Movements Against Corruption Afoot in Brazil

The performance of Brazil’s Congress, and particularly the governing coalition makes one wonder whether the nation’s deliberative process should be moved somewhere else— far away from the alleged ‘representatives of the people.’ Congress is where the government’s coalition ‘allies’ select their robber baron cabinet ministers, the same ones that have been resigning one after the next in the wake of President Dilma Rousseff’s spring cleaning. Yet despite the rash of corruption scandals over the past months, and one particularly egregious ‘secret vote’ that recently absolved a deputy of grand corruption charges, a few bright spots have begun to appear. These include a parliamentary movement against corruption and a September 7th “March Against Corruption” in support of President Rousseff’s efforts to purge Brasilia.

The Super-Party Front Against Corruption

Senator Pedro Simon

A group of parliamentarians led by Senator Pedro Simon (PMDB) have announced the creation of a “Super-Party Front Against Corruption.” The movement supports the faxina or cleaning that began shortly after President Rousseff took power.  According to the Jornal Globo, Simon asks that the President, “dialogue with us, chat, sit together to find a solution.” Simon’s plea does not sound like unconditional support for the fight against corruption, but rather a return to the amiguismo and ‘consensus impunity’ status quo. But at least the establishment of a ‘front’ against corruption is a promising sign that incentives are moving in the right direction.

Can Electoral Rewards for Ethical Behavior Change Congress?

One Deputy reinforces the idea that incentives to prioritize ethics do exist. Deputy  Jose Reguffe, a 38 year-old Deputy from Brasilia, is an ethical crusader who gave up half his staff, his complete travel allowance, and part of his ‘extra’ salary, because he’d rather save public money than receive funds he claims he doesn’t need. In proportional terms, Reguffe won more votes than any other member of Congress (266.5K), and with very little campaign money. The clear inference is that Brazilians reward honesty and ethical behavior. Although perhaps not the most novel conclusion for readers used to seeing dishonest behavior punished, it is highly significant for a country where assumed or proven dishonesty often has little bearing on election results or political support more generally.

Unchecked Impunity

Bribe-Taker, Roriz

Last week’s secret vote in the Lower House, which successfully absolved Deputy Jaqueline Roriz of corruption charges, provides a point-in-case of the sort of impunity that has long muddied the reputation of Congress. In 2006 Roriz was caught red-handed on tape accepting a bribe of R$50,000 (US$33,000) in public money. Yet deputies justified the 235-166 vote in favor of absolution by claiming that Roriz had not yet been vested as a federal deputy when the film was shot—  instead she was a state deputy at the time. The fact that a proven thief of public money continues to pose as a public servant seems to have escaped Congress’ sense of higher justice, much less its sense of irony. Irony of ironies, the ‘representatives of the people’ employed a very unrepresentative institutional mechanism –the ‘secret parliamentary vote’ – to endorse another desolating setback for parliament.

The March Against Corruption

But there is increasing movement against corruption and impunity. Tomorrow is Brazilian Independence Day, the 7th of September, and marches against corruption are set to take place across Brazil. The movement, simply called the “March Against Corruption” (marcha contra a corrupção) has been quietly accumulating supporters through social media, including Youtube (and here) and Facebook.

Organization against corruption is a positive step forward. As I wrote about a couple of posts ago, Brazilians have a reputation for passivity in the face of injustice. Yet it remains to be seen whether the March will prove little more than a fleeting protest. Discouragingly, the mainstream media has been providing very little coverage of the event.

The hands-off approach of the media makes perfect sense, however; zealous coverage of recent corruption scandals has led government to once more brandish the ‘media reform’ card. In the wake of the government’s efforts to purge corruption from federal ministries, especially those most involved in preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics,  it seems the strategy is now to use the media as a scapegoat. This is the media’s cue to play nice. Stay tuned.


  • Let’s see what is going to happen tomorrow. If brazilian can face and change its reputation for passivity in the face of injustice. As usual, a great article, Greg. Congratulations.

  • I actually think that Jacqueline Roriz was without office when she was filmed receiving the bribe. She later became a distrital deputy before being elected a federal deputy.

    You should have noted that Roriz still faces corruption charges before the Supremo Tribunal Federal, and that the justice handling her case is known for his strictness. The Correio Braziliense noted that he won’t accept the explanation that she didn’t hold public office when she accepted the bribe, and that she could be sentenced from 2-12 years in prison. Of course, unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that a politician will actually go to jail for corruption!

  • Hello Greg, I’m a pretty avid reader of this blog and really appreciate the work you do here.

    However… if I were you, I wouldn’t be too faithful in this anti-corruption movement as it is right now. As a Rio native who talks politics with people from lower to upper middle class, I can tell you I haven’t seen anyone actually worked up about this – I’ve barely seen anyone discuss it!

    The (little) politicized youth is generally leftist and thinks anti-corruption discourse is a void one that wants to steer the discussion from bigger, deeper changes in the fight for social justice.

    Other people generally think corruption IS in fact responsible for our countries stife, but that it will never change.

    I did my best trying to invite people to the march in Rio’s center on September 7th and most of them laughed to my face.

    Upon arriving there (all alone), I was disappointed and slightly shamed to see 100-150 peope at the Rio protest. Political discourse in this particular protest was so fragmented and erratic that speeches ranged from implementing a digital vote to comparing Lula to Hitler (seriously).

    Maybe it’s just Rio, I can’t speak for the country… but the little hope I had for change in civil society’s involvement went basically down the drain.

    • Great comment Rachel. I’m with you, and I am cognizant of this malaise of which you speak. However, I try to be a bit positive about Brazil’s prospects. My blog makes enough criticism of the country already, and I think that harping on the passivity of Brazilians may only worsen the situation– karmically so to speak! Thanks for your input.

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