The Economist – from the print edition, 11/26/2011
BY NOW Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, must be finding the script wearily familiar. First come the corruption allegations, then the indignant denials, more evidence, equivocation and retractions—and finally another of her ministers has to walk. Since June Ms Rousseff has lost her chief of staff and the ministers of transport, agriculture, tourism and sport, variously accused of influence-peddling, bribe-taking, signing fraudulent deals with shell companies and diverting public funds into party coffers or their own pockets. Now Carlos Lupi, the labour minister, has become the latest to look as if he is heading for the exit.
He is accused of presiding over a department that charged kickbacks for government contracts, of personally accepting free flights from one of those contractors and of siphoning off public money to semi-phantom non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Mr Lupi’s response was pugnacious. He did not know the man in question and had never flown with him, he said. The only way to get him out of his ministry, Mr Lupi added, would be to shoot him (“and it would have to be a big bullet, because I’m a big guy”). Then came photographs of him with both businessman and plane. His defenestration seems to be a matter of time. Barring new revelations, he may go in a wider cabinet shuffle expected early in the new year.
The faxina (“housecleaning”), as Ms Rousseff’s removal of allegedly light-fingered ministers has come to be known, is popular. The latest opinion polls put her and her government’s approval ratings at record highs. But it merely scratches the surface of a problem with roots in the way that politics has developed in Brazil. All presidents since democracy was restored in 1985 have had to form variegated coalitions to obtain legislative majorities. But, complained Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president, earlier this month, a “system” has now developed under which parties demand ministries in return for their votes, and then use the public funds they thus gain control of to expand their membership.