Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – You know the saying that people will not take you seriously unless you take yourself seriously first? The same goes for respect, and this seems to be a major problem in Brazil, politically and socially.
We are adept in complaining about our inefficient, corrupt and sometimes plainly ridiculous political leaders, conveniently forgetting that, more often than not, we put them in office. And even when we did not, we still prefer pointing the finger at their behavior, rather than evaluating our own.
For the past ten days samba, chopp and partying until dawn seemed a priority for hundreds of thousands of Cariocas, Brazilians and tourists coming from all over for one of the world’s most coveted celebrations.
So much so that nearly 700 individuals, including four tourists and eighteen ladies, were taken into custody for urinating in public. Many were caught in the act in plain daylight, fully exposing themselves in front of children.
Cariocas know how to party and when we do, we make sure to leave our mark. Not only did we leave behind 103 tones of trash in two days of pre-Carnival street celebrations, we also left traces of urine on lawns, doors, trees, sand and, ironically, the vicinity of chemical bathrooms.
Somewhere between disgusted and amused by reporters’ vivid accounts of “the problem,” I focused on what I believed to be more important news. Now come to think of it, these “issues” are not so distinct after all.
Congressman João Paulo Cunha was elected President of the Constitution and Justice Commission, allegedly the most important permanent commission in the House, on March 2nd. So far so good. Except that Mr. Cunha is a defendant in the mensalão scandal, accused (but hey, not yet charged!) of money laundering and corruption.
Paulo Maluf, the former mayor of São Paulo now illustrating Interpol’s list and wanted by a New York prosecutor for money laundering, was chosen to integrate Brazil’s special commission for political reform, along with forty colleagues, some of equally dubious character, including Eduardo Azeredo and Valdemar Costa Neto.
Joaquim Roriz, the former senator for Brasília who resigned in 2007 accused of stealing R$223 million (US$134 million) from a state bank, left behind his lovely daughter, Jaqueline Roriz. Surprise! Now Ms. Roriz, also member of the commission for political reform, is being accused of corruption herself.
This is a show of disrespect towards citizens and a mockery of the democratic process, many will claim. Absolutely true. But it becomes very difficult for a population to simply expect respect, specially if it does not demonstrate some degree of respect towards its cities and compatriots first, and if it does not demand that respect from political representatives.
It is past time that we take more responsibility for our actions, from peeing to littering to voting.
A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs student with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, specializing in International Security Policy, Brazilian Studies and Communications.