Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This has been a turbulent month for Dilma Rousseff’s government. As commented on by the Curmudgeon, former Chief of Staff and “de facto Prime Minister” Antonio Palocci, the president’s right-hand man, increased his net worth by some R$20 million between 2006 and 2010, when he was a federal congressman.

Samantha Barthelemy, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News
Samantha Barthelemy, Carioca specializing in education and public security policies and communications.

Without any credible explanation for the sudden accession of wealth “from political consultancy” (not that we really expect one), the Palocci affair is nearing a pretty anti-climatic and all too familiar ending.

In 2005, then former president Lula’s Finance Minister, Palocci found himself fending off corruption claims and friendly fire. He was accused of illegally fueling money to the Workers’ Party (PT), as both mayor of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto and as Lula’s campaign chief in the 2002 elections.

Palocci fell in early 2006 because of his office’s alleged involvement in the illegal disclosure of payments to a bank account belonging to Francenildo dos Santos Costa, a witness against Palocci in a corruption scandal.

The sacking caused Lula’s government some pains, especially since investors had learned to place much confidence in Palocci’s cautious fiscal and monetary policies.

But the bad guy was out of the big picture – temporarily. Palocci remained influential with investors and within the ruling Workers’ Party and (surprise!) in January 2011 became the newly elected president’s Chief of Staff.

All seemed to be forgiven and forgotten, as tradition dictates in Brazilian politics. Or maybe the PT’s bigger scandal (read Mensalão) forced out enough bad apples that Palocci was suddenly seen as perfect for the job.

Given an even more powerful position than the one he held under Lula, Palocci stirred big trouble, again. Once expected to tame Rousseff’s unwieldy coalition, he has now stirred the government into a frenzy.

In a misguided attempt to calm the powercats, Rousseff granted concessions to coalition partners and opposition members on the new Forestry Code and the anti-homophobia bill pending in Congress. It is not exactly working. Accused of influence-peddling, and “exonerated” by the attorney-general’s ruling that there is no “evidence of wrongdoing,” Rousseff’s right hand man has been asked to step down.

Now the president appointed Gleisi Hoffmann for the position; a newly elected PT senator, another woman, another right hand.

In September 2010, Rousseff’s former-right-hand-woman, Erenice Guerra, resigned as Chief of Staff amidst allegations of participation in a corruption scheme. Before that, Rousseff had held the position since her predecessor, the infamous José Dirceu, was forced to resign for his orchestration of the Congress vote-buying scheme.

Could Hoffmann – the sixth person to occupy the government’s most coveted post in eight years of PT rule – break the “curse?”

Financial markets are reacting more calmly this time than during Palocci’s first defenestration – when the Real fell by 2.7 percent against the dollar and the risk premium on Brazil’s bonds rose 0.6 percent. But Brazilians should be reacting furiously. Or are we giving another Chief of Staff another free pass, again?

A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs student with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies now living in Rio and specializing in communications, education and public security policy.  http://samanthabarthelemy.blogspot.com


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