Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Worse than having a government plagued by corruption – a problem by no means exclusive to the Brazilian society – is denouncing corruption and then allowing it to remain unpunished.

Samantha Barthelemy, Carioca specializing in education and public security policies.

We are becoming complacent, conformed. Under the anesthesia of successive corruption scandals little seems to shock us, and nothing spurs us to action.

That needs to change.

In this country, men repeatedly accused of corruption crimes like former president Fernando Collor, former Rio de Janeiro governor Anthony Garotinho and former mayor of São Paulo Paulo Maluf are still doing politics as usual.

Others like Antonio Palocci, Dilma Rousseff’s former Chief of Staff, miraculously increases his net worth by some R$20 million in a few years and walks the plank – again!

If (and that is a big if) we are lucky these men – considered by many as criminals – lose their posts, often only temporarily. It is almost unrealistic to expect more, say, that they go to jail.

And who is to blame?

I know Brazilians can fight for their rights, and achieve results.

Once upon a time, artists, intellectuals, students and unionists protested and contested. From August to September of 1992 hundreds of thousands of caras-pintadas, students with their faces painted in green and yellow, took to the streets throughout the country demanding Fernando Collor’s impeachment.

In May 2011 thousands participated in the Marcha da Maconha (Marijuana March) in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Brasília calling for the legalization of cannabis. This year’s Parada Gay (Gay Parade) assembled four million people in São Paulo alone.

It borders on alienation and complicity when we sit back and lament how we suffer from the corruption “tragedy.”

We never cease to be shocked by our country’s high rates of crime but remain apathetic as we are stolen from, day after day, by unarmed white-collared men (and women).

We recently “discovered” that as much as seventy percent of misappropriated public funds were originally allocated to the health and education sectors. Between 2007 and 2010 nearly R$700 million (a low estimate) “disappeared,” and about half of those accused of improbity in public administration are current or former mayors.

Literal translation: children’s lunches and patient’s medicine are being exchanged for whiskey and dog food (really). Somehow we do not respond.

Could it be that we need the cause-and-effect link between the poor quality of public services and politicians’ unexplained enrichment to be made more explicit?

Facing corruption will require Herculean efforts, and not solely on Dilma Rousseff’s part.

As long as we wait for the rotten areas of government to fix themselves and remain satisfied with simply naming corrupt officials instead of demanding their punishment, we are playing their game.

Until we start treating corruption as our problem – one with a solution and for which we share responsibility – and not as an inevitable tragedy, we cannot really expect things to change.

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



  1. The “cara pintada” movement against Collor resembled, to some degree, what is happening now in the “Arab Spring” because all the leaders of the countries with uprisings are corrupt. The reason there is no “cara pintada” movement now is because Lula has managed to co-opt UNE, MST and most other sources of young people who might hit the street protesting against corruption in government. Both these organizations, once politically active and demonstrative, have become tame critics of the administration. Why? Because they now receive massive government funding and they know better than to bite the hand that feeds them. In other words, they’ve corrupted themselves. It’s a shame.


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