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Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – When you look up this word in Portuguese, you get a short description. If you put it into Wikipedia, but the English language version, the same description is entitled “cronyism”. Both terms mean, essentially, passing out relatively important governmental positions to your political buddies, regardless of whether they have any technical competence.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

In Brazil, cronyism has been around for a long time. Just after his election in 2002, President Lula publicly defended the practice of creating a number of new cabinet ministries and handing them out to political parties that would support his legislative program.

Needless to say, this engendered a race among impecunious politicians to create new political parties, and to scramble onto Lula’s bandwagon, vying with each other to pick up some scraps under the table. “Scraps” is a synonym for “money”. “Under the table” is a synonym for “illegal”. Hence the Mensalão scandal.

This year the government is plumbing new depths.

Beneath the level of ministries, there are any number of prize political plums, most of which involve jobs leading government owned companies — BIG companies, that spend BIG money, for instance Petrobras, Banco do Brasil, Caixa Econômica Federal, Eletrobras, Infraero. Hence the Petrolão scandal.

These are called “second echelon” positions because, in theory, they don’t report directly to the President, but rather to some Ministry or other. Usually they are appointed by the leadership of the political parties making up the governmental coalition, who have to bargain with the President.

Monday (February 2nd), Dilma’s Chief of Staff announced it’s time to distribute second echelon posts. He said two things: first, Dilma herself would choose, not the political parties; second, the choices would depend on the chosen parties’ support for Dilma’s programs. He did mention technical competence as a criterion; anyone who knows anything about “Fisiologismo” laughed out loud.

The Curmudgeon will emit more Smidgens opportunely. That’s a threat, not a promise.

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