By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Following the spate of corruption scandals that has blighted the government in recent months, Brazilians from all sectors of society are standing up in support of President Rousseff’s governmental “clean-up” operation and making their voices heard in the fight against corruption. Last Wednesday, Brazilian Independence Day celebrations were augmented by Brazilians around the country marching in protest.
The movement, known simply as The March Against Corruption, gathered momentum reportedly after the organizers posted it as an event on Facebook.
In Brasília, the protest gathered more than 25,000 supporters who marched down the Mall (“Esplanada”) dressed in black, many wearing bright red clown noses, and carrying banners and posters calling for a ban on secret votes in Congress and an end to impunity for corrupt government ministers.
Protestors expressed particular indignation over the acquittal of Federal Deputy Jaqueline Roriz in a secret vote at the end of last month, who faced a charge of misconduct after being caught on video accepting stacks of cash from another Brasília official, Durval Barbosa, in 2006.
Despite Barbosa’s admission that the money had come from illegal over-billing on government contracts and was a payoff for Roriz’s political support, Roriz was cleared of the charges by a vote of 265 to 166 after her defense argued that she could not be deprived of her seat in the Chamber of Deputies when the offense took place before she was made a deputy.
The position that one cannot be expelled from one political forum for activities that took place outside of that particular forum, has been used by a number of officials to protect their positions. Under the system of the secret vote, the defendants’ peers are the ones to decide whether the argument stands or not, and critics argue that with their own interests to protect, many of them concur.
In a joint statement by Brazil’s Bar Association (OAB), the Brazilian Press Association (ABI), and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CNBB), who turned out in favor of the March Against Corruption, they said, “Corruption in our country is a pandemic which threatens the credibility of institutions and the entire democratic system.”
They are calling for more transparency in government spending, fewer political appointments and an immediate overhaul of the “Ficha Limpa” (or Clean Criminal Record law), to prohibit people with criminal records from running for elective office.
Luciana Kalil, one of the organizers of the March Against Corruption, said, “We hope to take advantage of the popularity of the movement and promote demonstrations in an attempt to change the country’s laws. The march on Independence Day was a generic movement against corruption. We will now move forward to make effective changes.”
One of their primary aims will be to put an end to secret votes in Congress which promote political impunity. Justice Minister Eduardo Cardoso voiced his support, saying, “We all have a duty to combat corruption…the President supports this.”