A political corruption trial in Brazil that has riveted locals could end up enhancing, not battering, the country’s global image. The judiciary’s handling of the scandal known as the “mensalao” (or big monthly pay-out) has been admirable, and the Supreme Court has been independent enough to convict some of the country’s most powerful former politicians and operatives from the Workers’ Party.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff received a 10-year jail term for his role in a vote-buying scheme in the Congress that dates back to 2003-2004, and another man, the former president of the Workers Party, which is still in power, was sentenced to six years and 11 months in prison. Others face charges of corruption, conspiracy, embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
This judicial autonomy is a break from the past, and a sign of Brazil’s democratic maturation. Former president Fernando Collor was impeached for corruption while in office, but went on to become a senator. Today, a law prevents convicted criminals from running for public office.
The case will help Brazil’s aspirations to be a regional and global power, especially when one considers the ongoing challenges to good governance in neighbouring Argentina. Not only has the country been accused of under-reporting its inflation rate, it recently suffered the indignity of seeing an Argentine naval frigate detained in Ghana on behalf of hedge fund creditors. The creditors have won judgments ordering Argentina to re-pay $1.3-billion on which it had reneged after the 2001 peso crisis (the country has fully repaid the rest of the defaulted debt). While Argentina weathers the international fall-out from this latest storm, Brazil can promote an image of economic stability and renewed commitment to fighting graft. “Brazil’s legislators know the country must have resilient institutions to attract the international interest, investment, research and partnerships it needs to develop in an sustainable manner,” said Jennifer Jeffs, president of the Canadian International Council.
This respect for the rule of law is a welcome sign that points to larger changes within Brazilian society and political culture.