Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Portuguese part of the title is a shorthand description for politicians who manage to get elected and re-elected because they get popular things done even though they have feathered their own nests, and that of their cronies, with public money. The phrase arose over sixty years ago in the City and State of São Paulo, being first applied to its former Mayor and Governor Adhemar de Barros, who was also a well-voted Federal Deputy.
In later years, both Paulo Maluf and Orestes Quercia were Mayors and Governors in São Paulo, and both have been accused of “rouba mas faz”—because both got lots of things done, including public works, and both were also well-voted Federal Deputies.
With the scandals now being unearthed in the Brazilian federal government, mostly involving people who were Cabinet ministers during the Lula era, and Federal Deputies when they were not, the Curmudgeon asks the following questions: “Did Lula know about all the crookedness and turn a blind eye?” “Did he bow to the “rouba mas faz” theory because the politicos he appointed were doing great work?”
The Curmudgeon thinks Lula did know, and did turn a blind eye.
Why? The first answer is that he needed a coalition in Congress to achieve his progressive and populist programs, and his own party didn’t have enough votes. So, after enlisting PMDB, famous for its “rouba mas faz” mentality, he found other parties (PP, PR) of the same ilk.
The other answer is history: Brazil has a long history of corruption in power, and an equally long history of corrupt politicians never having to pay the price. Worse yet, running on a program that proclaims you are a “new broom” is often a guarantee that you will not be elected, or if you are, you will not finish out your term.
The full text of the Irish proverb is: “a new broom sweeps clean, but an old broom knows all the corners.” Examples abound of new brooms being themselves swept away by politicos wielding old brooms.
Janio Quadros successfully ran for Governor of São Paulo with a campaign ditty that promised a broom to sweep away corruption, and two years later was elected President of Brazil. Frustrated by Congress, he resigned after seven months in office.
Fernando Collor de Mello, running after the Sarney government, also promised to sweep away the rampant corruption everyone knew existed. He won the election, but was impeached by Congress not long afterwards.
Lula, running against Collor and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, was fond of referring to the “300 picaretas” (300 crooks) in Congress; he lost repeatedly, in part because the 300 marshaled their old brooms against him.
But in 2002, Lula changed his slogan to “Agora é Lula,” which can, perhaps cynically, be translated as “Now It’s My Turn.” Since then, nary a word has been heard of “picaretas” in Congress—except those who were part of Lula’s governing coalition.
Based on a sadly accurate reading of Brazilian political history, where “rouba mas faz” is accepted behavior for politicians, and where new brooms never sweep clean, Lula made his choice. Dilma seems to have made a different choice, while denying she’s the latest in a line of failed new brooms. Time will tell, but the Curmudgeon firmly believes Dilma will be a one-term President.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)