Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon had the privilege last week of attending the ceremony where, as part of its Centennial Celebration, the British Chamber of Commerce in Brazil presented the XI Britcham Award for Personality of the Year to crusading Judge Sérgio Moro, prime mover in the Lava Jato investigations. As part of the ceremony, Judge Moro gave a speech, oft-times more of a lecture, about corruption.
He began by talking about the scope of corruption in Brazil. There has always been widespread corruption in Brazil, but it has typically been local and small scale, not systemic and large scale. Widespread systemic infection began with the corruption of Petrobras by politicians and contractors and metastasized from there.
The cost of systemic infection is far worse than mere money being pocketed by thieves—it adversely affects democracy itself. The basis for democracy is liberty and equality, and with corruption, there is no equality. The cure starts with the judiciary, and the application of criminal law, but it cannot end there. Institutional reform is absolutely required—and this requires legislation.
Judge Moro specifically cited the example of US President Theodore Roosevelt. At the turn of the 19th Century, there was widespread systemic corruption in the USA. In a 1903 speech, TR pointed out there was no worse crime than legislative corruption because it was a betrayal of the voters’ confidence in their elected representatives. President Roosevelt successfully pressed for legislation prohibiting corruption and other anti-competitive practices, and this legislation is still enforced over one hundred years later.
Importantly, Judge Moro emphasized that the exposition of this widespread, systemic corruption by the judiciary should not cause anyone to feel shame, but rather honor and pride that the law is being applied. In his own words, no problem is unsolvable within the law. By applying the law, Brazil overcame the military dictatorship; it overcame runaway inflation; it reduced inequality.
In another example fitting for an audience with a large number of British citizens and industry representatives, Judge Moro cited yet another lion of the Anglo-American pantheon—Winston Churchill. In 1940, Poland and France had fallen, Nazi Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with Communist Russia, and was preparing to bombard the UK. And on June 18, Churchill exhorted the citizenry to resist, to avoid the darkness of the abyss. The finale of his speech was “If the British Empire and its Commonwealth survive for a thousand years, men will say ‘this was their finest hour’.”
Judge Moro ended by stating clearly that, allowing for proportionality, resisting systemic corruption is also a valiant effort to avoid the darkness of the abyss, and could be Brazil’s finest hour.
The Curmudgeon sincerely hopes Judge Moro is correct, and that the reformation of Brazil’s political system will be successfully carried out by its elected representatives. Unfortunately, however, he sees no one in Brazil’s political spectrum with the moral stature of Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
If Judge Moro is right, Brazil’s finest hour will mean the long-awaited future has arrived; if not, Brazil’s future will continue to remain just around the corner.