Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Those following the Curmudgeon’s “mensalão” maunderings have noticed he closes by asking: “Did Lula know?” And he rhetorically admonishes: “Don’t ask, Don’t tell!” Last week “Veja” magazine felt it had to ask Marcos Valério, the alleged operator of the scheme, and he felt he had to tell.
He said that José Dirceu was Lula’s right hand man, and that Lula’s left hand always knew what his right hand was doing.
Immediately after publication, electoral politics raised its ugly head. First, the leaders of the three principal opposition parties (PSDB, DEM and PP) demanded that former President Lula reply to these accusations, even though he’s not a defendant and could never be, as the statute of limitations has expired.
Thereupon, the leaders of 5 political parties allied with the Government (PT, PMDB, PCdoB, PDT and PRB) replied, accusing the opposition of not only “compromising the dignity and honor of the former President” but also of attempting to “pressure the STF” into turning “Penal Action # 470” into a political case.
Moreover, according to the Fab Five, the opposition was using the same tactics (lies, rumors, defamation) which underlay prior political crises. In 1954 a conservative “sea of mud” drove “progressive” Getúlio Vargas from office and to commit suicide.
In 1964 conservatives hounded “progressive” João Goulart and led the country into 21 years of military dictatorship. In short, the government coalition accuses the current opposition of seeking to carry out a coup d’état against the “progressive” Lula legacy.
The Curmudgeon finds this claim astonishing and depressing. Lula is not the President of Brazil any more. You cannot plot a coup against a former president unless you believe that Dilma is a mere stalking horse for Lula, holding his place until the 2014 elections.
Also the prosecutor in Penal Action #470 was appointed by Lula, as were 6 of the 11 Justices hearing the case; another 2 were appointed by Dilma. So, if the case were political, Lula’s appointees should favor Lula’s position, which is that the “mensalão” did not exist, it was merely off-books election campaign financing.
What depresses the Curmudgeon is that this brings back memories of the phrase “rouba mas faz”, used to justify voting for crooks, because they get things done even if they skim something off the top. Lula and the coalition undoubtedly changed Brazilian for the better, reducing economic inequalities, fostering growth, creating respect for Brazil as a player on the international scene.
The essence of the “mensalão” charges is that the coalition parties voted for Lula’s “progressive” program, at least in part, because they were bribed to do so with taxpayer money. The STF has, by large majorities, decided that the “mensalão” scheme did exist, and that its purpose was to buy votes.
The latest coalition statement implies that, assuming there was a “mensalão” scheme, it should not matter because the end (getting progressive things done and leaving a progressive legacy) was more important than the means (uniting unscrupulous political parties whose votes were for sale). That’s depressing.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 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!)