By John Fitzpatrick
June 30, 2008
One of the great dangers in following Brazilian politics is that you can become extremely cynical and thick skinned. After a daily diet of corruption, sleaze, greed, lies and incompetence, nothing surprises you any more. The press might print a dozen stories every day involving crooked Congressmen, state governors, mayors, policemen, lawyers, judges, trade unionists, soldiers and businessmen but you know that not a single culprit will be punished. There might be the odd sacking or reprimand but the overwhelming majority know they are safe to continue with their activities. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the good” guys have to turn a blind eye at best and remain as clean as they can or, as must often happen, give in and succumb to the temptations. This is what has happened to President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva. These thoughts came to me as I watched Lula greet ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso at the wake for Cardoso’s wife, Ruth, in São Paulo on June 25. It was touching to see the long abrao the two men gave each other and when Lula looked down at Ruth Cardoso’s face I wondered if he was recalling the days when he and Cardoso were on the same side fighting for the return to democratic rule.
Things were so much easier then and the goal was simple. By coincidence Ruth Cardoso died on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the founding of Cardoso’s PSDB, a social democratic party. The PSDB spun off from the PMDB which had been the main driving force for democratic change along with Lula’s Workers Party (PT) during the final years of military rule. The PT was founded only a few years before the PSDB and both parties have headed governments since 1995 with the PMDB acting as a powerbroker whenever its interests suited it. The PSDB was never as openly ideological as the PT and during his eight years of rule
Cardoso’s main partner was the PFL (now known as the Democrats) which was supposedly a center-right party which believed in the free market and was against state intervention. Despite sharing some goals, the PSDB and the PT were – and still are – fierce rivals and when it was Lula’s turn to replace Cardoso he formed alliances with a bewildering array of parties, including the PMDB. The PSDB lined up with the PFL as the main opposition force and have been pretty unimpressive to say the least.
It was this unwieldy alliance of Lula’s which led to the scandal known as the mensalão in which members of some of these parties were bribed to vote in favor of government policies. This blot tarnished the PT’s image and showed that it was not the honest, idealistic movement it had always claimed to be. It showed the PT as the Barbarians at the Gate when Lula finally won office, ransacking Brasilia for every grain of power they could get their hands on.
This scandal first emerged in mid-2005 and then gradually built up in the following months until it toppled virtually all of Lula’s top advisers and exposed a network of corruption involving siphoning off funds from state-controlled enterprises and banks. Despite all the damning evidence that Lula knew what had been going on, no smoking gun was ever found to link him. I recall that even during the blackest days for the government when there was even some muttering by opposition parties of impeaching Lula I was absolutely certain that he would not be toppled and would be easily re-elected the following year.
This turned out to be the case and the only setback was that Lula had to take the vote to the second round after narrowly failing to win 50% in the first round. I did not feel pleased or smug that I had been correct because most other people who follow Brazilian politics had felt the same. However, maybe we should have been more shocked or disappointed and not just have said “I told you so”.
I was talking recently to a foreign journalist who was leaving Brazil after a five-year assignment as head of an international news agency and he said that, while he recognized Lula’s remarkable achievement, he believed Lula had lost some moral prestige over the mensalão. I felt a little guilty on hearing these words because I no longer associate Lula or any politician here with moral prestige. Have things really reached such a depressing state that you no longer associate ideas like ethics and morality with day-to-day political life? If so, then I wonder if there is any point in continuing to try and following what is happening in Brazilian politics.
John Fitzpatrick 2008
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:
Lost Your Job on Wall Street? Head for Brazil!
Brazil: Lula Loves Investment Grade – Whatever That Is
There’s No Business Like Oil Business – in Brazil Anyway
Benefits of Brazil’s Growth Start to Spread
Let Brazilians Sort Out the Problems of the Amazon
Brazil’s Politicians Set to Cash in on Oil and Gas Discoveries
Brazil: Lula Learns the Lesson of Not Planning Ahead
Cops and Robbers Brazilian Style
Brazil: Oscar Freire – São Paulo’s Street of Dreams
Brazil: Lula Called to Account on Tax
Will Lula Leave Brazil in Safe or Unsafe Hands?
Senate Spits in the Face of the Brazilian People
The Lord Mayor Goes Zapping the NYSE in Brazil
Brazil: Economic Boom – Political Gloom
Around Brazil: Natal – Sun, Sand Dunes and Solitude or Hassle, Hustlers and Hookers
ACM – Brazil Will Never See His Like Again
Brazilians Let Politicians Treat Them as Doormats
Senate Chairman Upholds Tradition of Treating Brazil with Contempt
Brits Turn Their Backs on Brazil
Look Out for the New BBC – the Brazilian Broadcasting Corporation
Navel Gazing in Brasilia – Largesse in São Paulo
Brazil’s Politicians Share the Spoils
Cida – A Brazilian Entrepreneur
Ten Top Brazilian Songs to Download on Your iPod
Lula Lets Brazilians Down by Failing to Exercise His Authority
Brazil: Laid Back Lula Finally Gets His Team (Almost) Together
The George W. Bush PR Show Comes to Brazil
Briefing Bush on Brazil the CIA Way
US Authorities Tackle Brazil’s White Collar Criminals
Brazil’s Opposition Parties Try to End Disarray
Lula Faces Arm-Wrestling Contest with New Congress
Brazil Waits for Lula to Return from Holiday
Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba
Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil’s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil’s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil’s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?