Brazil’s Legal Order as the Source of Political Disorder
Boaventura de Sousa Santos analyzes the state of Brazil’s political and legal system
GREGORY WILPERT, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. My name is Gregory Wilpert and I’m coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
The political crisis in Brazil is deepening, and the outcome is highly uncertain. Last week Brazil’s opposition launched an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff, accusing her of accounting irregularities. Shortly thereafter her vice president, who belongs to the coalition party PMDB, a centrist party that in the past has supported conservative governments, decided to withdraw its support from the government. The party’s president, Michel Temer, is also the country’s vice president and now has a good chance of becoming president, should Rousseff be impeached.
Meanwhile, the investigations into corruption among the country’s political class is continuing, and has ensnared former Worker’s Party President Lula da Silva. He was supposed to join Rousseff as chief of staff, but was prevented from doing so when several judges issued injunctions against his naming because Lula was supposedly using his position to escape prosecution from an accusation of money laundering.
With us today to examine the latest developments and to put them in a broader context is Boaventura de Sousa Santos. He is a professor of sociology at Coimbra University in Portugal and affiliated with the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He has done extensive research on Brazil and the sociology of law, and was also one of the main driving forces behind the founding of the World Social Forum. His most recent book is “If God Were a Human Rights Activist.” He is joining us from Lisbon, Portugal. Thanks, Boaventura, for joining us today.
BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS: Thank you for having me.
WILPERT: So let us start with the legal system. In a recent article you criticized the Brazilian legal order as having become a dangerous source of disorder in Brazil. Can you please explain this? How is the legal system, and specifically the corruption investigation, contributing to legal disorder in Brazil?
SANTOS: Well, it does. We are used to see that the courts very often take a very active position, and they have done that in the past in many different occasions. If you would take the Supreme Court in the United States, we know they are sometimes on the progressive side, sometimes on the conservative side. We also saw that the courts in Chile during the Allende time, very active with conservative side in order to kill and [inaud.] by Salvador Allende and the popular government.
so it is not new. What is new is the fact that this political activism is rather biased, in the sense that [inaud.] extremely, extremely biased in, you know, to protect certain figures that have been accused of corruption, and they in fact not pursuing the charges that are there, and all the indications that everybody has been involved in corruption invoke [inaud.], certainly, on the Workers’ Party, which in fact [inaud.] during the government both by Lula and later on by Dilma, they come back to the most aggressive policy against corruption, and that’s why some of the leaders of the PT are in prison now, the previous leaders of the PT.
But of course nobody thinks in Brazil that they are the most corrupt party. In fact, PMDB and all the governing class of the [PSL] and the [Demos], the other rightist parties, the PSDB, the party of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have always been accused of charges of corruption, you know, a long time. What’s happened now is that this judge takes the position of focusing solely on the leftist government, on Lula and associates, and in fact is neglecting most of the other cases, particularly those that have to do with other members that have been accused of corruption charges like the president, the chairman of [the Chamber of Deputies], Eduardo Cunha, probably one of the most corrupt politicians in the country.
So this activism is rather biased because it’s focusing on people, some of them may have committed some regularities or some crimes, but President Dilma, nobody accuses her. I mean, impeachment is about a President that commits a crime during, it’s mandated a serious crime. She is not accused of it. Everybody knows that she’s clean. She’s not corrupt, that’s why people are out on the street, because they don’t see any reason why this woman should be impeached. Because it’s a woman? Couldn’t be. She was a guerrilla member, that was many, many years ago. She has been a competent technician, probably, not politically prepared for this polarization in society, but nevertheless there is nothing criminal against her, so there is no reason for this impeachment.
So the judicial system is playing a kind of an extreme role in the sense of polarizing the society by the biases that [inaud.] take that initiative that you mention. Ex-president Lula decided to join, agreed to join the government. Well, it’s quite legitimate. He is not, you know, escaping justice, because what happens is that if there is something against him, of course he’ll be charged and it’ll be criminalized and it’ll be punished and condemned. But no, in one case it goes from the first degree court to the Supreme Court. In this case it goes directly to the Supreme Court, and in that case the decision is finally. That is to say, whatever the court decides is finally. So he’s not escaping.
So why, several judges, I mean 27 injunctions around the country to prevent him to come to power, to come to the government? I mean, this is disorder because one is enough. Why do they do 27? It shows that there’s a political agenda of political assassination of the ex-president Lula, basically because a week before he had announced that he was really available for becoming a candidate in 2018, and at that point that was really, the right became very nervous because he is so popular and, in fact, a kind of process of political assassination was put in practice very, very efficiently but probably with uncertain results because they have not predicted that even though people were very much, you know, tired and of course resentful of some of the policies of President Dilma, they want democracy, and they know very well that what they have done in the past.
45 million people out of poverty. With great dignity they have expanded the university system. They have created a middle class. And all of a sudden, this can now be thrown overboard and [inaud.], so that’s why so many people talk about the parliamentary coup, something very similar to what’s happening to Fernando Lugo, in Paraguay, that went on an official trip to a foreign country, and when he came back he was not president anymore. The same could have happened to president Dilma Rousseff if [she] had accepted the visit to the United States, so that’s why she canceled it.
WILPERT: One of the interesting things in this case is that the prosecuting judge, Sérgio Moro, has styled himself after the Clean Hands investigation in Italy, a corruption investigation that led to hundreds of arrests across the Italian political spectrum. But you argue that there’s a big difference. Can you elaborate a little about what the difference is between the Italian Clean Hands investigation and Brazil’s so-called Carwash investigation? How is the Brazilian legal system different from the Italian one?
SANTOS: Well, there are two main differences. The first one is that the judges in Brazil–the prosecutors in Italy were very careful about bringing charges against all the political spectrum because, in fact, all the political spectrum, from the socialists to the Christian Democrats, all of them had been involved in government. In fact, only the communists and some extreme left parties have not been involved in government in Italy. So, therefore, all of them that had been [inaud.] with governing responsibilities throughout this period were [inaud.], brought charges against them, so there was a very intense [inaud.]. More than 600 people were put in prison, you know, businessmen, politicians, one-third of the members of parliament were under investigation, but they were from all the political spectrum, and in fact they were equally active, so that the people that were on the right and on the left, you know, in the prosecution.
While here in Brazil you can see that there are, of course, accusations and [inaud.], and that people have been involved in some criminal action from different parties, most of them, from the PMDB and PSDB, that is to say the two opposition parties now, because PMDB now is also an opposition party, and all the media circus about these corruption charges are against the people on the left, so it’s very biased. The Mani Pulite, that is, the Clean Hands in Italy were not so.
The second one is that they were very autonomous, these judges, the prosecutor. Because we don’t have, in Italy, the figure of the general prosecutor. So the prosecutors are very autonomous, and what they decided was to apply the law as it existed, because were the [young] people that had seen that over the years many of the procedural laws, many of the criminal laws that were in the books in fact were not activated. They were not applied in action because the judges were too, you know, lenient and complacent,in a sense. Complacent with the corruption that was going on. So they decided to apply the law as it was. It was a very indication that the law is there, it needs to be applied.
While you have here the same, lots of irregularities and some of them very serious, like the one of recording the phone calls of the president. And Gregory, you know, if we just pay attention to this, you remember that some two years ago the NSA apparently was recording, you know, tapping the phone of the President of Brazil. There was an uproar in Brazil against American imperialists because the imperialists were really, you know, wiretapping our president. So why should [inaud] in motion. All of a sudden a judge, first instance judges, that’s the same with no justification, no real coverage of that. In fact, the guy has already apologized for that, because he knows that sooner or later he’ll be under disciplinary action by the National Council of Justice because there was a very gross breach of procedure or law, not to say constitutional law.
WILPERT: We need to stop here for now, since we’ve reached the end of part one of this interview. When we get back I would like you to address the mistakes that the PT government of President da Silva and President Rousseff. Also we will touch on the international contexts in which these events in Brazil are taking place. So thanks for watching the Real News and make sure you pick up the conversation in part two.
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