Inter-American Dialogue, 04/22/2013
Director of the Brazil Institute, Paulo Sotero, was interviewed by the Latin America Advisor on the mensalao trial.
Q: Prosecutors in Brazil announced April 5 that they have opened an investigation of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in connection with the so-called “mensalão” vote-buying scheme. The scandal has already led to several convictions, including that of Lula’s former chief of staff, José Dirceu. Have the prosecutions dealt a significant blow to corruption in Brazil? How is the scandal, and now the probe involving Lula, affecting the country’s politics ahead of next year’s presidential election?
A: Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: “Politically, the mensalão episode is over. Brazil’s electoral politics will be governed this year and next by the effects of an underperforming economy on inflation and jobs. If the economy deteriorates in ways that reverses President Dilma Rousseff’s very high approval ratings, it could open political space for the opposition to revive corruption as an electoral issue, particularly if the current federal investigation of mensalão-related charges against President Lula lead to an indictment. In an unfavorable economic scenario, that improbable outcome could complicate Rousseff’s re-election campaign and Lula’s re-emergence as an alternative presidential candidate, which was an unlikely development even before the Supreme Court returned verdicts with prison sentences against 12 of the 25 people who were found guilty in the mensalão trial. That said, the historic mensalão trial resulted from pressure from a changing society fed up with Brazil’s tradition of high-level impunity. It represented progress in the fight against corruption, even if the sentences are ultimately reduced in the ongoing final stage of judicial review. The trial, broadcast live, was a teachable moment for Brazil’s expanding middle class and a younger generation of political leaders now emerging. Whether they learned from it remains an open question. Nothing, however, will change the fact that 37 people with special connections to power, including key advisors to the most popular president in Brazil’s history, were brought to justice and two-thirds of them were found guilty by a majority of judges nominated to the Supreme Court by that very president and by his handpicked successor, who felt compelled to declare that she does ‘not tolerate corruption.’ ”