Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – You may well ask: “Who are the ‘PEC 37’ we see on protesters’ signs and placards?” And you may well also ask: “Why are the protesters against them?” The Curmudgeon knew you would ask, and he has the answers. The answer to the first is: “it’s a ‘what’, not a ‘who’”. The answer to the second is: “because they don’t trust the police”.
PEC is an anagram for a formal proposal to amend the federal constitution pending before Congress. The proposals are numbered serially each legislative session, and PEC 37 was one of many. It deals with a Brazilian legal institution that is entirely unfamiliar to most North Americans, something called the “Ministério Público” and often abbreviated “MP”.
Under the constitution, the MP is a separate and independent power, not part of the Legislative, Executive or Judicial branches. It is deemed an institution “essential to justice” whose purview is to defend “the legal order, democratic rule and inalienable social and individual rights.” It combines the role of a public prosecutor with that of a public defender; it acts as the “internal affairs” department of the police, defends indigenous peoples and the environment and brings civil class actions in favor of “diffuse” interests.
The MP has the power to request investigatory measures, and even the formal initiation of criminal suits, but, so say many, only the police can conduct criminal investigations. And there’s the rub.
For some time now, the MP has said its constitutional powers include initiating criminal investigations, and has done so most willingly. This is often the case in high profile cases, where the MP believes that the police are either unwilling or politically unable to initiate proceedings.
The MP argues that its constitutional independence from the other three branches of government ensures it will investigate without being subject to political pressures. Its detractors, including numerous members of Congress, say it has usurped the executive police power. So, PEC 37 would amend the constitution to prohibit any criminal investigative activities by the MP. The police, and only the police, will be allowed to conduct criminal investigations.
The protesters, as we all have seen, do not like or trust the police. In fact, most Brazilians do not like or trust the police, who for decades have more often been oppressors rather than defenders of the people. Both the Vargas and the military dictatorships relied heavily on the police to keep people under control and suppress democracy.
Another reason for mistrust is the well-known fact that the so-called “militia” who now run certain favelas, are crooked policemen, on the take from the drug dealers. Militias control a large chunk of Rio’s public transportation — the “vans”. Licensed bus companies don’t go into militia territories, because they’re not allowed.
So, saying “No!” to PEC 37 is definitely a key program of the marchers, because they know, based on decades of experience, that if you leave the investigations to the police, only the rich and powerful will investigate anything at all—and it won’t be themselves.
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!)