Brazil corruption

Do Brazilian voters care whether their politicians are corrupt? More particularly, do they care about political scandal at Petrobras, the state-controlled but publicly traded oil group that is both national champion and national treasure, a cherished symbol of Brazilian potential and prowess?

If you believe the latest opinion polls they either do care, in spades, or they don’t, not one bit. 

Justice in action

For the first time in their country’s recent history, Brazilians finally had a taste of seeing politicians going to jail for corruption.

Last Friday – symbolically, the same day that the Proclamation of the Republic is celebrated in Brazil – the court decreed prison for a group of 12 politicians and bankers involved in the scandal of Mensalão or ‘big monthly payment’, the vote-buying scheme in Congress that used public funds to pay bribes. 

By Rafael Alcadipani, professor at FGV-EAESP

Just like the Confederations Cup, the recent World Youth Day (WYD) left no doubt about Brazil’s chronic problems when it comes to organisation. Queues and more queues; serious public transport problems; insufficient and faulty public toilets; a lack of accommodation for pilgrims…the list goes on. The chaos even reached the point that the security of the Pope was called into question.

But it certainly wasn’t for lack of money – a great deal was spent on the WYD but with little result. 

Where is Amarildo? It’s a question Brazilians have been asking for 19 days now.

Amarildo de Souza, a construction worker in his 40s, was detained by the police on July 14 in Rocinha, the Rio de Janeiro favela where he lived with his wife and six children. Police say he was released shortly after – many suspect they killed him. 

Brazil’s Congress is a lot like a chaotic call centre. No one knows who is responsible for your complaint; the problem is constantly referred on to another person; and it is resolved only when you threaten to take the matter to a superior, or to sue.

This week in Congress is a case in point. 

We’ve already seen how the foxes are often in charge of the henhouse in Brazil’s Congress, with soy farmers running the environmental commission, convicted corruptors sitting in the justice commission and an evangelical pastor accused of racism heading the human rights commission.

But now it appears the foxes are not only running the place but would like to pull down the wire fences safeguarding the integrity of the Brazilian constitution of 1988. 

The trial of those accused of involvement in the mensalão, the scandal by which senior figures in the government of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva allegedly engaged in vote-buying in Congress, may be over. But the ruling Workers’ Party, several of whose leaders were convicted by the Supreme Court, is only now coming to terms with the question of who should pay, literally, for their crimes. 

Brazil is still basking in the successful conclusion of its so-called “trial of the century”, the mensalão case, in which senior former members of the government of ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were convicted of implementing a vote-buying scheme in Congress in the early years of his leadership. The case was hailed as the beginning of the end of Brazil’s culture of impunity, in which politicians and the rich rarely are held accountable for their actions.

The beginning of the end, perhaps – but still very far from the end, unfortunately. 

Remember the hacker who exposed Lula’s loot? And remember how that wasn’t much of a collection for a president accused of corruption? Well, apparently, Lula has even less property than the hacker claimed. 

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is facing plenty of pressure these days over allegations he was directly involved in the country’s biggest corruption case, the Mensalão.

Now comes an expose of what are supposedly his properties. 

gavelBrazil’s national flag proclaims two values – Order and Progress. Now there are signs of movement on both fronts.

Only one week after the Supreme Court handed out tough jail sentences for corruption to a group of senior politicians, breaking the spell of impunity that Brazil’s rulers have enjoyed for five centuries, comes another verdict along a similar bent. 

Astonishing news from Brazil on Monday night: politicians are going to jail. Not just being convicted of crimes, you understand: actually going to jail.

It was big enough news in October when Brazil’s supreme court began handing down guilty verdicts to those accused of involvement in the mensalão, a vote-buying scheme allegedly operated in Congress in 2003 and 2004 by people close to then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. That those people will really do time is a huge advance for the rule of law and respect for institutions in Brazil. 

gavelInnocent until proven guilty. That is the case for those accused in the Banco Cruzeiro do Sul fraud trial as it should be for anyone who is facing a court process.

But that does not mean that the judges should also go soft on due procedure, as has often been the case in Brazil in the past, with rich and powerful suspects rarely facing any form of detention. 

By Paulo Sotero of the Wilson Center

Democracy is not for the faint-hearted… It requires hard work, constant attention, takes a lot of time to build and can easily be undermined by political polarization, regressive campaign finance rules and deficient laws on political representation. This month, two major events shed light on both the successes and failings of Brazil’s quarter century old, vibrant democracy. 

It is not often that the endless corruption scandals and political squabbles in Brasília make their way into the brokerage reports of Wall Street and Faria Lima, São Paulo’s financial district.

But in the past few weeks, the word “Mensalão” has begun appearing with more frequency in analysts’ notes.