Brazil and Accountability in Dealing With Political Corruption


2016-10-31 By Kenneth Maxwell

In Brazil, the consequences of the corruption scandal swirling around the state petroleum company Petrobras continues. And everyday it reaches higher up the political ladder.

The most recent casualty was the former speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian congress, Eduardo Cunha. He was arrested at his apartment in Brasilia by the federal police on the order of federal judge Sergio Moro, and was then flown to Curitiba, Parana, where he is now held as part of the sprawling corruption investigation, which began over two years ago.

Eduardo Cunha had orchestrated the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff. He had recently lost his congressional immunity, which under Brazil’s Byzantine rules protects sitting members of congress for prosecution.

The stakes are now higher than ever.

The next target is the most politically sensitive yet: former president Lula da Silva, who the federal prosecutor in São Paulo, has alleged was at the center of the whole corruption scheme.

But to put Lula in prison will not be a easy decision.

Lula, despite the corruption scandal, which has ensnared many members of his government, still retains much residual popularity among large segments of the poorer population, especially in the northeast of the country, which benefited from the social policies of the PT government. He is also a gutsy, feisty, and formidable street fighter.

Opposition to the corruption investigation, however, has also been growing.

Brazil is leading the way in a sense in enforcing accountability when dealing with political corruption. The center-right is in the ascendency. The Brazilian electorate is turning, to political outsiders: to a former TV reality star in São Paulo, and to a Pentecostal bishop in Rio de Janeiro. Credit Image: Bigstock
Brazil is leading the way in a sense in enforcing accountability when dealing with political corruption. The center-right is in the ascendency. The Brazilian electorate is turning, to political outsiders: to a former TV reality star in São Paulo, and to a Pentecostal bishop in Rio de Janeiro. Credit Image: Bigstock

On the instruction of federal judge, Vallisney Souza Oliveira, in Brasilia, four security officials of the senate were arrested and documents seized, related to their use of senate equipment to detect and remove bugging equipment for the homes of three current and one former senator.

These are also presumed to be former president and former senator Jose Sarney, former president and current senator Fernando Collor, and current senator Gisele Hoffman, who have been allegedly involved in efforts to thwart operation “carwash” as the anti-corruption investigation led by federal judge Moro is called.

President Michel Temer was in Asia when Eduard Cunha was arrested in Brasilia. He had been attending the meeting of the leaders of the BRICS in Goa, India. He had then gone on to Japan. There are many Brazilians of Japanese ancestry living in São Paulo, where Michel Temer is from, and in Japan he met with the emperor, as well as attempted to repair relationships after his predecessor Dilma Rousseff, had cancelled two planned visits, as well as to encourage trade and investment. But in the light of developments in Brasilia, he returned to Brazil a day earlier than anticipated.

The arrest of Eduardo Cunha sent shock waves through the Brazilian political establishment since if anyone knows where the bodies are buried in Brasilia, it is Eduardo Cunha.

He is a masterful political operator, an evangelical Christian, and a Rio de Janeiro based member of the president’s own centrist political party, the party of the Brazilian democratic movement (PMDB). He has been charged with receiving kickbacks related to the Petrobras corruption scandal, and with allegedly holding, together with members of his family, multimillion dollar off shore accounts in Switzerland. All of which of course he has strenuously denied.

The arrest of the senate security officers, however, set of a major row between the three pillars of the Brazilian political system: the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency.

Renan Calheiros, the president of the senate, who is also a member of the PMDB, as is Eduardo Cunha, and Michel Temer, is being investigated in at least 12 alleged corruption cases by the Supreme Court. He called judge Vallisney Souza Oliveira “a little judge” as well as attacked the minister of justice.

The head of the Supreme Court, Carmen Lucia, then issued a statement saying that she regarded a attack on the federal judge to be an attack on her. In order to defuse the crisis president Michel Temer was forced to intervene to calm the waters. Eventually, the federal judge’s order was rescinded. The three heads of the various branches of the federal government then met together to declare how much they really loved and respected each other

But meanwhile in Curitiba, in the southern state of Parana, where federal judge Moro is conducting his investigation, the biggest shoe of all is about to fall: The plea bargain by Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of Brazil’s largest multinational construction company is apparently close to completion.

Already leaks have indicted that those implicated in the corruption network maintained by Odebrecht could involve not only Michel Temer himself, but also leading members of the PSDB (The Brazilian social Democratic Party), including in particular, Jose Serra, a former minister in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, with whom he is a close friend, a former mayor and former governor of Brazil’s most important state, São Paulo, and an ever hopeful presidential candidate, and who is the current foreign minister in Michel Temer’s government.

The plea bargain is thought to contain evidence against 130 federal deputies and ministers, 20 governors and ex-governors, and 240 politicians and 22 political parties. 

The Temer government is meanwhile attempting to push through a constitutional amendment, which would cap government expenditure for the next two decades.  This is a measure that “the  markets” regard as essential.

But voting for a constitution amendment is a complicated process requiring two thirds of the votes twice in both houses of congress. But so far Temer has gathered sufficient support in the house, but in the senate it gives leverage to Renan Calheiros.

And this partly explains his strong reaction to the actions of the federal police actions on the senate, and Temer’s intervention to defuse the crisis between the judiciary and the senate. After Temer orchestrated the settlement over the federal police operation in the senate, Renan Calheiros said he much preferred the role of a “fire man” to that of a “pyromaniac.”

In the interim, the voters have had the opportunity to have their first say on the continuing political and corruption crisis. In municipal election throughout Brazil (the second round was competed this Sunday, October 30th) saw the workers party of Lula and Dilma punished.

The PT’s votes fell from 38 million to 5.9 million nationwide, and the party even lost in their original long time bastions in the industrial zone of southern São Paulo, where Lula still lives, and where he made his career as a union leader and founder of the PT. The victors overall were the candidates of the center-right PSDB.

They had already taken the mayoralty of São Paulo in the first round, where a non-politician, and a reality TV star of the Brazilian edition of the “Apprentice” won outright. The PSDB increased its votes from 25.8 to 48.7 million nationwide, up 89% from its results on 2012. The PT’s vote fell by 85% from 2012.

Michel Temer’s PMDB gained most cities nationwide, but in Rio de Janeiro, the mayoralty was won this Sunday by Marcelo Crivella, a former gospel singer, and a bishop (on leave) of the neo-Pentecostal “universal” church, representing the PRB, a party controlled by the “universal” church, and linked to the TV Record. The “universal” church was founded by Crivella’s uncle Edir Macedo.  Marcelo Crivella is anti-abortion, anti-gay carnival, and pro-traditional family values.

So in this sense Brazil is leading the way.

The center-right is in the ascendency.  The electorate is turning, in the two largest cities in Brazil, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, to political outsiders: to a former TV reality star in São Paulo, and to a Pentecostal bishop in Rio de Janeiro.

In the Post-Brexit, and post-Brazil corruption world, maybe Donald Trump is also not so far from capturing a similar popular, and populist, and anti-corruption wave, in the United States Presidential election.

We will know next week.