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  • Nicolette Archambault

Brazil's political system perpetually plagued by corruption and scandal

When the lower house of the Brazilian Senate suspended President Dilma

Rousseff in May, Vice President Michel Temer assumed the office in her absence.

Always the right hand man, he finally held Brazil’s highest political position. Mere

weeks later, news began to surface that linked Temer to the same scandal that brought

down his precedessor. The Lava Jato, or ‘car wash’ – a nickname given to the Petrobras

scandal – was exposed over two years ago and persists as an ugly blemish on the face of

Brazilian politics. Its revelations have shaken the country, and indicate a problem that is

deeper than orignially imagined. Though political corruption in Brazil is said to be as common

as playing football and enjoying the beach, Lava Jato is in a league of its own. It is the

largest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history, and unfolding before an international

audience as the country finds itself in the global spotlight.

Corruption in the country has plagued Brazil, at all levels of society from powerful

congressmen to drug dealers and police. Hosting expensive international events like the

World Cup and the Olympics only further allows corruption to seep into the country. The

impeachment of Dilma Rousseff is but the first step in combating this chronic vice.

Michel Temer, previously elected vice president and a member of the Brazilian

Democratic Movement Party, has already seen an impeachment proposal leveled against

him during his short time as an interim president. On April 6, before the vote to suspend

Rousseff took place, activist groups were working at a way to block Temer’s rise to the

presidency. Federal prosecutors have requested the arrest of four of his allies, members of

his party, in relation to the Lava Jato operation. One of those targeted for arrest is

Eduardo Cunha, the president of the lower house of congress, also a member of the

BDMP. Cunha is currently suspended from his office for interfering with Rousseff’s

impeachment trial.

Today, even brief lulls between political scandal are filled by troubling news of

far-right, fascist politicians working to bring back Brazil’s era of military dictatorship.

Jair Bolsonaro, a congressman from Rio de Janeiro, is a pre-candidate for the 2018

presidential election. Bolsonaro has a history of praising military colonels during the

military dictatorship era and has made vile remarks regarding gay marriage in recent

years. He, much like U.S. Republican nominee for president Donald Trump, claim to

represent the ‘silent population’ of the shrinking, socially conservative class. When

Brazil’s military dictatorship ended in 1985, its new government failed to address the

crimes of the past and never made a concerted effort to prosecute those responsible,

largely because of a 1979 amnesty law. It allowed all those that were exiled to return to

the country, on the condition that all those involved in the government be free from

prosecution. In 2010, the amnesty law was challenged in the Brazilian Supreme Court in

the case of Gomes Lund v. Brazil. The Supreme Court ruled that it was not legally

compelled to open up “old wounds” from the dictatorship era, thereby ensuring that

anyone involved in the violation of human rights during the twenty-one year regime

would be free of prosecution. As politicians and their ideas from this era continue their

efforts to return to the political mainstream, it is feared that Brazil’s current climate of

corruption will make their task less difficult.

As the 2016 Olympic Games have come and gone, the event’s legacy will likely

taint Brazilian politics long into the future. Recent findings have put into question the

legitimacy of several construction projects to which the Rio Olympics have been linked.

Though not involved in the Lava Jato operation, prosecutors are investing if Odebrecht, a

giant construction corporation, bribed officials to obtain the rights to build on the subway

line that connects the beaches to the Olympic Park.

This year’s multitude of scandals indicate that endemic corruption in Brazil is

more deeply rooted that originally believed. The country will likely continue to face such

challenges so long as its current set of federal and state leaders remain in office for a

prolonged period of time. For now, the prognosis is not optimistic.

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