Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon, who likes to think of himself as a polyglot, has been humbled. Last week, broad circulation newspapers use two words which the Curmudgeon knew not. The first was “ilação”, a word used by a former rubber tapper in reaction to an accusation made by a former executive, who perpetrated “delação premiada”.

The Curmudgeon, Brazil, Opinion
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

Illation is an obsolete word usually translated “inference”. One definition calls it “the reasoning involved in drawing a conclusion or making a logical judgment on the basis of circumstantial evidence and prior conclusions rather than on the basis of direct observation.” Marina Silva, her party’s candidate for President after her running mate Eduardo Campos died in a plane crash, was using it in this sense, as we shall see further on.

In Scottish law, to delate is to inform against, denounce or accuse. Its Latin roots mean that a delator is seeking to “bring down” someone, usually a criminal accomplice. In English, the common slang terms are stool pigeon, rat or fink. In Portuguese, it’s “dedo-duro” because the fink “fingers” someone else.

Since 1999 Brazilian penal law has permitted “delação premiada”—first offender criminals can win a “prêmio” or prize for voluntarily fingering their accomplices and other culprits. The prize can be a reduction of a sentence, or even a “get out of jail free” card. To grant a reprieve, the judge must consider the “nature, circumstances, gravity and societal repercussion” of the crime.

The “informant of the month” is Paulo Roberto Costa, for many years the Petrobras Director of Supplies. He has reportedly fingered some 61 personages, including some very high-ranking politicians. His “delations” are connected with two highly visible Petrobras refinery scandals: Pasadena, Texas and Abreu e Lima, Pernambuco, with billions of dollars of cost overruns. Those are numbers that definitely have societal repercussions.

According to the denunciation, for over a decade (if not more) 3% of every significant Petrobras project was siphoned off, through over-pricing and money laundering, into the accounts of politicos and their parties, so as to finance election campaigns. The principal source is government-owned companies (e.g. Petrobras) and private companies that depend upon winning government contracts for their business.

Back to “illation”. One huge project mentioned by Mr. Costa was the Abreu e Lima Refinery. According to Marina Silva, just because the refinery was built in Pernambuco, when Eduardo Campos was Governor, is not proof of anything, and it would be wrong to infer his involvement based on circumstantial evidence and prior assumptions.

The police investigation, called “Lava Jato” (“Car Wash”?), has focused on money laundering. It resulted in several imprisonments, including Mr. Costa and a famous “doleiro”. It is still ongoing, and is sealed, so no one knows the truth of Mr. Costa’s allegations. All those supposedly named by Mr. Costa have protested their innocence.

The Curmudgeon believes that if Mr. Costa is guaranteed no jail time, lots of prominent politicos will be shaking in their boots. This is because the Ministério Público, the independent public prosecutor’s office, will have approved it, and they are serious about prosecuting anyone, no matter how important. One initial indicator of how politically damaging this could be is that the Presidents of Brazil’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies, both fingered by Mr. Costa, chose not to appear at the annual 7 de Setembro parade in Brazil, for the first time in decades.

The Curmudgeon hopes that Operation Car-Wash does not turn into Operation Eye-Wash—something done only to impress an observer; as Brazilians say, “para inglês ver”.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 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!)


  1. I believe that in the Curmudgeon’s response to my mail he mentioned that there was corruption at Petrobras that “everyone knew about but were afraid to talk about.” Is Mr Costa revealing – like in Harry Potter – the name-that-no-one-dares-speak? Will his dilations impact on Dilma? Marina is clearly Miss Clean in the affair and with her squeeky clean platform is quickly painting herself into a corner where it will be difficult (impossible?) to build a coalition. I recall Otto von Bismarck’s pithy saying, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” Lula was an expert “sausage maker” and Brazil thrived. But now?
    Cheers, Paul R.

  2. Hi, Mr. Curmudgeon!
    I enjoyed very much the explanation about the terms and your total command of the expressions, well put not only for Brazilians, but also “para inglês ver”! Haaaa!!! And your signature made me think, many times I feel as the equivalent of a WASP for Brazil’s standards: Christian, in my 30’s, white, male, straight, (happily) married, not poor enough to have any “social” help, and although not rich enough as well, I still have to pay taxes over taxes and get nothing back, not even notice any concrete social benefits from them. The social benefits that are advertised, unfortunately, are “para inglês ver” too.
    Warm regards,
    Daniel Bertorelli


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