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Main image: police family members protest in Vitória. Their placard reads: We’ve had no wage increase since 2013 – 40% inflation. The coffin is for Paulo Hartung, the state governor.
São Paulo. February 12. A series of moves by President Michel Temer, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies are being interpreted as attempts to block the investigations into Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal, involving Petrobras and all of Brazil’s major construction companies, and prevent the arraignment of government ministers, deputies and senators who have been accused of taking bribes by those already under arrest, who are collaborating in plea bargains.
The untimely death of Teori Zavascki, the Supreme court judge who was about to release the contents of the statements made by 77 Odebrecht executives naming up to 200 politicians of many parties implicated in the Petrobras scandal, triggered a series of unexpected consequences. The judge was killed when the executive jet in which he was a passenger crashed into the sea as it tried to land at Parati. Many suspected sabotage, but it now seems that foul weather rather than foul play caused the crash.
Conspiracy theories about Zavascki’s death were fuelled, in part, by this May 2016 Facebook post from his son, Francisco, which reads: “It’s obvious that there all kinds of movements trying to halt the Lava Jato [investigations]. I think it would be ridiculous to pretend that there aren’t, or in other words that criminals of the worst sort (according to the MPF [Federal Public Ministry]) would suddenly decide to submit themselves to the law. I believe that the Law and the institutions of justice will win the day. However, I’m warning you, if anything should happen to anyone in my family, you will know where to look [for the culprits]. I have warned you!”
His death opened up a seat on the Supreme Court bench, and it is up to the President to choose the new minister. Possible candidates included many illustrious judges, but Temer has chosen his Justice Minister, Alexander Moraes. The choice of a man so closely associated with the government, and affiliated to the PSDB, a party which supports it, is widely interpreted as a move to influence Supreme Court decisions regarding members of the government and its allies who are accused of corruption.
To make sure that Moraes would pass the obligatory approval hearing by the Senate Committee on Justice and Constitutionality, it was packed with no less than 10 PMDB senators who are under Lava Jato investigation, including the chairman, Edison Lobão – the aptly named Big Wolf. To make doubly sure he would give the right answers, Moraes took part in a secret cramming session with some of the committee members, held away from prying eyes on a boat moored on Lake Paranoá in Brasilia – but nevertheless discovered by the press.
More worrying for President Temer is his so-far failed attempt to upgrade his chief aide Moreira Franco (the Angora Cat) to ministerial status. This would allow him, one of the Lava Jato accused, to escape from being tried in the lower court of Judge Sergio Moro, in Curitiba, and give him a free pass to the ‘privileged forum’, of the Supreme Court. So far this attempt has been blocked by lower court judges, who remembered that a similar attempt by Dilma to make ex-president Lula her Chief Minister was blocked by the Supreme Court and met with howls of outrage from the same politicians who now applaud Temer’s manoeuvres.
Lula has been in the news recently because of another controversial death – his wife of 45 years, Marisa Leticia, collapsed and was rushed to hospital where she died after days in a coma as a result of a cerebral aneurism. Her condition was exacerbated, according to Lula, by the stress of persistent rumours and press stories about his imminent arrest, following his indictment on charges under Lava Jato.
While Marisa lay dying in hospital, a number of doctors engaged in unbelievable breaches of medical ethics, tweeting confidential information about her condition and even messages of hatred. They were duly punished, but that doctors could indulge in such unethical and callous behaviour is a sad indication of the level of hostility which has poisoned the political scene here.
In the lower house of the Congress, Temer chalked up a victory with the re-election of ally Rodrigo Maia as speaker. The PMDB has comfortable majorities in both houses, and the government wants to get major reforms in labour laws and pensions approved while it remains in power.
The powerful rural lobby is also chalking up victories in its relentless desire to annihilate indigenous and quilombola land rights, reduce protected areas in the Amazon, and open up land reform settlements to private purchasers. They even attacked one of Rio’s most popular samba schools, Imperatriz Leopoldinense, whose Carnival theme song “the Clamor of the Xingu” spoke of the “Belo Monstro” (Belo Monte) and the danger by the local indigenous population from pesticides used on the farms which now surround the Xingu national park.
Even the conservative press has begun to contrast the “ilha de Fantasia” in which Brasilia’s politicians seem to be living, obsessed with Lava Jato, and the reality of life for the general population, with 12 million unemployed and savage austerity cuts causing breakdowns in public services and violent protests.
Inhabitants of Vitória, capital of the state of Espirito Santo, and surrounding towns, got an unwelcome taste of the chaos and anarchy that these cuts can bring. The entire military police force stopped work in protest at the lack of a pay rise over the last three years, which with inflation running at over 5% per annum, means their pay has effectively dropped. Banned by law from striking, instead their wives and mothers camped outside the barrack gates to stop them leaving to patrol the streets.
Without police on the streets, anarchy reigned, as muggers, looters and armed robbers roamed free. Shops, banks, and supermarkets were looted or closed down for fear of wreckers. Schools remained shut and bus companies withdrew their fleets. Many families, too scared to go out to buy food, went hungry. Residents in middle class condominiums erected barriers. Death squads and drug gangs took advantage to settle scores, and over 120 people were murdered in one week. The state government insisted it could not give a pay rise until revenue increased, impossible while the economy is stagnant.
The movement of police families has also begun in Rio, where they barred the exit of dozens of police barracks with placards reading “No Pay, No Police”, in protest at the delay in paying wages due since December.
The lack of money in the Rio government’s coffers is due not only to the steep drop in oil revenues, but also to the massive corruption of recent governors, and the distorted system of tax rebates and subsidies. Eike Batista, the billionaire businessman who milked the system to build an empire which turned out to be a house of cards, is now in prison, his head shaven, facing corruption charges. But that is small consolation for the millions of cariocas whose lives have been blighted, who have not been paid for months, who see the health and social services collapsing before their eyes.
The abandoned Olympic Park, full of decaying white elephant buildings, where only six months ago it was full of joy and hope, is very visible. What remains invisible until it explodes is the abandonment of the population, betrayed by a political class more interested in its own ambitions and lining its pockets than in serving the public.