13 May 2017

Idelber Avelar - Tumult and Temer

From Saturday Morning, 11:07 am on 13 May 2017
Idelber Avelar

Idelber Avelar Photo: Supplied

Brazil emerged from dictatorship in the 1980s, and by the time Lula da Silva became president in 2002, it was regarded as pretty much an exemplar of stability in Latin America.

But corruption is now the big story there.

Lula da Silva is about to stand trial in connection with an investigation known as Operation Carwash in which at least $42 billion of public money has been stolen.

At least half of the current Brazilian House of Representatives is involved in the corruption unveiled by Operation Carwash, which is arguably the largest such scheme in history. 

"The whole political class has been implicated in a gigantic, gigantic corruption scheme" says Idelber Avelar, a Brazilian and professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Tulane University in New Orleans.

The Brazilian political system is 'presidentialist', the current president being Michel Tener.

Despite this, says Avelar, the system functions as if it were parliamentarist.

"Basically, the way that this has worked in the past 35 years or so is that you elect a president and then you build your coalition through bribery."

Until recently, the fact that undocumented money flowed into electoral campaigns had been tolerated. 

"Everybody knew that it's very hard to get elected for congress in Brazil without some sort of dirty money.

"You don't elect a senator in Brazil just with regular citizen contributions, it just doesn't happen."

The Supreme Court there has traditionally been very lenient on major political figures, he says.

"Governors, cabinet members, presidents, deputies and senators in Brazil can only be tried at the Supreme Court. That means it takes a very, very high level of proof, a burden of proof that is supremely heavy, to indict them successfully."

While Brazil's political situation is particularly dramatic because of the dimensions, Avelar believes it's not unique.

"Disillusionment with the traditional mechanisms of political representation is a constant of our time, it seems to me."