Mul­ti­ple crises promise stormy 2017 for Brazil

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Apower strug­gle cou­pled with the most far-reach­ing cor­rup­tion probe Brazil has ever seen means the coun­try’s democ­racy is in for a stormy 2017. One side of the in­creas­ingly com­plex cri­sis in Latin Amer­ica’s big­gest econ­omy pits the cor­rup­tion-rid­dled po­lit­i­cal class in Brasilia against ag­gres­sive pros­e­cu­tors run­ning the so-called Car­wash probe of em­bez­zle­ment at state oil com­pany Petro­bras. An­other sees the Supreme Court fight­ing with mem­bers of Congress who are try­ing to hob­ble what they view as a threat­en­ing ju­di­ciary.

The mostly un­der-the-car­pet strug­gle has started to erupt into the open. This month, one Supreme Court jus­tice tried to force the scan­dal-tainted Se­nate pres­i­dent, Re­nan Cal­heiros, to step down, only to be re­buffed by Cal­heiros and even­tu­ally over­ruled by the rest of the court. Congress, mean­while, is try­ing to push through laws that would tar­get pros­e­cu­tors and judges for “abuse of au­thor­ity” and even to grant them­selves im­mu­nity for past crimes of cor­rup­tion. Ivar Hart­mann, a law pro­fes­sor at the Ge­tulio Vargas Foun­da­tion in Rio de Janeiro, calls this “pure re­venge.”

‘Lynch mob’ at­mos­phere

Un­der­ly­ing the cri­sis is the Car­wash probe, which has un­cov­ered ex­ten­sive, high-level in­volve­ment in a scheme that saw politi­cians take bribes to help con­trac­tors win in­flated con­tracts from Petro­bras. Big names have al­ready fallen, in­clud­ing the once-pow­er­ful speaker of the lower house of Congress, Ed­uardo Cunha, who is in jail await­ing trial for al­legedly tak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes. And there is no end in sight. “Car­wash has a life of its own. No one can con­trol it,” said Mar­cos Cepik, a for­eign af­fairs spe­cial­ist at the Uni­ver­sity of Rio Grande do Sul.

Plea bar­gains by 77 ex­ec­u­tives at Ode­brecht, the huge con­struc­tion com­pany at the heart of the Petro­bras em­bez­zle­ment scheme, have been com­pleted and leaks from the tes­ti­mony in­di­cate that scores more politi­cians will be ac­cused of cor­rup­tion. Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer, who took over this year af­ter the im­peach­ment of Dilma Rouss­eff, has re­port­edly been named as hav­ing re­ceived sus­pi­cious do­na­tions. So have sev­eral of his clos­est al­lies and ad­vis­ers.

But pow­er­ful voices are ar­rayed against the Car­wash pros­e­cu­tors. Romero Juca, a Te­mer con­fi­dant who rep­re­sents the gov­ern­ment in Congress and is also a sus­pect in the Car­wash probe, lashed out at me­dia leaks of the sealed tes­ti­mony in the plea bar­gains. “These leaks will weaken the coun­try’s sta­bil­ity. In this at­mos­phere of un­rest, of the lynch mob, of a French Rev­o­lu­tion, we’ll never at­tract in­vestors,” he said in the news­pa­per Es­tado de Sao Paulo.

On the other side of the po­lit­i­cal aisle, for­mer pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, who likely will face trial in 2017 as part of the Car­wash pros­e­cu­tion, claims he is the vic­tim of per­se­cu­tion. Cepik, the for­eign af­fairs spe­cial­ist, says that the tur­moil could lead to a new Brazil “with low tol­er­ance for cor­rup­tion”. But if op­po­nents of Car­wash suc­ceed in clos­ing down the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it will be “the end of Brazil.”

A sharper mem­ory

Mean­while, Brazil’s lead­ers have a long todo list if the coun­try is to es­cape a pro­found eco­nomic re­ces­sion. Te­mer is sup­posed to rule to the end of 2018 and has a goal of re­vers­ing more than a decade of left­ist poli­cies, us­ing aus­ter­ity mea­sures to re­store fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity. Congress has ap­proved the first part of the pro­gram, a 20-year spend­ing cap, but has yet to vote on pen­sion and other re­forms. Re­cent polls show Te­mer has rock­bot­tom pop­u­lar­ity. —AFP

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