Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Quite a bit of backlash has arisen since the spokesperson for the federal prosecutor’s office accused former President Lula of being the mastermind and supreme leader of the Mensalão and Petrolão schemes.
The problem seems to be that the prosecutors are only charging Lula with crimes based upon the fact that a prominent construction firm bought and paid for his penthouse in Guarulhos and his weekend home out in the Paulista countryside. That, theoretically, has nothing to do with the Mensalão, and is only obliquely relevant to the Petrolão.
Lula never knew anything. Dilma never knew anything. Or so the party faithful still chant, although there is almost no sentient person in Brazil who believes this possible.
Given the scale of the corruption epidemic during the past fourteen years, there could only have been one ringleader—and that was Lula. No one else in Brazil had the power and the desire to implement these schemes.
Both schemes have in common the illicit enrichment of political parties and politicians—not just any parties and politicians, only those who would support Lula with their votes. Lula knew the Brazilian Congress contained at least the “three hundred picaretas” (crooks) he had railed against before being elected. He also knew that most Brazilian Congressmen (rich old white men) didn’t care a whit about the plight of poor people.
Therefore, Lula calculated there was only one possible way to get his projects (designed to benefit the poor) turned into the law of the land—bribe Congressional members and their parties to vote for them. Which is what he did, using whatever henchmen he could find; sadly, they weren’t hard to recruit.
The real shame of all this is that Lula was right—without the bribes, most of his projects would never have become law. If you believe the end fully justifies the means, you can support Lula; if you don’t, you can’t.
The Curmudgeon “knows” Lula has been lying about the corruption schemes ever since he implanted them. The end result of his and Dilmas’s fourteen years in office was undeniably an improvement in the standard of living of tens of millions of poor Brazilians. Alas, it seems those gains may have only been temporary, hence illusory.
Things are not going to improve any time soon, because it is still the case that Congress nowadays (or at least the ruling coalition in Congress) is still the private preserve of rich old white men who don’t care a whit about the plight of the poor. They felt menaced by Dilma, whom they defenestrated, and they feel even more menaced by Lula.
The Curmudgeon’s fond hope is that the Lava-Jato and similar investigations will one day incriminate the “three hundred picaretas,” who will thus become ineligible for public office. He also hopes Brazilians will stop voting for candidates they know are crooks.