Sounds of Silence | Media Blackout on Corruption Cases


Brazil Gets Opening

Source: Istoé/Brasilianas.

Subject: The Immunity of the Toucans, by Paulo Moreira Leite

The mainstream media slants the news to divert the focus of corruption cases from the Workers Party (PT) to its main adversary, the Social Democrats. Moreira Leite rejects the Manichaean allegory practiced by news organizations in these cases and makes an eloquent plea for channeling the energy generated by scandal into placing political reform front and center in the current legislative agend.

The self-protection scheme of the PSDB [in the bribery affair involving 20 years of subway contracts — in which it counted upon the major press for reliable support in the form of biased coverage and the heavy artillery of rumbling factoids –] was only defeated by a German multinational, Siemens, which decided to apply for a plea bargain.

It is still too early to look for equivalencies between the financial scheme that led to the PT “payola” scandal and the scheme behind the shady dealings involving two decades of the PSDB in power in São Paulo.

A rumor is floating that the common element in the crash of the Banco Rural was its provision of fraudulent loans to the political parties involved as well — PT, PSDB, same ATM machine — as to Globo.

What can be said is that the Toucans have proven themselves much more effective when it comes to self-protection.

The immunity of the Toucans to criticism was so successful that it was overcome only by Siemens, the German multinational, when it decided to petition for a plea bargain with local authorities, confessing two decades of illict practices, presenting names, offices and addresses.

It was this initiative, involving one of the largest corporations in the world, that changed the scenario.

The first accusations of a Toucan bribery scheme date back to 1998 and, as we have seen, were never investigated as they should have been. The accusations lay dormant in investigations that failed to obtain  evidence. The press  showed even less  appetite for explaining what was taking place.

If there is anything genuinely new to to be investigated today, it would be to ask why there was so little investigation of so much evidence, on the contrary with what happened in the PT case?

In a country engaged in a debate over the errors and possible abuses that took place during the PT “payola,” which represented a will to punish the accused in any way possible, no one is going to accuse federal prosecutors Antônio Carlos Fernandes, his succesor Roberto Gurgel or the rapporteur of AP 470 Joaquim Barbosa of lying down on the job, am I right?

A reference to the guilty verdicts handed down in the “PT Payola” case by the Supreme Court. 

The opposite is not true.

Even pioneering reports on the bribery scheme, such as Gilberto Nascimento’s in 2009, which revealed so much of what leaves so many persons astounded in relation to the PSDB-SP, were not greeted with any ballyhoo or concern. At the time, partial accusations on the case came and went in the newspapers, which covered them sporadically and superficially.

The situation changed when ISTOÉ recently devoted two weekly issues to cover stories on the subject. Reporting by Alan Rodrigues, Pedro Marcondes de Moura and Sergio Pardellas brought highly significant facts to light and consolidated what we know about the cartel of corporations that ran the scheme.

ISTOÉ, we should remember, in its latest edition, relates the existence of dozens of investigations opened and then closed with little if any consequence. The magazine shows that no one in this casecan seriously allege that they knew nothing about it.

The political angle is a simple one. Had the PT “payola” case been investigated with the same rhythm as the subway bribery scandal, which would have taken 15 years to reach its current status. Roberto Jefferson would not have been interrogated by the CPI in 2020. Instead of a forced withdrawal from his post as chief of staff, José Dirceu might have run for president in 2010, and in 2013, as so many in the PT dreamed, occupy the presidential chair. …

In any case, the term mensalão — “monthly payola” — would not yet be part of the Brazilian vocabulary. Joaquim Barbosa might have been named to the Supreme Court – after all, Lula had wanted a black justice since his own inauguration — but only with difficulty would have accumulated the popularity he enjoys today because of his role in a case that would have only come to trial, in … who knows? 2027?

Continuing with this modest bit of science fiction, it would also be curious to know which among the PSDB leadership would have been named as defendants.

Would they have the right to an impartial trial or would they be subjected to the concept of “dominion of the fact”? Or, as in the “payola” of the PSDB case in Minas Gerais, would they be tried by a court of the first instance?

Do judges make jokes about the Toucan and their ethical speechmaking?

It suffices to put names and faces on the two scandals to realize that they could not possibly have the same outcome, right?

Wrong. There  are two speeding tickets  to be paid on the same VW Gol earned by different drivers.

To date, nether the São Paulo state assembly nor the Congress have obtained enough signatures to mount a CPI. … in  2005 and 2006, three CPIs were commissioned to deal with the PT “payola’ scandal.

Governor  Geraldo Alckmin has decided to set up a special commission to follow the investigations.

Imagine if Lula had done the same thing. At the very least he would have been accused of using the “PT political machine” to influence Congress and the courts, am I right?

You are right. The industry consortia that bankroll this charm offensive, in the form of corporate foundations like Instituto0 Ethos — one of those Potemkin Village NGOs of corporate good governance — should be asked how much they are planning to spend  on PR and  propaganda to tell a story in which the principal figures, who ought to be placed under oath and deposed in depth, are sticking to “no comment”  and — I am serious — “It is all a Communist plot against me.”

The similarity between the two cases is not a matter of the figures involved or their political commitments.

The similarity resides in the nature of the Brazilian state, in its weakness for protecting private interests that seek to rent and control public officialdom.

This is the drama behind the PT case and it helps us to understand the prolonged investigation of the PSDB bribe scheme and the accompanying impunity.

After telling us that history occurs first as as a tragedy and next, as a farce, Marx reminds us that men do not act under ideal circumstances; they the learn, not from etiquette textbooks or civics courses, but from real situations which they inherit from their forebears.

The moralist stance is fond of attributing corruption to an innate lack of scruples in our politicians — a naive and dangerous point of view.

There is no doubting that unscrupulous persons grow rich with money from political schemes.  (There are also unscrupulous persons enriching themselves in the private sector ….)

But the money of political parties, which circulated in both cases, is the fruit of the distorted and brutal nature of our political system, in which reborn democracy has been accompanied by a certain libertinism of  tolerance for adherence to financal rules — a state of affairs that makes it easy for the state to be captured and rented out by private interests.

In a rapid sociology lesson, we might say that, with the end of the dictatorship, the gang at the top of the pyramid began using private campaign fundraising as a counterweight to popular demands.

In a democratic regime, however, the social question is not a session in the torture chambers of DOI-CODI, is it? The people at the top are a little less rough-shod than that.

This, and for no other reason, is why people are always sceptical of the expressions of feigned horror in favor of regulating campaign funding, which enables voters with R$ 1 billion from imposing themselves on a regime that, on paper, preaches the principal of one man, one vote.

In this respect, the confessions of Siemens contain useful lessons for us all.

One of the most precious is the diary of an executive who details the negotiations for the construction of Line 5 of the S. Paulo subway. The diary makes it perfectly clear that the private companies are masters of the situation. They negotiate deals, divide projects and services — and budgets, of course — among themselves.

The Covas government, interested in the Metrô — a project of more than vital interest to the people and to  its political plans —  is reduced to sheer impotence.

Lacking is the political power to impose what the law commands, which is free, impartial competition among the parties. It never passed through the head of the PSDB to denounce these practices as illegal.

In an era of rapid privatization, a novelty that the PSDB helped introduce at the time, along with cost controls that capped  spending, it was inconceivable to hand over such a grandiose investment to the State.

In that situation, the government was forced to accept the cartel of phony competitors … at the risk of facing law suits, protests ad investigations that would paralyze the investments.

This is how the governor, referred to in the diary as “the client,” came to say that “they have reached an understanding.” The “client” also warns that once the cartel is formed, the government will not accept future complaints.

In an article on the case in Valor, Maria Cristina Fernandes recalls that over the years, PT governments did the same things, instituting the Transporatation Ministry — a warehouse of shadowy money — and handing it over to parties with “a notorious specialization in political contracts.”

There is a reason for the existence of this shadowy, grey area.

Its object is to prevent the emergence of obstacles to fresh foreign investments in Brazil.

It is foolish to regard what goes on backstage in the halls of Congress from a simplistic, moralizing point of view, however.

Brazil needs investments in order to create jobs and develop economicially. Infrastructure projects, like the  Metrô, are designed to catch up with an historical act of omission.

The issue is political in nature and involves the definition of rules that permit Brazilian democracy to recover its sovereignty, keeping politicians away from private sector money.  Its proper context is the economy, not the State.

We know that a political reform is needed and that 83% of Brazilians support it. The reform would ban private financing of elections, cutting the material ties that underlie these situations.

A scandal of these  proportions could be very useful in furthering this debate.

Those who used to say that the debate on political reform was nothing more than the excuses of the losers have a chance to take an honest posture and tackle the debate head on.

This is not a war between the “PT payola” and the “PSDB payola.” It is an effort to emancipate democracy from outside interests that undermine popular sovereignty.