Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Wednesday, November 13th a majority of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) voted to reject most of the latest set of appeals made by defendants in the “Mensalão” scandal. Surprisingly, the STF also voted to send most of the “mensaleiros” to jail. Immediately.
Had the decision used terminology from the board game “Monopoly” it would have been this: “Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect R$200.” In the game, one wonders whether those in the hoosegow, while still wending their way towards Boardwalk and beyond, have collected a “get out of jail free” card.
Returning to real life Brasília, one wonders the same. This is because, inevitably, there are still some appeals pending. Brazilian procedural law has five different words for “appeal” with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of variations upon each word. But these appeals will only affect the time and the type of incarceration.
The Curmudgeon has referred to the four principal Mensalão ringleaders (José Dirceu, José Genuíno, Delúbio Soares and Marcos Valério) as the “Gang of Four” in prior columns [here and here]. In more recent columns [“Infringing Embargos” and “The Litmus Test”] the Curmudgeon has expressed his conviction that, with the recent appointment of two new STF Justices, none of the Gang of Four would ever have to do hard jail time.
The Curmudgeon is happy to admit he was wrong.
As this is written, on November 17th, the Gang of Four, to a man, are all sitting inside Papuda Prison in Brasília. So are another 11 of the 16 sentenced by the STF to jail. One, lucky enough to have dual Brazilian/Italian citizenship, traveled surreptitiously to the “old country” 45 days ago and will have to be extradited. Or not.
The Curmudgeon also admits he misjudged one of the recent appointees. Justice Barroso was (we thought) appointed to be the Gang of Four’s in-house lawyer, having as his brief keeping the former PT leaders (José Dirceu and José Genuíno) out of jail. Last Wednesday, to almost universal astonishment, Justice Barroso stood up on his hind legs and said “Chega!” [Portuguese for “Enough, already!”].
His reasoning was that the appeals process delaying the sentencing of the defendants had gone far enough, far beyond the ability of people in the street to understand. He also said that the people know that Brazil’s prison system is one of caste: if you’re rich and white you don’t go to jail; if you’re not, you do. So, he voted to imprison the Gang of Four (rich and white to a man).
Even more astounding was that Justice Toffoli, the former PT lawyer, cast his vote with Justice Barroso, thus forming a 6 to 5 majority in favor of “Go to Jail”. Don’t bother asking whether PT will renew his membership card in 2014.
The STF Justices, almost all of them appointed by Lula and Dilma, dithered and dallied and delayed, but in the end, they did their duty. The Gang of Four, mirabile dictu, have now begun serving time in jail. Justice has, at long last, been done in Brazil.
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!)