Living in Brazil: Reasons to be Cheerful

Corruption, Brazil, Lavo Jato, Good times

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the troubling changes taking place here in Brazil.  Today, it’s Good Friday, so I thought I’d focus on some of the good things that are happening.  While it is certainly true that there are reasons to be fearful, I am of the opinion that there are even more reasons to be cheerful and that, in a few years, things might just work out all right.

It had to happen

Brazilian politics has been in a terrible state for a long time now.  Despite the introduction of ‘ficha limpa’ (‘clean record’), which sought to allow only people with no criminal past being able to stand for election, there has been no wholesale change.  Indeed, as I quoted yesterday, up to 60% of politicians are currently being investigated for some sort of criminal action.

The system has to change, and the only way it would be changed is from the outside.  Perhaps it has taken so many corruption scandals and so much indignation, coupled with an economic recession, public health scares and lingering resentment over the World Cup and Olympics for Brazil to reach a point of no return.  If it doesn’t change now, it never will.

An interesting development from one of the protests a couple of weeks ago was when a couple of opposition politicians tried to join the protest and were told in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome, that they were as much a part of the problem as the government.  In the past, I have said that the only people worse than the government are those trying to replace them, if other people realise this, then maybe there is hope yet.

In a further, encouraging, development, Wednesday saw the release of a document from Odebrecht, a huge construction company that has just agreed to provide evidence on behalf of the state.  This document included a list of the politicians they had bribed and included names from all across the political spectrum.  My hope is that this helps to reinforce the idea that it is the system which is corrupt, that the system corrupts all those it comes into contact with and it is this system that needs reforming, not the individuals who happen to be in power at the moment.

Strong Institutions

While there are arguments to be had over the limits of judicial power, the fact that the judiciary is able to take a stand is encouraging.  The JP were given increased powers, resources and autonomy early on in Dilma’s first term, and it is exactly these powers that are being used against her and the previous regime.  A strong judiciary, as well as a free press, access to social media and strong social movements should help keep future presidents in check as well as preventing a military takeover.

The end of impunity?

Brazil, prison, end of impunity, protests

Influential people might just end up in a place like this

People are going to jail.  This might not seem such a big deal in other countries, but here in Brazil rich, influential people have, until now, rarely ended up behind bars.  So far, it has been businessmen, but I am fairly certain that in the not-too-distant future some bug name politicians are also going to find themselves doing porridge.

This is something to applaud.  Future politicians and businesspeople are going to have to think twice before they engage in bribes again, or at least make sure there is no evidence of what they are doing so they can’t be caught.

Political discussions

I was in a queue in a supermarket last week for an awfully long time.  This is not news as supermarkets are notorious for taking an age to take you money.  The interesting thing on this occasion, though, was as I finally got to the checkout the cashiers were all talking amongst themselves about politics.  I heard jokes about Lula, updates on what Dilma had just said and looks of derision about Cunha.

When I was out last Friday night, it seemed that no bar room chat could go more than 15 minutes without it coming back to politics.

Most of my classes have, at some point in the last week, been dominated by politics.  I haven’t been the one to bring up the subject for fear of alienating some of my students, but they have all listened to what I had to say and either agreed or respectfully offered a different opinion.

For me, to hear politics being discussed by so many people in so many different contexts can only be encouraging and long may it continue.

A lack of violence

While there have been isolated outbreaks of violence, there hasn’t been any large-scale violence at all.  This reminds me of the way in which Brazil made its transition to democracy from military dictatorship in that there was relatively little violence and bloodshed, especially compared to other countries in Latin America.

Weak Military

There have been a number of calls for the military to step in a take power.  I’m not sure f these calls are just from a vocal minority or are just being publicised by the government to highlight the threat of a coup.  I am not a Brazilian military expert, by any means, but from what I have been told, the military has been so underfunded over the last 20 years that they are now pretty much incapable of staging a coup, never mind running a country that would then be in all kinds of trouble.  There is also no appetite from other countries to support a military coup (yes, I’m looking at you USA).

On the whole, taking yesterday’s reasons to be fearful and today’s reasons to be cheerful into consideration, I am genuinely optimistic about the future path of Brazil.  There are potential roadblocks and dead ends that we could take, however, it couldn’t continue as it has been over the last few years.  As this video makes clear, Brazil’s government is falling aprt…and it’s good news?

 

Living in Brazil: Reasons to be fearful

Reasons to be fearful

It isn’t much fun being in Brazil at the moment.  In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a lot going on in Brazil right now that would be enough to make a good man turn bad: Zika virus, recession, crap football team, an Olympics nobody really cares about…

On top of all this, we have the lava jato (car wash) corruption scandal.  Now, after living in Brazil for a while, you start to become a bit inured to corruption scandals as they seem come around as regular as a .  But this one has turned out to be a bid different.  It’s been a corruption scandal with bells on.

It is a long story and, if you would like to know more about the details, you could start with a good infographic showing the participants from the New York Times, read a basic background description from The Guardian, or have a laugh with John Oliver.

Living here with the drip drip, and occasional gush, of stories surrounding the scandal, it can at times seem a bit of a scary place.  A lot of the time, these fears are of what might happen based on what we have already seen:

The Numbers

Corrutpion, Brazil, Lavo Jato, Car wash, Scandal

Corrupt Legislation by Vedder Highsmith

As well as quite a few businessmen either in prison or facing charges, there are now about 50 of these politicians now  under investigation.

And that is just one scandal.  All in all, according to The New York Times, 60% of  are accused of various crimes from electoral fraud to murder.

The Lavo Jato enquiry has found that some $3.5bn has been involved in various kick backs and bribes.  Who knows how much more has been missed or is involved in other schemes.

These are just some of the numbers involved and are truly shocking and force people to think that all the politicians are only in it for themselves and there is nothing that can be done.

Update: While writing this, a document has been released from Odebrecht, a construction company heavily implicated in the scandal which has just done a deal to allow its executives to turn state witness.  This document lists the politicians who they have bribed in the past, so this number of 50 is already out of date and is now much higher.

The Protests

There has always been a certain amount of hatred of the governing PT (Workers’ Party) and these corruption scandals have given everyone with an axe to grind the perfect reason to protest.  And protest they have, with millions coming on to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Dilma, the arrest of former president Lula and for the whole corrupt gang of the PT to be thrown in prison.

The rhetoric from the anti-government quarter has been strident, but recently it has been matched by pr0-government supporters.  Red and black are shouting at yellow and nobody is listening.  And the protests look as if they are going to continue, be even more vocal and even more polarised.

The Colours

Yellow has become the colour of choice of the protestors angry at the current government.  Yellow is, of course, in the national flag and is the colour of the national football team.  Many of te street protests of have been a sea of yellow with original Nike football shirts very prominent.

Corruption, protests, Brazil, car wash, scandal lavo jato

Anti-government protests in Sao Paulo (Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil)

Before a recent protest there were posts on Facebook that people should avoid wearing red, as this is the colour of PT and the left, and they should also avoid black as this is the colour of the anarchists or the Black Block.

There were some reports of people being attacked by protestors because they were wearing the wrong colours, although the vast majority of people have been peaceful.

The Violence

So far, there have been only sporadic incidents of violence at the protests.  There are many people predicting that levels of violence will increase if Lula is charged or if Dilma is impeached.  Who knows what will happen?  It is, however, a genuine fear that the rhetoric used by both sides is only going to increase the propensity for serious violence further down the road.

The Judiciary

Sergio Moro is the judge who has taken the lead in prosecuting those involved in the lavo jato case.  Depending on your point of view, he is either the caped crusader coming to save Brazil in its hour of need, or an example of how judges are using their power to corrupt the political system and engineer a coup.

The Military

And in the background there is the looming shadow of the military.  It is not too long since we had a military regime here and the genuine fear from a lot of people is that we might be heading back that way.  This is not helped by photos of people holding banner at protests calling for a military to kick out the corrupt politicians.  Of course, there was never any corruption under the military government at all.  Or at least, we never heard about it.

It all seems pretty bleak at the moment.  But of course there are two sides to every story, so tomorrow I’ll be looking at some reasons to be cheerful.