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
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.