Opinion By Jeb Blount
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After a week of historic developments, Brazil’s giant Lava Jato, or “Car Wash” corruption probe edges closer to victory over the country’s corrosive and endemic graft and the impunity of its profoundly venal political class.
But despite this, the Lava Jato case is in danger. Too many continue to reject its lessons and even supporters are cheering the wrong victory and ignore the main threat to success.
The victory came with the release of tapes that appear to show President Michel Temer conspiring with the owner of the world’s largest meat packing company to buy the silence of a central Lava Jato suspect and manipulate Supreme Court justices.
But the tapes revealed far more, setting off a week of non-stop political shock and awe on par with the turmoil rocking the United States over suspected Trump Administration ties to Russia. In addition to Temer, they implicated key leaders of Brazil’s main opposition party, the PSDB.
This is crucial. It destroys the last shreds of the absurd argument that Lava Jato is a right-wing judicial coup against Brazil’s Workers’ Party, or PT, an underhanded attack on PT former presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, charged with bribery, and successor Dilma Rousseff, impeached in the Car Wash fallout.
But PSDB leaders implicated this week lost to Lula in 2002 and Rousseff in 2014. Temer, of Brazil’s PMDB, was elected vice president on Rousseff’s ticket. The men Lula lost to in 1989, 1994 and 1998 are targets of Lava Jato. Nobody is safe from the probe.
Yet, Brazil’s reaction to the latest revelations has focused on ideological battles, not the chance to clean house.
The left rejoices at Temer’s tottering presidency because it promises to kill controversial labor and pension reforms while ignoring that they are a response to an economic crisis, Brazil’s worst in a century, that owes its severity to Lava Jato corruption.
The fact that Temer and his PMDB, before turning on Rousseff and Lula, were the PT’s principal Lava Jato co-conspirators goes unmentioned.
Temer supporters downplay the mounting evidence against him, exploiting fears his downfall will kill his economic reforms and prolonging recession.
Support is growing for Brazil respond to a likely Temer’s downfall by tossing out the constitution, which calls for Congress to elect a replacement until a scheduled 2018 national vote. Too many politicians, supporters say, are under suspicion and the tapes demand direct elections to block obstruction.
But a snap vote is the real threat to Lava Jato. The probe has survived repeated attempts at obstruction and the tapes have energized a public to fight new meddling.
The main supporter of a snap elections, though, is the PT. And Lula, despite a growing list of corruption charges against him, key Lava Jato defendants claims he led the scam, and his ardent opposition to the entire probe, leads all polls of presidential support.
Victory would move his case to a Supreme Court where he appoints the judges. He’d control key police and justice appointments. If he waits a year for scheduled elections, he himself could be in jail – unless, that is, he wins a snap election.
* Jeb Blount is journalist living in Rio de Janeiro who has covered Latin America for 25 years.