Opinion by Michael Royster
RIBERÃO PRETO, SP – When President-elect Bolsonaro announced he would appoint crusading Lava Jato Judge Sergio Moro as his Super-Minister for Justice, the reaction was swift and varied. Almost all of his supporters cheered, while the leftists decried Moro’s political motives for sentencing Lula.
A more nuanced reaction was that of observers who wondered whether Bolsonaro had made a strategic mistake by appointing a national hero. The reason was that Moro’s hero status made him too important to be fired—in the phrase applied to business entities, “too big to fail”.
The same problem would occur if Moro resigned because of an eventual disagreement with some of Bolsonaro’s more scary positions, such as his beliefs that violence can be cured if people have more guns and that “the only good bandido is a dead bandido.”
In either case—firing or resignation—Bolsonaro would face heavy criticism from his voting base if he could no longer count on the most popular crime-fighter in Brazil, the figurehead of the movement to eliminate the systemic corruption corroding Brazil’s government.
There have been moments when Moro must have asked himself whether he made the right decision. The first came when he lost the power struggle with the Chamber of Deputies on priority for his set of legislative proposals for fighting corruption.
The next came when Bolsonaro directly rescinded Moro’s appointment of an arms limitation activist to a Justice Ministry commission studying violence and arms.
An ongoing irritant is the legal difficulties facing Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, based on allegations of kickbacks in the Rio State Assembly. Those flared up this week when a judge allowed investigators to examine Flavio’s bank accounts along with those of other suspects.
Yet another irritant, but one where most of the media have remained very quiet, is the seemingly close relations between the Bolsonaro clan and the corrupt paramilitary militias that control large swathes of territory in Rio de Janeiro.
Moro suffered another blow when Bolsonaro, in wild-west frontier mode, said he was proposing laws that will let farmers and ranchers shoot anyone who is invading their property and avoid any punishment. Moro, apparently struck dumb with horror, has remained silent.
Bolsonaro launched his most recent bombshell this week when he announced—without warning—that he intends to appoint Moro to Brazil’s Supreme Court upon the mandatory retirement of another Justice in 2020.
From Moro’s point of view, this is a political disaster. Although he denies it, he obviously covets a position on STF, and his term as Justice Minister would be the professional qualification needed to justify that appointment—two current Justices were cabinet ministers when named to STF.
From Bolsonaro’s point of view, however, this was a political masterstroke. What he has done is announce he will fire Moro from his cabinet in 18 months, while avoiding any negative reaction from his supporters. Moreover, Moro cannot resign as Minister until he is “promoted” to the STF, no matter how much he disagrees with Bolsonaro or the Bad News Bairns.
In short, if he ever was “too big to fail”, Moro has now definitely lost that status.