Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Eric Clapton wrote a famous song entitled “I shot the sheriff” where he continues “but I did not shoot the deputy.” STF Presiding Justice Joaquim Barbosa may be singing this song now, in relation to those convicted “mensaleiros” who are now members of the Chamber of Deputies.
The reason is that on August 28th, in a secret ballot, the Chamber decided NOT to remove Deputy Natan Donadon from office. “Deputy Don” as we will call him, was convicted in 2010 of having embezzled some R$8 million from the State Assembly in Rondônia. That conviction, which was not final, did not prevent him from running for Federal Deputy, nor did it prevent the voters of Rondônia from electing him.
Deputy Don is now serving time in Papuda, the jail in Brasília. He was brought into the Chamber of Deputies in handcuffs, and made an impassioned plea that (a) he was innocent; (b) his family was suffering; and (c) he was the object of persecution by the prosecutors of the Federal Ministério Público (MP).
Back in June, the Curmudgeon explained why demonstrators protested the “PEC 37”. What that measure proposed was to limit the investigative powers of the MP; before the protests, a majority of Deputies were in favor of this limitation, in large part because the MP has zealously investigated numerous corrupt congressmen. Deputy Don’s dissing of the MP reportedly swayed some thirty Deputies to vote against his removal.
The final vote was 233 for removal, 131 against, 41 abstentions. Another 54 Deputies were in the Chamber but didn’t vote at all; a further 54 didn’t show up for work that day, having (presumably) more important things to do. The quorum for removal was 257 votes, representing half plus one of the 512 Federal Deputies. The votes fell short by 24, and Deputy Don remains a member of the Brazilian Congress. That is scandalous.
Justice Barbosa had seen this coming last December, when, under his leadership, the STF decided by a 6-5 decision that STF conviction of Federal Deputies meant automatic removal from office. The dissenting minority maintained that the Chamber of Deputies, not the STF, should be the judge of its own membership — by secret ballot.
During 2013, two STF Justices retired, and two were appointed by Dilma, with the blessing of the PT. In another case, these two predictably upheld the Chamber’s right to throw its own rascals out. The newly PT-appointed Justices knew full well that the PT-dominated Chamber of Deputies would never vote to remove PT Deputies convicted by the STF — as long as the secret ballot prevails.
We return to our theme song. Justice Barbosa definitely “shot the sheriff”, meaning he convicted the “mensaleiro” ringleader Deputy José Dirceu. He tried to shoot the deputies, e.g. Deputy José Genuíno. But because of the new STF composition, he now knows he failed. The Chamber will never, ever, vote to depose their PT cohorts and confreres.
The Curmudgeon would like to believe that the Deputy Don scandal will sway the Congress to eliminate the secret ballot, but he doesn’t believe it will happen. There are too many scurrilous scoundrels and scalawags in Congress whose esprit de corps is exceeded only by their lack of a sense of shame.
Maybe the protesters will begin again, with signs and placards saying “Throw the rascals out!” and “Down with Deputy Don!” If so, the Curmudgeon will march with them, at least in spirit.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 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!)