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Brazil post-elections: the quid pro quo

Judge Moro accepts his reward.


Only four days after Jair Bolsonaro’s election, federal judge Sergio Moro, Lula’s nemesis, hurried to Rio to accept the president elect’s invitation to become his minister of Justice. Even Bolsonaro was impressed by the judge’s enthusiasm. “He accepted as eagerly as a student getting his diploma at graduation,” he said. The new minister will be boss of a greatly enhanced ministry, responsible for  the federal police, prisons, Funai and corruption investigations, including  money laundering.
Sérgio Moro. Photo: Daniel Giovanez, Brasil de Fato
By accepting an executive post, Moro is obliged to renounce his role as judge, but the PT’s conviction that Moro was never an impartial judge has been confirmed. He is said to have met Bolsonaro’s vice, General Hamilton Mourão during the campaign to talk over the deal. Moro’s carefully timed release of part of ex-Lula minister Antonio Palocci’s plea bargain just days before the first round of the election, in which he accused Lula of having full knowledge of the Petrobras corruption scheme, was clearly designed to damage the chances of PT candidate Fernando Haddad, and now with Moro’s appointment as Justice Minister the ‘quid pro quo’ stands revealed.
Judge Sérgio Moro has accepted the invitation of Jair Bolsonaro. Video: SBT Jornlismo, 1 November As one commentator bluntly described it, ‘you lock up Lula for me, and I’ll make you minister.’ Moro’s decision to condemn Lula for corruption on the basis of what many jurists consider very flimsy evidence, and to refuse to allow him to await appeals to higher courts in liberty, has been rewarded. There is no denying he has been a  very diligent judge, trying hundreds of cases of politicians involved in the Lava Jato scandal, from several different political parties, but his treatment of Lula has turned the PT leader into a ‘political prisoner’. Several Supreme court judges criticised Moro’s decision to accept Bolsonaro’s invitation. Many judges believe it will devalue the entire Lava Jato investigation, by proving that behind apparently impartial decisions, lay political calculation and personal ambition.


Video on finance and business reactions to Bolsonaro victory and the guarantees of pro-business policies provided by the appointment of Paulo Guedes. Video: France24 29 October. Besides the new superminister of Justice, Bolsonaro has also created a new Superminister of the Economy for his faithful Sancho Panza, an orthodox pro-market economist, Paulo Guedes.  Finance, Planning, Industry and Trade, and Foreign trade will be lumped together, and there is another clumsy  jumble for education, culture and sport . The controversial merger of Agriculture and Environment, strongly criticised even by farmers as well as environmentalists, is being rethought. Bolsonaro says, however, he does not want an activist, a ‘xiita’ in charge of the environment, another sign that he has no idea what the Ministry actually does. All these mergers are not for practical reasons, but just so he can say he has reduced the number of ministries from the present 29 to 15, thus avoiding waste, although experts say little will actually be saved.

Back to the cold war

The  new government’s first comments on foreign policy have caused shock and dismay. Gone is Brazil’s longstanding independent, non-aggressive policy. The Brazilian president traditionally makes the first speech of the year in the UN General Assembly, in recognition of the country’s active role in creating the international body after the World War II.  Bolsonaro wants to ditch that tradition and instead cosy up to his new best friends, the US and Israel. Brazil’s embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, only the third country to do this, delighting Netanyahu and angering the Palestinians. Brazil’s huge exports of halal meat to the Middle East might well be affected, but that does not seem to bother Bolsonaro. Ironically he claims that his will be a foreign policy without any ideological slant, although in fact it is a foreign policy entirely dictated by his rightwing ideology. Mercosul and the traditionally strong relationship with Argentina has been dismissed as unimportant, while Chile is elevated to special status in Latin America. Sadly for Bolsonaro, Pinochet is no longer around to greet him when he goes to Santiago on his first foreign trip as head of state. Diplomatic relations with Cuba could be cut, pleasing the ex-army captain’s idol, Donald Trump. In his first speech Bolsonaro, for whom the Cold War does not seem to have ended, said Brazil cannot continue flirting with ‘socialism, communism,  populism and leftist extremism.’ To flirt with right-wing extremism seems to be OK. He also cranked up the religious rhetoric, talking about his survival of the stabbing on 6 September as a miracle, proof that God has great things in mind for him. His mother conveniently gave him the middle name Messias, after all. In just a few days it seems that Brazil has changed from an outwardly tolerant, easy-going society into one of threats and hatred, intolerance and fear. People are afraid. Afraid of being attacked, denounced, exposed, insulted. Attacks on gays, trans, Afro-brazilians or anyone wearing a T shirt, badge or colour associated with the PT have been reported. A newly elected politician in Santa Catarina told schoolchildren to denounce any teacher who commented adversely on Bolsonaro’s victory, presumably unaware that this was a tactic of Stalinist Russia. Journalists, including foreign reporters, have been harassed when they cover events. Reporters from Brazil’s three main national papers, Folha de S.Paulo, Estado de S.Paulo and O Globo were not allowed into Bolsonaro’s first press conference. TV Record, owned by Pentecostal bishop Edson Macedo, has become  Brazil’s Fox News. WhatsApp groups of Bolsonaro opponents have mushroomed with reports and videos of the new normal. One group of indigenous journalists, leaders and anthropologists from all over the country, is denouncing threats, invasions and attacks on indigenous villages. Several justices of the Supreme Court made declarations reminding the president elect and his followers that respect for the opposition, freedom of the press, and the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups must be unconditional, and the law must be obeyed by all, including the party of law and order. Some of Bolsonaro’s policies will become clearer once the 50-strong transition team meets officials from the Temer government to find out the real state of the country’s finances. The military are said to have claimed 25 of the 50 places for their own men.

Social movements in the cross-wires

Meanwhile the PT is licking its wounds, and deciding how to face the prospect of at least four years of aggressive anti-left policies. One of the biggest worries is a proposed law now making its way through  congress which would criminalise social movements, designed particularly to target the MST, which has already been the object of angry invective from Bolsonaro. Another concern is the safety and prison conditions of Lula, after Bolsonaro promised that he would ‘rot in jail’. The PT was defeated by the Brazilian people’s decision to vote against not just the party, but also against the system, against corruption, and against crime. Yet, even so, Haddad obtained 45% of the valid votes, against the winner’s 55%.  But 30% of the total 147 million voters either abstained or voted null or blank, meaning that Bolsonaro was elected by a minority of voters. In spite of the virulent anti- PT rhetoric that permeated the campaign, the Workers’ Party also elected the biggest number of lawmakers to the Chamber of Deputies, four state governors and several from allied parties.  The other two big parties, PMDB and PSDB, many of whose leaders have also been accused of corruption, both shrank in numbers, unable to produce  new  leaders. In São Paulo, the new PSDB governor, João Doria, is a divisive figure, who could well split his party. Brazilians are facing a brave new world, Bolsonaro voters with optimism, others with fear, many with profound concern about what the next four years will bring.  Externally Brazil’s place in the world is now uncertain, as a Cold War warrior aligns the country’s fate with that of the United States, and dumps its independent policy.

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Jan Rocha's Blog

Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.

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