Can Brazil still be saved? On the Persistence of Political Corruption in Brazil

By Elizangela Valarini

Source: Pixabay

The fact that the Brazilian judiciary has been much more efficient in the investigation and execution of corruption cases in recent years is beyond question. Not only have several institutional changes launched over the last decades played a part, but also the Brazilians‘ changed perception and acceptance of corruption. However, many politicians in Brazil still seem to believe that in the end it remains business-as-usual. How many more accusations still have to be made to wake them up? The conviction of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in first instance, the indictment against President Michel Temer, the investigations on 8 ministers, 24 senators, 39 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 3 governors, as well as the convictions and arrests of dozens of other politicians and top managers do not seem to be enough to stop the hidden political corruption.

The corrupt political environment in Brazil is neither associated with a certain party, nor has the corruption particular family or social backgrounds. Politicians and members of the government who were investigated and arrested belong to different political parties and they also come from different interest groups, which in turn have different political goals and social conceptions. However, all seem to use the same practices when it comes to maintaining their political position and the primacy of their party. As soon as a good relationship and a possible “money source” appears on the horizon, they would grab any possibility to bankroll their campaign, their party as well as to line their own pockets.

Who is driving the system? Who has started it?

Source: Wikimedia Commons, by Diego DEAA (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0]
But politicians and their parties alone cannot maintain this politically deviant environment in Brazil. Big business also plays an important role here. However, it is difficult to say who is driving the system or who has started it. Is it the political system that fails to show the company any way to be economically successful without corruption? Or are companies exploiting the weakness of the political system in order to benefit themselves? In any case, it is the big companies that keep this system of corruption running. They not only have the necessary capital to fund the parties and politicians, they are also the ones who have the capacity to commit bribery and corruption schemes through government contracts. They are not only the means, but also the way to achieve the goal. As the quid pro quo, they received preferential treatment both in winning fat contracts and benefitting from legislative amendments for their enterprises.
The investigation of Operation Carwash makes it clear that the arrests of and harsh penalties for companies and politicians have not prevented them from continuing their corrupt practices. Once new detection measures are adopted, new strategies for fraud, bribery and money laundering are devised. Even witness murder is openly discussed. Sooner or later, however, most of them land in an investigation. This is exactly the case of Michel Temer, the president of the country, who was vehemently committed to impeaching the former President Dilma Rousseff. He is charged with corruption, money laundering and the formation of a criminal organization. His “money source” J&F, which is currently being investigated in several corruption scandals, has reached an agreement with the public prosecution authority and has testified against almost all of his accomplices.
 
Institutional changes on the political level are just as important
 

Joesley Batista, the now resigned president of the J&F, presented the public prosecution authority with four pieces of what he claimed to be taped conservations with high-ranking politicians, including a conversation with President Temer. The recorded conversation clearly indicates that J&F was trying to prevent, with Temer’s support, further investigations by the judiciary. To prevent Eduardo Cunha, the former President of the Chamber of Deputies, who has been arrested since October 2016, from testifying before the court, Joesley Batista takes care of the well-being and financial affairs of the Cunhas family. Batista also ensured that the testimonies from those who are currently in custody remained in tune with each other. The content of the conversation between Batista and President Temer did not stop at the obstruction of justice, but showed clearly that the bribery system remains valid despite all the excitement and attention of the media, authorities and the general populace. In this sense, the fear of being uncovered seemed to have been much lower than to leave the driving corrupt forces of the old, deeply entrenched patterns.

The transformation of a political system characterized by corruption, such as Brazil‘s, takes some time to consolidate the effect of institutional change in its structure. Even though major legislative changes and institutional changes have been completed over the last decades, which have made an important contribution to improving transparency in government administration and strengthening press freedom and justice, this could not (yet) prevent the systemic corruption. However, all these changes have contributed to the fact that the previous corruption scandals are now accessible to all in the press and on the official websites. It is not enough to stop systemic corruption. But it is a first and important step in a long-term process. Further institutional changes on the political level are just as important.

 

Sources

Petition N. 7003
Inquiry N. 4483/STF (Supreme Court)
Inquiry N. 4489/STF (Supreme Court)