Political crisis in Brazil: a new (old) chapter

By Isabele Mitozo and Erica Anita

These days Brazil has seen some new pages of its political crisis. Despite the rumors that after Dilma’s impeachment (and a probably future imprisonment of the former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva), the Republic would be safe and far away from new scandals, last Wednesday the country faced a big turmoil: it was publicized a recorded conversation from March 7 between the president, Michel Temer, and Joesley Batista, the owner of the enterprise JBS, about some crimes that the businessman had committed to try to stop investigations and speculations about his dirty connections with other institutional actors. The president’s answer to the entrepreneur’s serious confessions against the republican institutions was “Great, great!”.

The audio that the entrepreneur recorded was then taken like a reason of a probable resignation from the Brazilian president, as he and his team spent almost 24h to give a public speech about the situation. People were so sure the president would resign by 4 p.m. on Thursday 18th that breaking news on the main TV channel in Brazil at the time of his speech was the most seen in the country ever.

Otherwise, a Senator who was also the candidate to dispute the second round against Dilma Rousseff in the last presidential elections, Aécio Neves, was exposed in another audio. He was asking Batista for 2 million reais (BRL) to pay a lawyer. But the police was monitoring the bags where part of the money (500,000 reais) was carried until its destiny, and concluded that it went to a different person, an assessor of a Deputy from the same state as Neves, Zezé Perrela. During the conversation, Aécio Neves also says what he thinks about the president and his team as well as criticizes the law against corruption that the National Congress will vote soon: “we will vote this s*** of ‘ten measures’ [against corruption]”, he says. His sister was put in jail the morning after, because she also negotiated bribes, and his mandate as Senator was suspended.

Many other politicians were involved with JBS corruption scheme, and now it is time to the Court to judge 178 deputies (and their parties/coalitions) and some ministers based on what Joesley Batista denounced in order to achieve his freedom by cooperation with the investigations. The political scientist Sérgio Braga, from Federal University of Paraná, points to the uncertainty of the denounces from the entrepreneur and his brother Wesley Batista, his partner in business, as well as the reason “why they were not sent to prison, and a series of privileges were conceived to them: a comfortable American liberty (at the 5th Avenue in NY), their wives are not under investigation etc.”.

An attorney of the republic involved on the investigations was imprisoned because he was acting as a double agent. It is important to remark that he was one of the authors of the draft law named “ten measures against corruption”, mentioned above.

This situation points to some scenarios: 1) Temer’s impeachment – eight processes against him were protocoled into the Chamber of Deputies (CoD); 2) his suspension by the Court, because of the audios; 3) the revoke of his mandate following the process that judges his connection with Rousseff’s 2014 campaign crimes, once he was her vice-president; 4) and, as consequence of these exits, the Speaker of the CoD should assume the presidency and call indirect elections (only the Congress – CoD and Senate – can vote), according to the Constitution.

All of them puts in check the Brazilian “Coalition Presidentialism”, stated by the political scientist Sérgio Abranches in 1988. About this, Professor Sérgio Braga says that the situation “will debauch even more the already demoralized Brazilian political elites”. The Coalition Presidentialism “will continue to work precariously as usual. We can only explain the permanence of it in Brazil by two reasons: a) conservatives prefer this system because it is the easier way to make a center-left wing president with a reformist agenda politically null; b) the left wing adhere to this sort of presidentialism because they are tied to populism (moderate distributive policies implemented by a charismatic leader), and also because it is the shorter way to party bureaucrats to get the power, without passing through the hard work of mobilizing citizens to conquer numerous benches in parliament”.

The president now works on denying arraignments and reversing the investigation process in the Supreme Court, as he said on the afternoon of May 20, during his second public speech. Even though Rodrigo Maia, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, is a president’s ally, what is going to happen is not predicable, because some sources into the institution have told that Maia had some meetings with politicians and officials to start to prepare the procedures for the indirect election.

These denounces are part of the complex scheme of corruption investigated by the operation that became famous as Lava Jato (“Car Wash”). One might say about this inquiry, which still has no date for conclusion, is that it has magnitude and importance because of high values ​​involved, time, and mainly the nature of those involved, since it deals with public and private agents. This aspect is perhaps the most relevant and what has taught us most about corruption, since it is usual to attribute corruption practices to the public sector, especially the political class. Lava Jato has shown another side of corruption that is less discussed and how the pursuit of power and financial gain may involve both sectors, public and private ones, although the most visible consequence is the disbelief and the delegitimization of politics, since the private sector does not seem to feel the effects of charges and punishments, they keep their gains though. The current events show the permissiveness of the Brazilian political arrangement, which opens gaps to the most varied crimes, and also makes us question the efficiency of the Brazilian judicial system.