Brazil Opinion

BRAZIL’S LEADERS READY TO BEND THE RULE OF LAW

The strategies to keep Brazilian politicians in office, despite the numerous corruption scandals

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At this very moment in Brasilia, a groundbreaking set-up under construction. Its plotters are middle-aged white men who wear expensive suits, drive luxurious cars, and speak gently. They are powerful attorneys and politicians, judges and bureaucrats in the higher echelons of Brazil’s judiciary system. Their mission is to save the Brazilian president, Michel Temer, and his radical political-economic project, from the law.

In comparison to the turbulence of 2016, Brazil’s political crisis has waned, but not vanished. And one of the dormant pieces that risk turning upside down the entire political structure in the blink of an eye is the lawsuit concerning the electoral ticket formed by the now-impeached Dilma Rousseff and Temer (then her Vice-President). They’ve both face accusations of having used illegal money in their 2014 campaign.

In principle, this would be unimportant. So-called “parallel accounting” is a fixture of Brazilian political campaigns, and is usually considered to be of little importance. That’s to say, politicians deem illegal campaign funding as a minor offense. It may carry only administrative punishment since it would not determine the outcome of an election.

Temer’s main problem lies in the fact that part of the alleged illegal cash came from one of the multitude of schemes under investigation by Operation Car Wash. And everything that the operation touches becomes toxic.

From an objective and logical standpoint, the President’s legal situation is – to say the least – very difficult. There are testimonies against him from one of the owners of Brazil’s largest construction firm, Odebrecht, and some of its executives.

After signing plea bargaining agreements, they have detailed to the Superior Electoral Court how the company illegally donated a staggering amount of 180 million BRL (around $60 million) to the Dilma-Temer campaign. There are dates of meetings when the politicians accorded the “contributions,” with names of attendants and proofs of payments. Temer has allegedly asked for the money personally. In his defense, the President has argued that Odebrecht’s donations were legal. But no one seems to be buying that.

In an objective legal order, the Justice system would revoke Temer’s mandate and new elections would take place. The judge who oversees the case seems to be heading towards this direction. The problem, however, is the rest of the court.

In the name of the “order,” for the sake of the “economy,” in defense of the “country’s stability,” the rule of the law will most likely be flagrantly ignored. The turmoil must end, they say. But what they actually mean is that set-up needs to succeed if their careers are to survive.

The legal strategies

Indeed, some outlandish “legal” justifications have surfaced – because some form of discursive front is always necessary. When the evidence pointed to Dilma’s misdeeds, there was the cringe-worthy idea that the Electoral Court could consider Temer and Dilma as different candidates.

Now, the pro-Temer Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes has devised the jarring argument that even if Temer loses his office, he could still be a candidate in a subsequent indirect election. Then, voilà, he would win and nothing would change.

In fact, if the set-up prevails, it would be thanks to the arrangements that Temer has made with Brazilian big money, those who (thanks to those “minor contraventions”) have troves of politicians in their pockets. The agreement is straightforward. They provide Temer and his bunch with support, shielding them from losing their seats and becoming easy preys to Operation Car Wash. In return, Temer and his bunch press for the most radical austerity program in the world. Everyone wins, with the small exception of the Brazilian people.

Everyone wins, with the small exception of the Brazilian people.

The set-up has become so shamelessly clear that the best strategy found thus far has been to postpone indefinitely the case, to forgot about it. But don’t be fooled. That would still be a set-up – just a silent one.