s, and ’80s were lower than the ones from Lula’s terms, being between 2% and 3%.

6. The Mensalão scandal is mentioned, but its relevance is completely overlooked

In the trial of the Criminal Case n. 470 by the Supreme Court, it was made clear that the Mensalão was a scheme centered around the embezzlement of public funds to buy support from congressmen. All of that only to benefit the approval of bills that were of interest to Lula’s government.

7. Dilma lost her prestige because she spoke against banks and interest rates

When Dilma took office, in early 2011, the SELIC rate – the Brazilian equivalent to the Federal Funds Rade – was under 8.75%. By the end of that year, it got up to 12.5%, and then declined to 7.25%. It did not work, and the interest rates increased again reaching more than 14%.

They only decreased again when Temer’s economic team took over. Dilma gave speeches against rentiers, but her government was the one that favored them the most.

8. “Racist quotas”

The production showed a protester calling for the removal of Dilma from office, and said that the PT (Worker’s Party) instituted “racist quotas”. That is concerning the affirmative action policies established in public universities in the past decade.

But according to a public opinion poll from 2013, 62% of the Brazilian population was in favor of all of the 3 types of affirmative action for public university access: race, public school students, and lower-income. When taking only public school students and lower-income, the approval was 77%.

9. Bolsa Familia was created by Lula

When talking about Lula’s terms, Petra suggests that policies that help the poorest were exclusive to PT years, ignoring that redistribution programs began way before the PT era. In 2001, Lula himself criticized the Bolsa Escola program calling it “a pittance”.

10. Michel Temer was a traitor since the beginning of his term as vice president

When the marches against Dilma were happening in early 2015, Michel Temer wrote in his Twitter account: “An impeachment process is unthinkable, it would create an institutional crisis. There is neither a legal nor a political basis for it.”

In that year, he was the one who took on the political articulation for the government and carried it out well, as stated by the representative Orlando Silva, one of the former vice leaders of Dilma’s government in the House.

11. “Dilma took away positions from PMDB”

According to the film, Temer’s rebellion took place because Dilma tried to restrict the interference PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) had with her government. But that’s not true at all.

On March 12, 2016, he managed to avoid his party from breaking ties with the government. Four days later, president Rousseff appointed Mauro Lopes as to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, in an attempt of creating a division within Temer’s party.

12. It ignores the economic crisis

For some reason, Petra didn’t think it was a good idea to clarify that PT’s economic policies led to Brazil’s longest economic crisis ever and over 10 million unemployed people. Only after the first half-hour of the film is when the recession is lightly mentioned, without any commentary about its size or consequences.

13. Petrobras was spied on by the FBI 

Documents leaked in 2013 indicate that the US government spied on Petrobras. Although this is a serious accusation, it is a logical leap to use that to argue that the country desired the impeachment to take control of the company somehow.

14. “Moro: the man trained in the United States”

The former judge and current justice minister attended the International Visitors Leadership Program in 2007, the same attended by… the ex-president Dilma Rousseff in 1992.

15. “Aécio Neves did not accept the results”

The documentary says that Aécio Neves, Dilma’s biggest opponent in the 2014 presidential race, did not accept the voting results and that was the reason why he filed a case at the Superior Electoral Court against Dilma and Temer. But Aécio himself admitted he did it just to annoy the Workers Party and Dilma. He didn’t believe in the party’s actions.

16. “Aécio stood for the impeachment”

When the impeachment requests began to pile up, Aécio Neves rejected the idea. He only embraced the movement in 2016, when he attended the protests in São Paulo and was harassed by protestors.

17. “Right-wing groups use social media algorithms”

Recent studies render that the influence of social media algorithms on the political radicalization of voters was overvalued. Other than that, both right-wing and left-wing groups use the same tactics to get their points across.

18. The international crisis vs. bad policies

The documentary claims that after “a global decline in commodity prices and a series of economic mistakes the country entered a recession”. But an IMF report revealed that 183 out of the 192 countries examined registered an economic growth higher than that of Brazil between 2015 and 2016. According to the economist Marcel Balassiano, more than 90% of the world countries grew more than Brazil between 2011 to 2018.

19. Dilma was responsible for all the country’s problems

For Petra, whoever was in favor of the impeachment process “believed that the president was to blame for all the country’s problems”. She mentions no proof or poll, that’s just her opinion. A study done by Reinaldo Gomes, an economics professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, concluded that around 90% of the negative economic performance during Dilma’s term can be attributed to “national mistakes”, that is, they can be attributed to the way the country’s policies were conducted.

20. Fiscal fraud is worse than corruption

Dilma was impeached because she broke budget and fiscal responsibility laws, something her government called “fiscal pedaling” in an attempt to diminish their magnitude and consequence. The movie underestimated it, but the economist Carlos Goés explained the seriousness of those frauds.

21. It omits the trial from the Federal Audit Court

The impeachment process was grounded on the trial by the Federal Audit Court, which rejected the government’s budget bills in October 2015 due to the fiscal frauds. None of that is mentioned in the documentary.

22. “We need an international commission”

“Why don’t they create an International Commission with specialists in public budgets, and ask for an official report?”, asks Lula in the film. The simple answer is: that’s precisely why the Federal Audit Court exists, and they rejected her bills.

23. When did Dilma’s fall begin?

For former deputy Jean Wyllys, it began on the Labour Day of 2013, when the president gave a speech saying that the rich, bankers and rentiers would be the ones “paying for the crisis”. However, that speech was about changes in the income tax tables and the readjustment of Bolsa Família amounts.

It didn’t make sense to believe that the businessman, would fabricate balance sheets from their own companies, with many of those companies going bankrupt, for the sole purpose of harming the president’s image.

24. Temer’s inaugural speech

The film was edited in a way to suggest that Temer was attacking secular state principles, declaring his government was going to be “a religious act”. What he said was “what we want to do now, with Brazil, is a religious act, it is an act of reconnection between the entirety of society and the fundamental values of our country.” He was referencing a need to reunify the population, divided and polarised after the impeachment process.

25. The compromise wished by Romero Jucá and Sérgio Machado

In the leaked audio between Romero Jucá and Sérgio Machado, former senator Jucá said that it would be easier to change the president and staunch the bleeding, to craft a national pact. Petra claimed that to be the motivation behind the impeachment process.

But she maliciously omitted the part in which Machado said “I think that the only ways out [for Dilma] are either removal or resignation. The removal is the smoother option. Michel could build a government based on national union, a great compromise, it would protect Lula, it would protect everybody”

This “great compromise” was also to protect the Workers Party.

26. Lula’s biggest regret

When Petra asks Lula if he regretted anything, he laments not sending to Congress a bill to “regulate media”. However, in 2004 his government sent to Congress a bill to set up a Council that would have the power to punish journalists. The proposal was rejected. 

27. Freedom of press under PT governments

Lula boasted about “having done what they did” about freedom of the press, but it wasn’t really like that. In 2004, Lula requested a visa revocation for the American journalist Larry Rohter, because he wrote that former president had a drinking problem.

When he was told that it was unconstitutional to expel the journalist because he was married to a Brazilian citizen, his reply was: f*** the constitution.

28. Congress working freely under PT governments

He also boasted about PT governments letting “Congress working feely”. But it was under his government that Mensalão happened, a scheme to buy support in Congress and ensure he got his way.

29. What were the accusations against Lula?

The documentary claims that, after two years of investigation, the “actual accusation” was that “Lula had received an apartment from a construction company”. Just that. It ignores the many other cases against him, some of which he was found innocent. Lula was convicted of corruption in two different verdicts, and currently is being a defendant in six other cases.

30. Marisa died 4 months after also being accused

The film suggests that Lula’s wife, Marisa Letícia, died as a result of the persecution against him and his family. what is not told during the scene is that Lula himself blamed her for the unpaid rent checks of an apartment that the investigators claim is just a front for a scheme, acquired with Odebrecht’s money.

31. Lula was the leading candidate in the polls, but…

In 2018, Lula was the leading candidate for the presidency. But he also was the one with the biggest rejection numbers between all running candidates, with 31% (in a tie with Jair Bolsonaro). A potential win wouldn’t be so easy.

32. Operation Car Wash vs the economic crisis

In one of his hearings, Lula asked Sergio Moro if he “felt responsible for the Car Wash having ruined the construction industry of this country”. Another partisan narrative: that the Operation Car Wash ruined the economy during Dilma’s term. Studies, however, show that fighting corruption help the economy and business within a country.

33. Congressmen’s bizarre voting reasons

The documentary shows many congressmen giving reasons for their impeachment votes that were unrelated to the accusations against Dilma, suggesting that the process was unfair. But an impeachment process is also a political tool. The votes in former president Collor’s impeachment process were similar, for instance.

34. Lula’s forceful presentation happened for the sake of his own safety

The film criticizes the detention of Lula for a testimony, even though he never denied giving a voluntary testimony for the Federal Police. But Sérgio Moro justified the action saying that the detention was needed to prevent bigger nuisances and turmoil.

35. The leaked phone call between Dilma and Lula

The documentary details the contents of the conversation and focuses on the lawfulness of the leak done by Sergio Moro, which was subsequently annulled by the Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki, and for that reason, disregarded as proof. Both Lula and Dilma were sued later by the Attorney General Rodrigo Janot for obstruction of justice but were later acquitted.

36. The conversation between Temer and Joesley

The documentary maliciously edited out a dialogue that suggests that former president Temer supported a potential obstruction of justice done by the businessman Joesley Batista to not be denounced by Eduardo Cunha. Temer was acquitted in 2019 because the prosecutors considered the proof “fragile”.

37. Congress changed its position. Shouldn’t Temer be investigated

The documentary criticizes the fact that congressmen that were said to be for fighting corruption protected Michel Temer from investigations. But in reality, investigations did not stop after his term ended. Temer was even jailed for a few days.

38. “Temer did everything they wanted, selling oil reserves to foreign companies

At some point, it is mentioned a change of the concession model for large oil reserves off the coast of Brazil. It was a production sharing agreement and became a concession. But, since 2015, many of Dilma’s ministers were in favor of the change. Both the Minister of Mines and Energy, Eduardo Braga, and the Minister of Finances, Joaquim Levy, advocated for changes in the law.  

39. “Temer did everything they wanted, weakening laws that prohibited slave labor”

In 2017, the Labor Department of Justice edited an ordinance that tried to prevent abuse of power and arbitrary acts by public labor inspectors. That happened because over 90% of the cases around slave labor were acquitted. The film doesn’t show that, because of a decision by the Supreme Chief Justice Rosa Weber, the ordinance never came into effect.

40. “Temer did everything they wanted, passing austerity measures that would undermine the poor”

The austerity measures began with Dilma Rousseff right after her reelection in 2014 and intensified in 2015, the year that 87% of the existent social programs suffered cuts.

41. Omitting the size and dimension of protests against Michel Temer

According to police estimates, the protests against Dilma throughout the country gathered a combined of 2.4 million people on March 15, 2015, and 3.6 million on March 13, 2016. The protests against Temer in September 2016 assembled only 48.000 people. 

42. Sérgio Moro removed Lula from the presidential election

One journalist said that it was Lula’s prison enacted by Moro that removed him from the presidential race. The truth is that the suspension of political rights happens after the conviction in a court of appeals, that happens because of the Clean Record Act (Lei da Ficha Limpa), sanctioned by Lula himself.

43. What about the assassination attempt on Bolsonaro?

The production talks about the polarization and weakening of the Brazilian democracy, ignoring the stabbing of president Bolsonaro during his presidential campaign.

44. A fake underground past for her parents

The documentary tells a little about Petra’s family history and portrays them as political activists that went underground during the military dictatorship. But, according to a review of the book O tempo do Poeira: História e memórias do jornal e do movimento estudantil da UEL nos anos 1970, done by journalist Astier Basílio, “every year, Petra’s parents visited the family in the state’s capital Belo Horizonte. It was, therefore, a hiding that allowed time off.

45. The director’s mom is not absent to family companies

Petra’s mother, Marilia Andrade, isn’t a neutral figure, distant to the family construction business, as the film tries to paint her. She is one of the shareholders of Andrade Gutierrez, a company deeply involved in the corruption scandals, and still with an active role in the companies, according to Astier Basílio.

Check out our article further explaining the main lies from The Edge of Democracy here.

*Luan Sperandio is the Content Director of Ideias Radicais

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Head de Conteúdo do Ideias Radicais, além de atuar no mercado financeiro na Apex Partners e colunista da Folha Vitória. É associado do Instituto Líderes do Amanhã.