Why All Of Brazil's Presidents Keep Winding Up In The Mud

It is the nature of the job, not the people who occupy it, that is ultimately to blame for an endless series of scandals at the top ranks of Brazilian politics.

Job comes with a sash and corruption
Job comes with a sash and corruption
Matias Spektor


SÃO PAULO — Brazil's presidential system, first installed in 1975 by Brazil's post-dictatorship New Republic, has failed. The recent conviction of Lula da Silva, the former president, who's now aiming to run to return to the top job in 2018, only provides more evidence to support this fact.

Over the past 30 years, virtually every president has eventually run into trouble with the justice system. The only ones who can sleep without a worry are Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002) and José Sarney (1985-1990), who were spared because of advanced age and because they were lucky enough to have governed the country at a time when the on-duty "shelvers' of the Republic (as a famous former general prosecutor, Geraldo Brindeiro, was nicknamed) were still in the capacity to offer protection.

The decay that the political system has produced didn't affect just elected presidents but also their top opponents (José Serra in 2002, Geraldo Alckmin in 2006, Aécio Neves in 2014), as well as numerous governors and almost one-third of the members of Congress.

This occurred because the New Republic invented a perverse formula to manage the relations between the executive and the legislative powers. In our system, the president doesn't have a parliamentary majority. In order to govern, he or she needs an "allied base" of members of both chambers of the legislature who, in turn, support the president in exchange for chunks of the budget and appointments to public offices where opportunities for juicy business are rife.

Because it's a dirty game, the president himself gets stuck in the mud.

Nothing in this system guarantees that the relations between the executive and the legislative will focus on the common good, such as providing decent hospitals, good schools and efficient public transport. On the contrary, the rules of Brazil's presidential game actually mean that the whole society has to surrender its authority in the face of groups of interests that are strong enough to take advantage of the president's necessity to secure support from his base.

Merely the go-to guy

Who wins in such a system? The cartel of construction companies such as Odebrecht, groups of businessmen and entrepreneurs such as Joesley Batista (who recently incriminated President Michel Temer), unionists who take a payment to bring strikes to an end and the lobby of health insurance companies.

In this system, the president's Planalto palace is merely the clearing house of private interests. It is where positions of trust are distributed for top dollar. And it's from there that the traps are laid to influence the justice system and to limit the damage caused by the watchdog institutions.

Right to left Michel Temer, Dilma Rousseff, Lula da Silva and his wife Marisa Letícia — Photo: Wilson Dias/ABr

As the holder of the pen that authorizes it all, the president becomes the collector-in-chief for his allies' campaigns: He's the go-to guy.

Because it's a dirty game, the president himself gets stuck in the mud. These past 30 years have seen our heads of state go crazy with all sorts of bribes, apartments, country houses, renovation works for their mothers-in-law, jobs for their kids, pocket money for their brothers, briefcases full of money and hair cuts from renowned hairdressers.

The bottom line is that more than any man or woman, it is Brazil's very institutions that are dragging the country into the dirt.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!