Corruption in Brazil – In recent weeks, corruption scandals have rocked the political landscape in Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity has plummeted thanks to the Petrobras scandal, and now a multimillion dollar scheme involving over 70 companies bribing tax officials is making headlines. Will this be a wakeup call for Brazilians, or is this just a bump in the road for a country plagued by corruption at all levels?
Blog post by: Erica Kliment
Brazil has been making headlines recently, but not for something that it should be proud of. With the Petrobras scandal and now the tax scheme, many are reevaluating whether or not Brazil is fit to be a frontrunner on the world stage.
Brazil is now at the point, however, where it is simply doing what needs to be done. Now that the scandal has come to the surface, the next logical step is a fair prosecution for those involved, and Brazil has not been holding back. Although unfortunate that the corruption scandals happened in the first place, the most important thing now is to allow democracy to come into effect, which has generally been occurring with gusto since the onset of the allegations. Many government representatives with any involvement have been arrested, most recently, even the Treasurer of the Workers’ Party (PT), João Vaccari Neto. Along with Vaccari, over forty other politicians from multiple party lines have been called out for their involvement. So far President Rousseff, or Dilma as she is known in Brazil, has been spared, but speculations are rising that she may be implicated in the near future. Brazil is taking all involvement seriously and sparing no special treatment for the ruling party, a great indicator of a functioning democracy.
Brazil doesn’t need a clean slate, but it does need the chance to inaugurate a new era, with memories of corruption in the rearview mirror to serve as an important warning. If the country ignores the past, it will not be able to move forward – and Brazil is not keen on letting that happen. Brazilians have shown time and again that they are fed up with the government and they deserve to be heard. When the bus fare was threatened to increase by 20 centavos (10 cents) in June of 2013, many thought this would awaken the “sleeping giant” that is Brazil’s sizeable unused potential. However, this was more of a passing movement since the protests simmered as the World Cup began. This time, however, there is a different component pushing Brazil towards unrest, and its angry citizens.
Almost two years later on March 15th, 2015, Brazil had its largest protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1984. Brazilians are not shy about showing their distaste with the current government scandals; they have called for answers, impeachment, and even military involvement. Instead of dissatisfaction over the way public funds were used in the time prior to the World Cup, Brazilians are now more dissatisfied with the politicians themselves. They feel betrayed by the government that some of them even helped create.
The country is a relatively young democratic nation with its current constitution only promulgated in 1988, and its newest generation of youth is the first to live in a modern Brazil without a military dictatorship. This new youth cohort is captivating the global public’s attention and demanding results. Brazil’s Supreme Court has been aiding in the creation of a more just society within the country.
In 2005, the Mensalão case, or the “big monthly allowance,” made headlines in all major news sources in Brazil. The PT, which has been the ruling party in government since 2003, was caught making monthly “allowances” in the amount of US$12,000 to congressmen who supported their agenda. By the time this arrived at the Supreme Court, it was seven years later and under the direction of Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, the first black Supreme Court justice in Brazil. Barbosa, though appointed by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the PT, did not allow for impunity within his court. Years later he is still known as the judge who finally fought against corruption, convicting 25 of the 40 defendants, including Lula’s chief of staff. Previous to Barbosa, convicting Brazilian officials that were so high up on the political ladder was unheard of. However, this act put into motion the public’s expectation that corruption in Brazil can be penalized.
With the Mensalão case breaking in 2005 and now Petrolão, as the scandal is nicknamed, the justice system has held those accused of corruption to strict standards and subsequently the public expects nothing less. With the retirement of Barbosa in 2014, the Supreme Court has not stopped their crusade against corruption with the new Chief Justice, Ricardo Lewandowski. These institutions have helped and continue to help Brazil become a more robust democracy.
With the recent tax scheme, Brazil has the chance to start over with Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, dubbed “Brazil’s most trusted official.” The cases in question happened prior to Levy joining the finance team, and he will not be implicated. The fiscal policies of Brazil in general have shifted in a new direction after years of uniform thinking, and this offers a long-awaited relief to investors. Brazil has already started on this new path towards fiscal readjustment even before the tax scandal surfaced, but the validation of Minister Levy only verifies the country’s decision to stray from old patterns in order to create new opportunities.
Before the Petrobras and tax scandals came out into the open, Brazilian politicians felt safe. If these massive demonstrations have a single outcome, it will be to enforce accountability in the government. A running joke in Brazil is that the word “accountability” does not exist in the Portuguese language, so of course it does not exist in the government either. However, even after the protests have simmered, it will exist. Politicians will be forced to live up to the expectations set by the masses and drift away from the empty promises that have prevailed in the past. Dilma and the PT were previously able to enjoy the remnants of Lula’s success, but recently the public has been voicing their concerns more loudly, especially after the most recent elections, where Dilma beat out her challenger Aécio Neves by only 3.2%, and as her approval ratings continue to drop. The dramatic increase of protesters and decrease in approval of the current government are blatant signs that this time must bring change in the Brazilian government.
As this is a very optimistic approach, there is of course the chance for future corruption, but after the large publicity plus the sheer strength in numbers of the protests this year, politicians will be much more mindful and understand the consequences before committing any possibly scandalous act. Though the loopholes and challenges of the Brazilian justice system remain, the impunity for which the courts used to be known has begun to rightfully diminish.
Though painful, this process must happen in order for democracy to thrive in Brazil. It is difficult to evaluate what the future will hold when the wounds are still fresh, but even after the storm settles, this likely won’t cause Brazil to spiral into a decline. Once the tumultuous clouds part, Brazil will still be poised to take advantage of its potential and move forward as an actively democratic country.
Erica Kliment is a senior majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Latin American studies. She studied abroad in Spain and Brazil during her junior year and is excited to stay in DC after graduation