Brazil’s Corruption Investigation Expands to Almost Entire Political Class
The corruption investigation of Brazilian politicians expanded dramatically and is less biased against the center-left. However, the danger is that it will lead to de-politicization and opportunistic anti-politics explains Brazil analyst Alex Hochuli
GREGORY WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
Last week, Brazil’s political class experienced another bombshell, when one of the country’s Supreme Court judges, Luiz Edson Fachin, authorized investigations into another 78 top-level politicians for corruption. This brings the total to 108 politicians under investigation, including nearly a third of President Temer’s Cabinet, and a third of the Senate, including President Temer himself.
In one of the testimonies, a key witness accuses Temer of having participated in meetings where it was negotiated that his centrist PMDB Party would receive $40 million in bribes. Also under investigation, are three former presidents, including former President Lula da Silva, and nine state governors.
During a press conference last week, President Temer had the following to say about the latest batch of investigations.
PRESIDENT MICHEL TEMER: (Portuguese)
TRANSLATOR: It is evident that among the inevitably diverging opinions, and misinterpretations, the judiciary will give the final word. This is what we have to give value to, more and more. Therefore, we can never paralyze the government. We have to maintain continuity in the government, and in legislative and judicial activities.
GREGORY WILPERT: Brazil’s corruption scandal, which has the construction company Odebrecht at its center, now threatens to engulf Brazil’s entire political class.
Joining us from São Paolo, Brazil, to make sense of the latest developments in Brazil’s corruption scandal, is Alex Hochuli. Alex is a researcher and communications consultant based in São Paolo, Brazil. A sociologist by training, he writes on global politics with a focus on Brazil, and recently wrote an article for the Jacobin website called, “The Ends of Lava Jato.”
Thanks for joining us today, Alex.
ALEX HOCHULI: Thanks for having me.
GREGORY WILPERT: Alex, how far has this scandal really expanded? I mentioned in the introduction that it implicates Brazil’s entire political class. Would you say that that’s accurate?
ALEX HOCHULI: I think that’s fairly accurate. I mean, these things could always go deeper in terms of regional government, and locally, but at the top level it implicates … both the legislature and the Executive. One thing, which is interesting, is that it so far hasn’t really implicated any of the judiciary, which one suspects may or may not come out. Which I think rests a lot on the calculations and strategy, of those leading the anti-corruption investigations.
GREGORY WILPERT: And what do you think are the consequences for Brazilian politics? In your very interesting Jacobin article, you mentioned that it is turning Brazilian politics into a spectator sport. What do you mean by that?
ALEX HOCHULI: Well, I think there’s … watched … his anti-corruption investigations unfold, and it’s been really, immediate spectacle. Certainly in its first couple of years, a lot of the investigation was carried out via the media, effectively, via selective leaking. A lot of which targeted the Workers Party, which was in government at the time. And these were deliberate leaks conducted primarily by Sérgio Moro, the investigating judge.
At the time, that raised a lot of anger against the Workers Party, especially from the middle classes, and the upper classes. What’s happened now with this latest bombshell is it does implicate huge swathes of the political class, which has been, to be honest, a little bit of a surprise. Not just to myself, but to other observers, who felt that it would remain perhaps, a bit of a partisan initiative, a partisan campaign against the Workers party.
This really does target politicians from across the political spectrum, including the two other leading political parties. The PMDB, who is President Temer’s party, as well as the PSDB, which is the main neo-liberal party in Brazil today.
The implication of this is to leave a massive vacuum in Brazilian politician life. Not just in terms of politicians being arraigned, and eventually potentially sentenced, but also for the fact that, in terms of legitimacy, no one really can act as a national unifier in the current situation.
GREGORY WILPERT: Yeah. Another interesting comparison that you make in your article is, to the corruption scandals and investigations in Italy, the Mani Pulite corruption investigation in the 1990s.
Tell us briefly about the parallels, and differences, and how this is relevant to the situation in Brazil today.
ALEX HOCHULI: Right. It’s very interesting that Sergio Moro, the investigating judge, actually explicitly (based the) investigation here in Brazil on Mani Pulite. He carefully studied it. What has happened in Brazil has been a much more -– at least initially, as I said -– a much more partisan, sort of initiative, targeting the Workers Party and enlisting the media to really rile people up and create a bit of an hysteria around corruption.
Which seemed to purely target, and really suggest that it was the Workers Party who were mainly implicated in it. These latest investigations have now shown us that it affects, of course, the whole political class.
What happened in Italy was something that also actually affected the whole of the political class, and led to the fall of the Italian Republic at the time. That actually left a real vacuum. Which the person most to benefit from that was Silvio Berlusconi, who remained in power for a long time subsequent to that. Precisely by positioning himself as someone who was not political.
Instead of having an alternation of center left and center right in Italy, as you had over the post-war period. You had this supposedly post-political, or anti-political figure, who presented himself as a good manager and a good businessman, who gets things done, as opposed to someone who can carry through an ideological program for the country.
I think what we have in Brazil today, is an opening of the political scenario, which is probably quite similar. And we have certain candidates in Brazil, notably (audio drop out) … Mayor Jean(?) Dola(?) Jeune(?) Junior, who positions himself in a very similar way. He says he is a good manager and not political.
Of course, one shouldn’t take this at face value. … (audio issues) much implicated with the PSDB Party and has a certain program for government, which is a center right, new liberal one.
But the parallels with Italy really are striking in Brazil at the moment. When you have the judiciary effectively trying to devastate the entirety of the political class.
GREGORY WILPERT: What do you think this means though, for the left in Brazil? Former President Lula da Silva has said that he would run again in the 2018 presidential election, but he’s now also being targeted in these latest investigations.
Do you think the Workers Party has a chance of making a comeback in this context?
ALEX HOCHULI: The Workers Party? No. Lula, as president, perhaps, he remains the only politician with any credibility and popularity in Brazil, des…(audio drop) … implicated in a lot of these corruption allegations. He … strong basis of support, particularly in the northeast of the country, but, as I say in my article, the judge’s gavel hangs over him. I still suspect that he’ll be implicated, he’ll be charged, and he will be sentenced, which will prevent him from running in 2018. With that, then, really … question of who has any sort of popularity in the country. Very, very few do.
I think actually, if the Brazilian elite were a little bit less shortsighted, it would recognize in Lula as a candidate, a kind of National Unity candidate who could carry through certain reforms and stabilize the country, and perhaps put the country back on a path to some sort of growth.
It’s actually been paralyzed for the past two years. Partly because of the investigations have paralyzed the construction and petrol industries. So, Lula could be a sort of centrist candidate if it weren’t for the fact that Brazil’s elite has it in for him, and really want him to be prevented from running.
GREGORY WILPERT: Another thing, or another interesting point that you make, is about the parallel between neo-liberalism and transparency, in the name of fighting corruption. Tell us a little bit about that. How do these two things work together, and how does this perhaps clear the path, actually, for neo-liberalism in Brazil?
ALEX HOCHULI: Well, I think it’s interesting that the Attorney General, Horje Jano, mentioned at Davos this year, that the anti-corruption investigations were pro-market. Which is a particular ideological slant on something. Which should be the neutral application of the law.
What transparency really means is, an end to all informality between relations between government and business. What corruption in Brazil has meant, has been a sort of informality -– you know, a lot of behind closed doors dealings, little winks and nods, private dinners, notes written on napkins containing multi-million dollar figures.
The idea of formalizing… it doesn’t necessarily mean that corruption will be done away with. Merely that it will become somehow more sophisticated. It also prevents the State from closer relations with national enterprises, who could carry forward a more developmentalist program, which was what was happening under the Lula and Dilma governments.
So, what transparency really implies, is both governments hands be a little bit more tied, a less close relations between national companies and government, and effectively an opening towards international capital. Whatever you may think of that, that implies a specific form of political and economic management. Which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with corruption, per se. It’s not necessarily anti-corruption. Transparency is a very particular, and effectively a neo-liberal concept.
GREGORY WILPERT: Well, finally, I just wanted to know what do you think will happen now to the Temer government? Do you think it will last until the end of its term in 2018? Or, is there a good chance that it will have to be removed from office?
ALEX HOCHULI: Well, it’s a funny thing. I can’t see it carrying on, and I can’t see it falling, either. Without significant street protests, I think it might just lumber on. Because without any alternative, I think it will lead to even more devastation. I think the interesting thing is that there’s an open conflict within the elite itself, between the most crusading anti-corruption segments of the judiciary, and then the more old elite who want to preserve a certain order.
Who wins out in that may determine matters. But at the moment, I think Temer will remain in power, despite having single figure approval ratings, because who else is going to step in? There would need to be a change in the Constitution and some political reform.
The latest news was that there have been meetings between Temer, former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Lula, to kind of sew up some sort of national accord. That might not be the most anti-corruption move, but I think the elite wants to establish some sort of order. Because it feels it’s the house falling down upon its ears right at the moment.
GREGORY WILPERT: Okay. Well, we’ll definitely want to come back to you, to see what the latest develops are, and how to make sense of them.
We were speaking with Alex Hochuli, a research on communications consultant in São Paolo, Brazil.
Thanks so much, Alex, for this interview.
ALEX HOCHULI: Thank you.
GREGORY WILPERT: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.