Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last September, a federal prosecutor accused former President Lula of being the mastermind and supreme leader of the Mensalão and Petrolão schemes. Nevertheless, there are still people in Brazil who truly believe Lula is an innocent victim of a plot by Brazil’s entrenched elite to tarnish his reputation and to undo his good works as President.
These true believers have just been given some ammunition. In his deposition to federal prosecutors, given in exchange for a “get out of jail free” card, Joesley Batista, co-owner of JBS foods, claimed that the true mastermind of the corruption scheme he participated in was none other than Brazil’s current President Michel Temer.
Conspiracy theorists, among them most Temer supporters, claim that Joesley’s testimony was bought and paid for by true mastermind Lula, in grateful thanks for his having shown JBS the shortest way along the golden brick road leading to a vast accumulation of wealth.
There are others who, just to be contrary, claim to see the fine hand of former President José Sarney behind most of the widespread corruption schemes involving PMDB, his political party, and in particular those involving Minas Gerais and most of Brazil’s Northeast.
The Curmudgeon is not good at conspiracy theories, nor is he a true believer in anything political other than its value as a spectator sport. He knows that Sarney, Brazil’s first civilian president after 21 years of military rule, quickly reinstated a corruption scheme the military had largely wiped out. He knows that Sarney still exercises political influence over Brazil’s Northeast region from his base in Maranhão.
But he also knows that both Lula and Temer were more than familiar with the scheme, and that both managed to use it to their own electoral ends. Lula ran it, and when he decided to put Dilma in as President, he insisted on having Temer as Vice President, to ensure the scheme would continue, as Dilma threatened to upset the applecart.
The Curmudgeon happens to believe that Dilma is the lone Brasília politician who is not personally corrupt. As Lula’s Chief of Staff and Chair of the Petrobras Board of Directors, of course she knew about Lula’s scheme; however, soon after her election in 2010 she tried to sweep out several of the worst offenders.
Within six months, though, Lula and Temer and the 300 scoundrels in Congress, with Sarney prompting from the sidelines, had forced her to backtrack and reinstate them, and the Petrolão scheme once again became “business as usual.”
As the latest squalid chapters in the Lava Jato investigation prove, corruption in government continues unabated to this very day, and the serial masterminds remain free to continue their scurrilous behavior.