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Bye-Bye Lula

On Sunday, Brazil’s top electoral court ruled that ‘Lula’, former president Luiz Inácio da Silva, cannot run in the presidential election this October.

He served two terms as president (2003-2011), he dutifully waited out the following two terms, and his Workers’ Party (PT) has nominated him for the presidency again. Opinion polls give him 39 percent support, more than twice as much as any other candidate. However, Lula is in jail in the southern city of Curitiba, serving a twelve-year sentence for corruption, and he is not getting out any time soon.

The bad news is that he is probably guilty – perhaps not of the specific offence he has already been convicted for, but of four other charges of money laundering, influence peddling and obstruction of justice that are still pending.

Lula’s current conviction rests on little more than the word of an executive of a giant construction company who claims he gave Lula a penthouse apartment in a seaside resort town in return for a lucrative contract with the state-owned oil company Petrobras. The executive was facing corruption charges himself, and made the accusation as part of a plea bargain.

There are no documents linking Lula or his late wife to the house, nor is there any evidence that they ever spent any time there. This case went to trial first only because it suggested that Lula had sold out for personal advantage. He probably didn’t.

But there is plenty of evidence that Lula engaged in other kinds of dodgy fund-raising, not to benefit himself, but to buy the cooperation of other parties in Brazil’s Congress, where there was a plethora of small parties and his PT never had a majority. This was illegal, but it was perfectly normal political practice when he became president in 2003.

So Lula appointed PT members to senior executive roles in Petrobras and other state-owned companies. They demanded kickbacks from companies that sought contracts with Petrobras and the others, and handed the money over to the PT – which handed much of it on to smaller parties in Congress in return for their votes.

That’s how Lula pushed through radical measures like the ‘bolsa familial’, a regular payment to poor Brazilians (provided that their children had an 85 percent attendance record at school and had received all their vaccinations) that lifted 35 million people out of poverty. Brazil’s economy boomed, and when he left office in 2011 with an 83% approval rating, Brazilians were both richer and more equal than ever before.

His chosen successor Dilma Rousseff won the election, but then world commodity prices collapsed, the Brazilian economy tanked, and unemployment soared. She squeaked back into office in the 2015 election, but was impeached in 2016 for misrepresenting the scale of the deficit. It was a trivial offence, but she was so unpopular by then that nobody much missed her.

Her vice-president, Michel Temer, a deeply corrupt politician from another political party, has served out the rest of her term, but he will surely be arrested too if he loses the protection of holding a high political office. In fact, half the current members of Congress would be arrested if they lost their seats. The reason for that is a political cleansing operation called Lava Jato (Car Wash).

The past eight years have been miserable for Brazilians both economically and politically, but Operation Car Wash has offered real hope for the future. It’s a huge police and judicial operation, run out of the city of Curitiba, (called the ‘London of Brazil’ because it is seen as incorruptible), which targets both corrupt politicians and the businessmen who buy them up.

The irony, for Lula, is that Car Wash owes its success to two key reforms of Dilma Rousseff’s government. One was to make evidence obtained through plea bargaining acceptable in the courts. The other was to appoint a truly independent attorney-general and independent judges and prosecutors – who duly sent Lula to jail even though they may share his politics.

“She always underestimated Car Wash,” said Delcidio do Amaral, the PT’s former leader in the Federal Senate, now under house arrest and plea-bargaining hard, “because she thought it would reach everyone but her. She thought it would make her stronger.” Instead, it has destroyed Lula.

So what happens now? The PT has ten days to substitute Fernando Haddad, Lula’s choice and a former mayor of Sao Paulo, as the Workers’ Party candidate for the presidency in the election on 7 October, but it’s unlikely that he can win all the votes that would have gone to Lula.

Which may leave the road open for a dark-horse candidate like Jair Bolsonaro, a born-again would-be Trump who disparages women, blacks and gays. The road to Hell (or at least somewhere quite unpleasant) is often paved with good intentions.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 10. “There…didn’t”; and “Her vice-…Wash)

The Varieties of Corruption

18 July 2005

The Varieties of Corruption

By Gwynne Dyer

If you are a politician, there are few more embarrassing
experiences than to be caught at an airport with the equivalent of $100,000
stuffed into your underpants. Only one political gaffe has a higher
embarrassment quotient: being tape-recorded on the phone to a senior
electoral official, as the votes are being counted, asking him to boost
your total.

That is the problem that currently besets Philippines President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The phone call was made over a year ago, when
Arroyo squeaked back into the presidency with a majority of only a million
votes, but the existence of the audio recording was only made public by the
ABS-CBN television network last month.

Arroyo’s office immediately released the tape of her election-day
conversation with election commissioner Victoriano Garcellano together with
an explanation that it involved “the illegal bugging and subsequent
electronic doctoring, alteration and revision of that conversation so as to
introduce elements that were not really there.”

In the allegedly doctored version, Arroyo asks Garcellano if her
lead over her rival for the presidency has dropped below the
psychologically important one-million mark. Garcellano replies that it has
already dropped to 900,000, but that several districts have not yet
declared their total vote. “We will do our best,” he says.

Maybe the tape was re-edited and new elements spliced in, or maybe
not, but at the very least Arroyo made the call. She has publicly
apologised for her “lapse of judgment,” but for a candidate to call up an
election official in the middle of the count is not just a lapse of
judgment; it is, in political a hanging offense. Yet it is the
Philippines, not Arroyo, that will probably be left hanging.

Contrast the curious case of the overstuffed underpants in Brazil.
The garment in question belonged to Jose Vieira da Silva, a junior official
in Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT) who was stopped at Sao Paulo airport
on 9 July. It was the latest in a series of political disasters that began
with accusation early last month by Roberto Jefferson, leader of the small
Labour Party, that the PT was handing out regular monthly payments
(“mensalaos”) equivalent to $12,500 to a number of deputies in the
Brazilian Congress in order to get its legislation through. (The PT does
not have a majority in Congress).

The accusation came as a particular shock because President Luiz
Inacio “Lula” da Silva, Brazil’s first left-wing leader in a generation,
was widely seen as an incorruptible figure. Jefferson himself, while
urging the PT’s chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, to take the blame for the
“mensalaos” and quit, exempted the president from his accusations: “If you
don’t get out of here quickly,” he told Dirceu, “you are going to make a
defendant out of an innocent man, President Lula.”

So Dirceu quit — but then came the underpants episode this month,
and the resignation of the president of the PT, Jose Genoino (whose
politician brother employed the owner of the underpants). Suddenly Lula’s
whole career, and all of the considerable good that he has achieved for
Brazil’s poor, seemed to hang in the balance.

Yet Lula probably won’t go under, for there are varieties of
corruption, and the particular kind that the PT has engaged in is almost
traditional in Brazil. There are several smaller parties in Congress whose
deputies are elected mainly in the more feudal parts of the country, and
who regard political office as a business opportunity. When the governing
party lacks a majority in Congress and their votes are needed to pass
essential legislation, it is
normal to gain their support either by appointing them to public jobs or
directly by paying them.

The PT’s supporters are saddened that their party has descended to
this level, but it is even possible that the party’s leaders decided that
buying these deputies’ votes directly would do less damage than appointing
greedy and incompetent crooks to senior positions in the public
administration. At any rate, there is as yet no evidence of corruption for
personal gain among the PT’s senior leadership.

Lula’s performance in office has been sufficiently impressive —
5.2 percent economic growth last year, 3 million new jobs, a higher minimum
wage, and new programs that give social assistance to 7.5 million poor
families — that he would be reelected tomorrow if there were an election.
Whereas President Arroyo’s performance in the Philippines has been a good
deal less impressive, and she would not be reelected.

Trying to steal the presidency, which is the crime she is widely
suspected of committing, is more serious than just trying to grease the
skids to get some legislation through Congress. Moreover, constitutional
order is a lot less stable in the Philippines, which has seen two
presidents removed by street protests in the past twenty years. But the
likeliest outcome is that Arroyo will hang on in office, widely discredited
and fighting off endless impeachment proceedings in Congress, while her
country’s economy and politics both go into a steep decline.

“Lapse of judgement” or deliberate bid to corrupt the election
process –it scarcely matters at this point. If she were a patriot, she
would resign and spare her country the ordeal that awaits it.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 4 and 10. (“In the
allegedly…says”; and “The PT’s…leadership”)
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles
are published in 45 countries.