SAO PAULO – It is difficult to be optimistic here in Brazil. The reality of politics is very constricting with what is believed to be happening in the political arena, where it seems that judges are cleaning the house.
Although Lula has been convicted and there is an open process against the current President, Michel Temer – which show how prosecutors and magistrates dominate the political life here – on the other hand, the daily life of Brazilians is not very different from 5 years ago.
The recent conviction for corruption against former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the most recent sign that the system is being purged and it appears there will be other cases like Lula’s.
Brazil is a country suffocated by corruption in which there is a conflict with an air of declared war between the political power, an unusually corrupt state, and the judicial power, unusually incorruptible, it appears.
In recent years hundreds of ministers, governors, deputies, senators and ministers have been detained and even President Michel Temer is being investigated and accused for receiving bribes.
The battlefield is composed by investigations being conducted on the Petrobras case, led by platoons of judges, prosecutors and courts in different institutions. And after three years of unraveling the network of corruption of almost all the ruling class, the front has reached the marrow of the Government.
“It’s an unprecedented moment,” says Bruno Brandão, representative of Transparency International in Brazil. “The image of impunity of Brazilian elites is cracking.” Not so fast, though. No important Brazilian politician, certainly none of the heads of the corruption scheme, has been sent to jail.
The glass has been filled in the last two weeks, while the country fulfilled two sad historical milestones. For the first time, a president, Michel Temer, was accused of corruption by the prosecution general.
On Wednesday, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva became the first ex-president to be sentenced to prison for money laundering and corruption: nine and a half years in prison, according to a ruling that may be appealed to a second instance while he remains at large.
Lula and Temer cannot be more enmity politically, but both reacted just like their legal problems:
“This sentence seeks to bring me down,” protested the first, while questioning the authority of the judges: “Only the Brazilian people can decree my end.”
Temer also, the first time that he spoke in public after knowing the accusations against him by supposed treats of favor and bribes, jumped to the offensive:
“This is an attempt on our country. I will not allow my honor or my dignity to be questioned. I will not flee from battles.”
The president met his threat the next day, when he had to nominate the new attorney general – the current one, Rodrigo Janot, who denounced him, leaves office on September 17.
In Brazil, the president usually respects the name most voted by the public ministry itself. It is a sign of respect for the strength and independence of the institution.
Temer, instead, chose the second most voted person, Raquel Dodge.
The gesture does not change much – Dodge has a great experience fighting corruption – but it was a matter of slapping those who might believe that the country is in the hands of the judges.
Many are of the opinion that Temer also hoped to weaken Janot’s denunciation before it is voted on in Congress on August 2.
If the House approves it, the lawsuit will go to the Supreme Court, which will temporarily dismiss him. And if he finally finds him guilty, he will be permanently removed from the presidency.
Once he is out of the presidency, he would lose his protections and then would have to answer for all the charges prosecutors have accumulated against him.
The only solution for Temer is to solve the accusation in the political arena, at any cost.
The presidency – and the legal immunity it grants – also represents a solution of the desperate former president, Lula da Silva.
Four more sentences still have to be published and it is enough that the second instance finds him guilty in only one of them to be politically disabled and, perhaps, to end up in jail.
The only asset of the leader of the Workers’ Party is to delay the proceedings until August 2018, when the electoral campaign begins. And pray for winning the presidential election.
The panorama could not be more different than what it was for centuries was Brazil.
A place where power and money commanded more than justice, where stealing more is a positive feature to have for a politician, and where the attorney general was known as the one in charge of hiding political and judicial processes against those who stole.
Everything changed in 2003 with the arrival, ironically, of Lula. He doubled the size and resources of the police, who could suddenly take on large operations.
He allowed the public prosecutor’s office to appoint the attorney general. Unified the judiciary, which was dismembered. Lula believed either that he would never be caught, or that if his dealings were known, prosecutors would never move forward with accusations or convictions.
Soon a class pride began to flourish. Apparently, in the middle of all the corruption, there is a characteristic that defines Brazil, crisis after crisis. That is, the independence of its judicial power.
In Brazil, corruption had been embedded in public life for decades. Uncovering it has paralysed everything. Many ask why wasn’t there a prosecutor, a lawyer or a judge who did this before.
While the economy is in crisis, politics revolves around the courts and the people have lost hope that everything will get better when all the culprits are in jail.
“The future is to replace people with institutions and to save ourselves without saviors,” says Ayres Britto, who was a Supreme Court judge appointed by Lula between 2003 and 2012.
Who could the new leaders of Brazil be?
There are no generals or commanders in the clashes between the Brazilian executive and judicial branches, but there are names of their own.
In the country there are very few who do not know Sérgio Moro, the judge in charge of the Petrobras case in the first instance and who -voluntarily or not- embodies the virtues sought by critics of the political class.
Moro is a Harvard graduate, with a doctorate in law, and who has declared to be a slave of the law. He boasts about making temperate decisions respecting the rules of the legal system.
Perhaps because of all this he has found in Lula da Silva – someone pragmatic, cunning and uneducated – the last of his shoe. So famous is the enmity between the two that when the former president was called to testify before Moro last May 10, the meeting was treated as a face-to-face combat between two fighters. Lula made it look more so due to his arrogance, posturing and bravado.
Before the meeting, Judge Moro posted a message on his Facebook page, where he has two million followers. He asked them not to go to the streets to protest against Lula, so as not to create confusion.
This, however, summoned thousands of union members and the corrupt Workers’ Party who crowded the entrance of the courts at the end of the testimony and turned the event into a rally. Laws and street, two ways to win the same game.
Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, has recently been seen with the Attorney General, Rodrigo Janot, a veteran of the legal field in public and private positions.
Many believe that the move he is making with President Temer in denouncing him for receiving bribes is completely political. In fact, he still has indications to denounce him for two more charges, obstruction of justice and active corruption, but instead Janot is waiting for him to exhaust his political capital in Congress.
A new future would be one where the corrupt political class is behind bars. Of course, that would raise the question of who will lead the country, since Brazilians can’t even find their noses in from of them.
Will the future leaders be judges or former judges? They certainly are now.