Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With all the corruption being (re-)discovered and the current battle against its ongoing existence, there is one political scandal that has slipped through the cracks of the public eye, and that is money washing, literally.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

Casa da Moeda do Brasil, the Brazilian Mint, responsible for the production of bills, legal tender coins, passports, security prints, and even medals, was recently fined R$860,000, or US$430,000, for dumping untreated waste in the São Francisco canal in Santa Cruz, Rio de Janeiro.

The animals that hold a place on the backside of every Brazilian note, such as the endangered jaguar (onça-pintada) and Rio’s own endemic and critically endangered golden lion tamarin (mico-leão-dourado), would not be very pleased by the Mint’s excuse that Brazil’s economic growth is forcing their facility to pollute more because they need to print more money and medals.

It would be interesting to see how the international Polluter Pays Principal would apply to a government run mint. In an ironic and cyclic sort of way, the same money the mint fabricates, it uses to pay for its own environmental fines.

As the Brazilian Mint’s environmental medaling goes down the river, the Brazilian government has been plagued with corruption scandals, such as the Mensalão, kick-backs for concessions projects, nepotism, cronyism, cash-for-votes, among other fraud and illegal schemes that would require an encyclopedia size book to summarize the recent turn of events.

However, the status quo of a historically corrupt Brazilian experience is being heavily challenged by high-power government officials, namely President Dilma Rousseff and Supreme Court President Joaquim Barbosa, who was called by some the “Brazilian Batman” due to his black cape “justiceiro” outfit.

These telenovela-like superheroes are going against an outdated political corruption mold by punishing high-ranking officials such as José Dirceu, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s right-hand man, indicted of using public funds to pay coalition parties for political support.

It’s heartbreaking for many people in Brazil who fought against the corrupt and cruel dictatorship, to have people like ex-politician Dirceu, among others, being charged with government fraud. Money is not only polluting the environment, but also the good faith of Brazilian politicians.

On emerging economies it seems like growth is a synonymous for pollution. Last month there was a massive protest organized by Cariocas demanding that the royalties from petroleum extracted from Rio state coastline does not get shared evenly among all states. Even though at first sight protesters seemed to be fighting for funding for education and social welfare, society failed to realize that the protest was actually pro-pollution.

The Brazilian government is failing to produce clean money, and the dirty money that is being produced is very hard to wash, indeed.

Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.


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