When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Geopolitics

Why Dilma Rousseff's Stand Against Corruption Is Good For Everyone

Dilma Rousseff, congratulating Olympic athletes
Dilma Rousseff, congratulating Olympic athletes

EDITORIAL - You can criticize the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, but you can’t accuse her of lack of integrity. As a young revolutionary she was tortured by Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, and came out of prison unscathed. When democracy was reestablished, she started a long political career. Her tactics may have changed along the way - hello Real Politik - but not her missionary fervor.

Dilma has forged a well-deserved reputation as an incorruptible. Only a couple months after taking office as president of Brazil, she fired six ministers after it was revealed that they were involved in ‘trafficking of favors.’ That is why the much-talked-about ‘trial of the century,’ for the biggest corruption scandal in the past 20 years in Brazil, might dirty the reputation of the much-loved Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, the popular former president who chose Dilma as his successor, but will not so much as touch her.

The scandal, called the mensalão, which means ‘large monthly payment,’ was uncovered for the first time in 2005, when Lula was president. The case was sent to the Supreme Court in 2007, but the judges only recently starting looking at the case. There are 38 co-defendants, all of them leaders in Dilma and Lula’s political party, the Workers’ Party (PT). The list starts with José Dirceu, the former Chief of Staff for Lula. All of the defendants are charged with corruption, illegal collusion, money laundering and embezzlement.

It is not a minor crime. Shortly after Lula came to power in 2002, the PT started to divert money from the publicity budgets and pension funds of state-owned companies and used it to make monthly payments to elected deputies and senators as a way to buy their support for legislative projects.

Forgiveness

In some Latin American countries, a scandal of this size would have toppled the government. But not in Brazil. There were some voices calling for Lula’s impeachment, but the president asked for forgiveness for his party’s actions, and appointed an untouchable female activist to be his Chief of Staff - guess who - and was reelected in 2006 with a wide margin.

Having a reputation for corruption is not an obstacle for a political career in Brazil. President Fernando Collor de Mello, for example, was impeached and removed from office for corruption in 1992. He recently returned to politics and was elected senator. The former governor of São Paulo, Paulo Maluf, is pending trial for theft related to a kickback scheme during his time as governor. He was recently elected to the parliament. And Lula himself, who in all likelihood knew about the mensalão, was elected a year after the scandal broke and left office after his second term with extremely high approval ratings.

Maybe that’s why Dilma’s Robespierrian zeal has seemed strange to some observers.

The trial will hurt her party, and she still has the upcoming October municipal elections in front of her, when 550 municipal-level posts will be up for election. Is it convenient for Dilma to seem so clean at the expense of her party and of Lula? Perhaps so. Lula was president in the years that Brazil experienced the highest economic growth in its history. Under his presidency, 35 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty. In those circumstances, it is much easier to forgive him if he turned a blind eye to corruption, especially in a country that takes for granted that politicians are corrupt.

Dilma’s Brazil, on the other hand, is not growing like it did before. The country grew only 2.5 percent last year, and the first trimester of this year grew at a rate of only 0.8 percent. Dilma could be thinking about her own reelection already, and having fired the six corrupt ministers at the beginning of her presidency made her popularity surge to 77 percent.

It is possible that Dilma’s revolutionary integrity is a political maneuver on which she is betting her own future. Or maybe she really has Robespierre’s revolutionary zeal. Whatever the case, her zeal against corruption is good for Brazil. And for all of Latin America.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

Two supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dressed in Brazilian flags during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Bolsonaro supporters dressed in national colours with flags in a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on November 4, 2022.

Ivan Abreu / ZUMA
Carlos Ruckauf*

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest