Brazil: the rule of law will prevail over rampant corruption

An opinion editorial by Belisário dos Santos Júnior, a Brazilian lawyer who is a member of ICJ’s Executive Committee.

When assessing the Brazilian political situation, it is important to always mention the date, since the situation changes almost every minute, following the rhythm of denunciations and accusations.

Over the past three years, the main preoccupation of most people living in Latin America has been the level of violence in their countries.

In Brazil, however, although political and criminal violence is high, corruption has been the primary concern of the population, before health and with violence coming in only third position of the population’s concerns (source: Latino barômetro).

The yearly global corruption perception index of Transparency International put Brazil in the 79th position, of 176 countries rated (where 1st position is given to the country with the lowest perception of corruption and 176th given to the country with the highest perception of corruption) with a grade of 40 (0 is for the most corrupted countries and 100 for the cleanest ones).

Brazil was sharing its position with countries such as China, India and Belarus. Its grade was 3 points below the world average.

The report mentioned a clear relationship between corruption and inequalities, creating a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power and unequal distribution of wealth. How can we correct this?

Brazil is currently reacting to the problem with new laws, new police investigations and legal proceedings, which are important.

But these measures alone will not be enough to change a culture of bypassing laws into a culture of integrity and respect of honesty.

The last elected government, elected in 2014, with Dilma Rousseff as President and Michel Temer as Vice-President (photo), should have lasted until 2018 but fell in 2016 with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff led by the President of the Federal Supreme Court and decided by the National Congress after two ballots.

Rousseff was accused of having manipulated the federal budget to hide the country’s real economic situation. Michel Temer assumed office as President following Rousseff’s impeachment.

Lula da Silva, the former President (2003-2010), ended his term in the middle of a legal storm when the Federal Supreme Court issued its judgment on the Criminal Lawsuit 470 (corruption of parliamentarians to maintain the influence of the Government in the Congress) and sentenced to prison ministers, businessmen, leaders of Lula’s Workers’ Party and other party leaders.

With the progressive use of the system of delação premiada (which is where a defendant is granted a reduced sentence or other beneficial measure for providing evidence against other persons), a measure included in the new Brazilian law to combat criminal organizations, and a series of police operations (the most famous of which is the operation Lava Jato, or ‘Car Wash’ in English), even more politicians and businessmen have been arrested and/or tried for corruption or money laundering.

More than one third of the National Congress’s members have been targeted by police operations for being implicated in controversial acts, either as agents or beneficiaries.

The current President, Michel Temer, and some of his ministers are under investigation by the Federal Police and on the verge of being denounced by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office for passive corruption.

The last two delação premiada, those of the CEOs of two Brazilian transnational corporations (Odebrecht and JBS), have overturned the political order, and so did the information that more than 2000 politicians received money from slush funds to finance their election campaigns.

Two governors and various parliamentarians are already in jail, including the former President of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha.

Lula da Silva himself is already facing various legal proceedings for corruption.

The winning ticket of the 2014 presidential election was recently judged in a case concerning potential abuse of economic power during their campaign.

Following a very close vote (4 against 3), the Superior Electoral Court rejected claims that illegal money was used in the Rousseff-Temer campaign.

If convicted, Michel Temer would have been forced out of the presidency.

The claim of economic power abuse was rejected only on a procedural matter: the evidence gathered – recordings, pictures, content of delação premiada – was considered inadmissible.

Aécio Neves, the opposition leader who competed against the Rousseff-Temer ticket in 2014, is in no better situation: a few weeks ago, a judicial decision deprived him of his mandate in the Federal Senate.

His sister and his cousin are already in jail and he himself is at risk of being sent to prison if the Federal Supreme Court requests this from the National Congress.

The Brazilian institutions are under investigation, but they are still functioning. Even members of the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office are being investigated.

There is still a decent level of trust in the work the current economic team is doing.

The National Congress gave its approval for the Constitutional Amendment on the Expenditure Ceiling, which will impose a series of conditions to public spending over the next few years. This somehow increases the credibility of the country’s economy.

On the agenda of the Congress, but affected by the series of denunciations for corruption that have hit parliamentarians, are the social security and labour reform bills considered essential for the future of the country by all the economic experts.

But it must also be noted that in the name of the fight against corruption, the Police and Federal Prosecutor’s Office have committed some abuses, to the point that a judge of the Supreme Court said Brazil was on the way to turning into a police state.

Corruption has reached such a level of intensity in the Brazilian political world that people are left in a severe and dangerous state of disappointment and despair. Already the current President is reaching a mere 1% approval rating…

Only elections would improve such a situation. The next presidential election is scheduled in 2018. But who will be eligible to run for it? The law prevents anyone who has a police record from applying.

However, society is reacting, taking various initiatives that value integrity measures, compliance actions, measures linked to education, in addition to the holding of intense debates demanding respect for democracy and human rights and calling for political reform.

Some people want direct elections now but this is contrary to the Constitution. However, 2018 is a long way to go and in the meantime there will be many public demonstrations.

But one thing is sure: Brazil is greater than the crisis it is facing now. This country has survived worse situations, including two long periods of dictatorship. Brazil will battle against this new agony. Respect for democracy, the Constitution and rule of law will prevail at the end.

A versão portuguesa pode ser descarregada abaixo:

Brazil-Corruption crisis-News-Op-ed-2017-POR (em PDF)