Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – When last seen Below the Salt, the Curmudgeon opined that it was cash that united the Powercats and their herders. Antonio Palocci, having increased his net worth by some R$20 million, walked the plank. A month later, Antonio Nascimento, the Transportation Minister, whose son increased his net worth by 870 percent in a few years, walked the same plank.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

What both dismissals have in common is money and mismanagement. What they also have in common is their illustrious Godfather, former President Lula. As many commentators have gleefully pointed out, Palocci and Nascimento were powerful ministers under Lula, and he insisted upon both being retained as ministers by Dilma. Why?

Powercats abound within Dilma’s own party (PT) and its chief ally (PMDB), but are not exclusive to them: PR, the party of which Mr. Nascimento was and is the president, is one of the largest members of the government coalition. This is a party which has always been known for three things: the farm bloc, bible-banging evangelists—and corruption. Disgraced former President Collor was one of its founders and is one of its stalwarts, as is former Rio Governor Anthony Garotinho. Who is its most voted member of the Chamber of Deputies? Tiririca the Clown! So, why is it filled with Powercats?

Under Lula’s rule, PR was granted its own personal fiefdom—the Transportation Ministry. This has always been coveted, because its budget is huge; it oversees vast infrastructure projects where small and large fortunes are made regularly—occasionally (very occasionally) legally. The Curmudgeon knows this is nothing new: during the military governments, several Transportation Ministers were known as “Mr. 10 percent.”

Prior to Lula, the FHC government set out to create an orderly administrative structure and to reduce the political power of the Transportation Ministry. To that end, it created no fewer than three separate National Agencies whose members were not subordinate to the Ministry —ANTT for land transportation, both rail and road, ANAC for civil aviation, and ANTAQ for water transportation. The secondary (but unspoken) purpose was to reduce the lingering influence of the armed forces. Under the military, road and rail were controlled by the Army, water by the Navy, and air by the Air Force.

After Lula took office, he purposefully emasculated every single one of these agencies. They have no more budget, they have no more power; the federal government regularly rides roughshod over the agencies and does what it wants. Why? Because there is BIG money in transportation, and money not only speaks volumes, it buys votes from legislative Powercats, who are willing to be herded (if it’s worth their while).

Let’s be blunt. The transportation industry (rail, road, air and sea) in every country in the world, including the USA, is known for corruption. Kickbacks, under-the-table deals, bidding cartels, price fixing: all have long been common. Some countries have tried to lessen these illicit practices. FHC tried, but Lula destroyed his handiwork. Will Dilma now step up and recoup some honor? The Curmudgeon hopes so. Sinclair Lewis once entitled a book “It Can’t Happen Here.” Zardoz is more realistic: “It Won’t Happen Here.”

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!)


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