Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Marina Silva has gotten it partially right. At a press conference on Wednesday, she discussed several front-running presidential candidates, and pointed out what was wrong with them, while coyly promoting her own pre-candidacy.
The most important thing she did, however, was to subdivide the concept of “rouba mas faz” which has ruled much of Brazilian politics for the past century or so.
She was asked by a reporter about Lula’s campaign tactic of emphasizing his governmental successes as a counterpoint to the ethical problems which resulted in his conviction. Her reply was a “post-modern” version of “rouba mas faz”.
The time-honored version of this justification for illegal behavior by politicians is “he robs, but he gets things done.” She has nuanced the various current uses of the phrase, by cataloguing them. Among these was “Rouba, mas está fazendo as reformas.” (“He robs, but he’s carrying out needed reforms.”)
She also said that Lula and Temer’s blatant practice of buying votes to obtain a legislative majority is not governing, it’s committing a crime.
She’s right on both counts, but she needs more than being right to become President.
The Mensalão scandal was, precisely, vote buying. But Lula has always justified it by saying he was “carrying out needed reforms”, to implement progressive social measures. Lula knew Congress was full of scalawags, most of whom would never vote for anything progressive unless they were bribed — so he bribed them.
That isn’t governing, that is a crime.
This year, President Temer, against whom the Lava-Jato investigation has brought several charges of corruption, has successfully bought off members of Congress to avoid having to face criminal charges while in office. The justification of his supporters has been limited to “He’s carrying out needed reforms.”
The blatant purchase of immunity is not governing, it’s a crime.
Marina Silva is correct when she says “NOT robbing is a necessary condition to serving the country.” The problem for Brazilian voters is finding someone whom they can trust enough to say, “my candidate doesn’t rob.”
Marina herself fits this category, but her election problem is that the condition she propounds is necessary, but not sufficient. Thinking voters want their candidate not only to be honest, but also to know how to run an organization as complex as government.
Most political observers believe Marina fails that second test, if only because the current government of Brazil is corrupt to its core, and she is either incapable of dealing with corrupt politicians, or unwilling to deal with them. Or both.