Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Impunity is once again thriving in Brasília. Former STF Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa has retired, not only as Chief Justice, but also as the Rapporteur of the “Mensalão” cases. His substitute is newly appointed “Justice” Luis Roberto Barroso, who has long supported the miscreant “mensaleiros” in private, although he’s never had the courage to admit it in public.

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

Mr. Barroso has coveted a Supreme Court position for the past twenty years, implementing his ambition from his position as a constitutional law professor at USP, the equivalent in Brazil of Harvard Law School. A well-known liberal, whose political sympathies are very much in tune with the populist segment of the governing coalition, he was rewarded with the STF appointment, on the implicit assumption (if not formal condition) that he would work strenuously to set free the convicted “mensaleiros.” This he has done.

Brazilian law holds that criminals are not free to go into the “work release” regime where they may work outside jail but must sleep there at night, until they have served at least one sixth of their sentence. Mr. Barroso convinced the STF to interpret this to apply only to criminals serving jail terms longer than eight years. Not coincidentally, José Dirceu’s term is seven years and eleven months, so he’s free to go to “work.”

This “work”, as Mr. Barroso and everyone else on the planet knows, is to get Dilma Rousseff re-elected. In theory, José Dirceu will work for an eighty-year-old criminal lawyer, a longtime friend, receiving R$2,100 per month to organize his library. Justice Barbosa, before retiring, saw through this sham, referring to it (in French) as a put-up job between buddies.

Justice Barbosa was right, because if the lawyer had been serious he would have hired a certified librarian — a regulated profession in Brazil. Moreover, assuming the library is organized in a week or so, José Dirceu will still have plenty of time to help Rousseff’s campaign from inside the law office.

This is immensely shameful, in numerous respects. It is shameful for a reputable lawyer to pretend to offer a job that is a sham. It is shameful for the OAB to defend the lawyer and criticize Justice Barbosa for his statement pointing out the sham. It is shameful that the STF, after finally imposing some punishment on dishonest politicians, has undone this by setting them free. It is shameful for the STF to benefit only José Dirceu and his partners in crime, when thousands of deserving prisoners would truly benefit from a “work release” program.

The reason behind allowing prisoners daytime leave to work is to reintegrate them into society and to show them there are valid alternatives to criminal activities in order to make a living. In the case of criminals who are truly repentant, and who desire to lead honest lives, that is justice.

In the case of the “mensaleiros”, it is an injustice. They are not repentant; they do not admit they committed crimes; they do not even deny they will do now, if allowed, exactly the same things they did before their trials and convictions. Mr. Barroso knows this; in fact, the entire country knows this.

Impunity once again reigns supreme, thanks largely to Mr. Barroso. He should have difficulty sleeping at night. But he probably won’t.

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. Most of the mainstream press is simply reporting that Dirceu is out on the work-release program as if it was expected and the normal course of events for a situation like this. Only a very few, including Mr. Royster, have had the courage to explain what is really happening. It is difficult to be optimistic about Brazil’s future when such flagrant disregard for justice is the norm. Yesterday’s World Cup loss is the least of Brazil’s problems.


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