Corruption in Brazil Today: Showdowns on Multiple Fronts

It is a pivotal moment for Brazil. While President Dilma Rousseff presents Brazil’s plans for the Open Government Partnership in New York today, anti-corruption movements are mobilizing across Brazil. Today, the Globo newspaper reported that around 30,000 protesters have come together through Facebook for a protest in Rio de Janeiro to be held between 17:00 and 20:00 in one of the city’s largest squares, Cinelandia. These protests follow in the wake of the September 7th demonstrations in Brasilia that brought together almost 10,000 people.

The Broom as a Symbol

To attract attention for the event, citizens planted 513 brooms on the beach of Copacabana last night, representative of the country’s 513 Lower House deputies (see the video below =>1:00).

Citizens are disgusted with a secret vote that took place in the Chamber of Deputies three weeks ago, acquitting Representative Jacqueline Roriz of corruption charges. As I reported about a month ago, Deputy Roriz was caught red-handed on videotape receiving a large bribe of public money.

Citizens are also mobilizing in support of the President’s faxina (cleaning). The Minister of Tourism, Pedro Novais, was the fourth minister to resign because of a corruption scandal during the President’s nine months in office. Tourism is a key posting because of the upcoming 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both to be held in Brazil. For this reason, advocates hoped that Rousseff would make a technical appointment following Novais’ resignation. Yet the pressure of coalition allies such as José Sarney (PMDB), President of the Senate, forced Rousseff to accept yet another political appointee.

Explaining Brazil’s Embryonic Movements Against Corruption

The public largely views President Rousseff as hostage to a political establishment steeped in corruption. Ironically, Rousseff has ostensibly been trying to shake the image of an anti-corruption crusader in order to keep congressional allies from rebelling.

Yet the public has been eager to support this faxina. “Everyone Together Against Corruption” (Todos Juntos Contra a Corrupção), is the headline anti-corruption movement in Brazil, but it is composed of smaller, local movements. In Rio de Janeiro, I spoke with the leader of the 31 of July Movement (@fora_corrupto), Marcelo Medeiros.

What is odd about Medeiros’ initiative is that it is composed principally of 60-something middle and upper-middle class residents of Rio de Janeiro. Many people who lived part of their adult lives under the dictatorship (1964-85) have a Pavlovian aversion to speaking critically about politics. In the cause of self-preservation, most avoided speaking about government under authoritarian rule. Yet Medeiros and his colleagues seem to have overcome this ingrained response.

A small business owner, Medeiros explains that after reading the article “Why don’t Brazilians React?” (on which I wrote about a month ago), he and friends decided they could no longer stand around idle:

Corruption is nothing new in Brazil, it’s been around for many years and there has always been a corrupt side to life in Brazil, but this time it has reached such a proportion that it’s unacceptable. Government only reacts, it doesn’t act proactively despite media reports on corruption.”

Medeiros’ 31 de Julho movement illustrates that momentum for better governance need not be led exclusively by disaffected social-media driven youth.

Open Government Partnership

Meanwhile, Brazil formally unveiled its plans for the Open Government Partnership in New York today. The Minister of the Comptroller General, Jorge Hage, noted that the development of his country’s plan was a “rich process” and that “this is not the final plan…it is the beginning of a process.” The plan resembles the leaked draft I obtained two weeks ago, and makes some promising commitments for open government, including a data.gov.br website, an integrated platform for federal ombudsmen, the development of a National Open Data Plan and Data Infrastructure, and a generalized integration of open-data type initiatives into a host of regulatory agencies and governmental initiatives. A presidential decree issued earlier this week also creates an Inter-Ministerial Commission on Open Government, composed of the most central federal ministries. Hopefully this Commission will incorporate systemic transparency reforms into rules and regulations, rather than simply providing Gov 2.0 platforms for institutions that lack open, transparent designs to begin with.

Ironically, the first section of Brazil’s OGP commitments revolves around freedom of information, the regulation of which hinges on a bill actively being obstructed in the Senate. Last week, stalling tactics by disgraced ex-President, Senator Fernando Collor, gained the support of the President of the Senate, ex-President José Sarney. Sarney endorsed Collor’s “motion for information,” a tactic that, when approved, effectively paralyzes a bill until the information is handed-over by the Executive Branch.

 

The President’s Office has made clear its intention to approve the law as soon as possible. Given discord between the ex-Presidents-cum-Senators on the one hand, and President Rousseff, on the other, it appears that a showdown is in the works. Rousseff initially sought to have the bill approved in May 2011, but Collor and Sarney prevented the President from making good on those intentions.

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