Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Just when we all thought Brazilian politics might become boring after Dilma and Cunha were removed from office, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) has come to our rescue, with a pyrotechnic pronouncement that Lula, the self-styled “most honest person in Brazil”, was in fact the “commander in chief” of the criminal scheme afflicting Brazil since 2002 when he was elected President.
The scheme had two phases, the “Mensalão” and the “Petrolão”. The former was the under-the-table payment of generous monthly allowances to members of Congress, so they would vote for Lula’s legislative proposals. Greed being limitless, that became insufficient, so the sacking of state-owned companies was initiated.
The major vehicle for the scheme was the appointment of trusted “companheiros” (comrades) to the senior executive and management levels of Petrobras, Electrobras, Nuclebras and others. Their marching orders were to ensure that no single contract signed by their companies was awarded to anyone who would not pay kickbacks to PT, PMDB, PP and their allies.
The other arm of the scheme was the exponential expansion of the number of cabinet ministries, where political cronies belonging to minuscule parties-for-hire were granted their private ponds in which to go fishing for campaign funds.
MPF Prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol coined a neologism by baptizing the scheme as “propinocracia”, which the Curmudgeon will translate as “kickbackocracy” or government by graft, since “propina” is Portuguese for a bribe or kickback.
Back in the year 2000, when Lula was licking his wounds after losing the 1998 Presidential election, and was accusing FHC of having bought the constitutional amendment that permitted re-election of a president, he gave an interview to a leftwing magazine (the Curmudgeon still has a copy) in which he said: “The president can make political deals, he can give positions to parties that are not his allies, but when he buys congressmen with R$400,000 … he trivializes his office, he’s no longer serious.”
Had the Lula who served as president from 2002 to 2010 adhered to his own rhetoric, he would not have masterminded the criminal conspiracy that resulted in the “kickbackocracy” now denounced by the MPF, that has cost Brazil and Brazilians billions of reais.
The official charges brought by the MPF against Lula involve lesser sums of money, only a few million reais, and are connected to payments from a prominent construction firm that bought and outfitted him a penthouse and a country estate. Although that seems trivial in comparison, it’s still a crime and still serious. President Collor was impeached, let us all remember, because he bought a Fiat Elba with a graft payment.
The Curmudgeon knows that Lula and his defenders will hotly contest these charges, and looks forward to more startling news almost daily.