Opinion, by Simon Thomas
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil is chock full of laws, rules, and regulations (LR&Rs). This is a country that in 2018 should pass the one million lawyers mark. That’s a lot of heads to take your feet off to save from drowning, as the joke goes.
But no, really, we love lawyers here in Brazil. For one thing they dress nicely and usually smell good, both big pluses in Brazil, and there’s certainly more than enough work for them, applying, challenging or just plain manipulating all those LR&Rs.
For the most part you really just have to get along with them, the lawyers, not only because they are usually smart enough to convince you of their utility in any given situation, but also because the Brazilian government more often than not simply demands that you do.
It is an amazing set up based almost entirely on Brazil’s gargantuan bureaucracy footprint and the longer you live here the more you realize how utterly pointless much of it is – for all those other than the lawyers themselves, that is. Oh, and the bureaucrats.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, despite such high levels of legal services infrastructure permeating Brazilian society, the general level of observance of LR&Rs is appallingly low; the relationship appears inverse, in actuality.
While at the mundane, quotidian levels, ‘flexible’ would be a good description of the approach of most to their citizenly duties, it is really at the higher, more complex layers of society where said non-observance really kicks in.
In essence, it is the bureaucratic state in all its gruesome, imperfect glory, and its effect is a sprawling system of lawyer-guided schemes, strategies, exonerations and exemptions that weave in and around the actual LR&Rs.
Obviously, especially given the current state of affairs, there are none better at this game than those in and those courting Brazil´s political class. After all, what else do Brazilian politicians have to do? It is not like they are role models of civic engagement or something.
The ongoing impeachment process is a classic case in point. As admitted by the perpetrator herself, the violation of at least some of the LR&Rs cited in the impeachment charge did indeed occur, yet that has not stopped the launch of colossal effort to downplay the severity of such infringements and appeal to the bureaucracy-tolerant sympathies of the Brazilian electorate.
Not only has the government’s legal team been thundering away on any available platform about the supposedly “technical” and “harsh” interpretations of the crime of responsibility laws involved, such as the fact that the bulk of the maneuvering (but not all) was done in the president’s previous mandate and therefore not valid in the current presidency (the old “ner ner you can’t get me” defense).
That the president herself didn’t even know about it as the treasury administered all two years of procedures alone (the classic “mafia hitman” strategy), but they are even trying out the “they all did it too” approach, citing past infringements of the same laws by other governments. The president is even using this very line in an official address that sounded more like a teenager explaining to her mum why she smoked an ounce of pot.
If anything, the impeachment circus is just another fantastic display of Brazil’s Laws of No Responsibility (LNRs), a growing subset of anti-LR&Rs that includes the “Democratically-Elected Free-For-All Protocol”, the “Ministry Shuffle Bylaws” and the “They´re Dirtier Than Me Statute”.
Well known to all those in positions of power, LNRs are currently being utilized in countless other cases around the country, particularly those involving high profile politicians, including the next three in line to the presidency, and while they are not always totally successful, they are generally considered excellent tools for slowing down proceedings and achieving terrible outcomes for Brazilian society.
In general, LNRs involve more sidestepping and swerving than we´ll see in the Rugby 7s at the Rio Olympics, as defendants and their lawyers slip and slide through countless strata of bureaucratic paperwork, avoiding any semblance of social propriety in the process, yet often oozing out innocent of all charges on the other side.
Although the stunning success of Brazil´s LNRs in recent years is currently decelerating due to severe overuse combined with an increasingly influential and competent (and somewhat zealous) Brazilian judiciary, it will still be some time until they are rendered insignificant, especially for politicians.
Until then, the Brazilian people can at least take comfort in the fact that some of the most frequent users of LNRs are now being denied their non-lawful rights and having to spend a heap of their time and easy-earned money on getting their lawyers to read up on all the latest LR&Rs. Indeed, some may even be charged at some point and suffer, oh the horror, negative consequences.
And maybe, just maybe, in a time not too far from now, those democratically responsible for Brazil´s general management will have learnt that such responsibility applies, without exception, to all aspects of their job description, and not just the nice, baby-kissing, feel-good parts.