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.


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.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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