Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The institutional foundations of Brazil are under attack from each other, and from within.
The President and his economic team have been running pitched battles with the so-called “Centrão”, where the corrupt minnow parties in Congress want a larger share of governmental spoils before they will vote in favor of much-needed reforms. The President hurts himself by appointing well-known, well-heeled wheeler-dealers as ministers, characters who are familiar with the smoke-filled back rooms where crooked lobbyists go to play.
The Chamber of Deputies ousted Eduardo Cunha, but under the leadership (if you can call it that) of his successor Rodrigo Maia, it has been paralyzed and is unable to do anything at all. The Senate is under the thumb of Renan Calheiros, a veteran of scandals involving corruption, with no fewer than eleven cases pending against him. He was elected by his peers precisely because he knows how, where and when to dole out favors.
Senator Calheiros even seems to have put Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) under his thumb, with the help of current President Temer and past Presidents Sarney and Cardoso. He thumbed his nose at an order to resign the Presidency of the Senate. The STF’s response to this was effectively, ‘no problem, not to worry, after all you’re above the law’.
The STF, feeling its oats, has recently ventured into the political thicket with matters outside of Lava-Jato, with predictably angry reactions from Congress. One recent decision decriminalized abortion during the first 3 months of gestation; Congress is now working on a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Another recent STF decision criminalized the “vaquejadas” beloved of people and politicians in Brazil’s Northeast, so Congress passed a law declaring them “national cultural patrimony”, hence deserving of constitutional protection.
The Public Ministry sent Congress a list of ten measures it wanted enacted so as to make fighting corruption easier. The Chamber of Deputies, home to three hundred crooks, simply eviscerated the proposal, and in retaliation added an article to the law permitting the jailing of judges and prosecutors if they were over-zealous.
In short, the executive, legislative and (alas!) judicial branches of Brazil’s government have, within the past couple of weeks, covered themselves with shame, and have completely lost the respect of the Brazilian people.
This is a serious and potentially dangerous situation. More and more frequently, calls are made for the military to intervene and take over power from the corrupt, inept civilians now ruining the country.
Fortunately for Brazil, its armed forces are still wedded to the concept of democracy. But if the civilian institutions continue their internecine warfare, while the country’s economy dives into an even deeper tank, the unthinkable may happen.
The Curmudgeon, who lived in Brazil during the worst years of the military dictatorship (1968-1971) knows the evil that was then done, in the name of “protecting” Brazil from its civilian governmental institutions. He is beginning to be a bit frightened of the evils 2017 will bring.