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Brazzil - Character - June 2004

Brazil: Corruption Here Is a Cancer

The secret of our corruption in Brazil rests in the fact that it is
beyond white hats and black hats, beyond what type of
administration is in power. It goes beyond differences between
branches of government because it is deeply rooted in the state
apparatus. It reached this scale due to a generalized metastasis.

Alberto Dines


Picture To avoid the inevitable political sputtering and the partisanization of the scandal at the Ministry of Health, the authorities took care to call it an example of "endemic" corruption. Understandable, but such a classification is deceiving. What we call endemic are diseases which are characteristic of particular regions, the result of particular geographic circumstances. Our corruption is organic, circulatory, systemic.

And in order to combat it, we must put aside minor questions such as nomenclature or morphology. The drain down which a considerable part of the country's budget has been pouring is not simply moral, anthropological, juridical or social. It is political.

This case of the Blood Mafia is one for the record books, because the delinquents managed to lower the cost of blood products purchased by the government, and fixing the price among themselves, maintained a higher price which would produce formidable commissions. They faked efficiency, and with it they were able to cover up cheating in the bids.

The secret of our corruption rests in the fact that it is beyond white hats and black hats, beyond religious beliefs and what type of administration is in power. It goes beyond differences between branches of government because it is deeply rooted in the state apparatus.

The prevarication is not found in payment records or receipts because then it would be easy to detect. It stems from how regulations are written and carried out, through breaches in the bureaucracy, through casuistic shortcuts, but it reached this scale due to a generalized metastasis. It formed capillaries.

Modern vampires and leeches are no longer criminals on the margins of society; they don't dress the part nor hide themselves in the underworld, but spread out through an enormous archipelago of gray areas, next to lobbyists, high-level public employees, lawyers, magistrates, prosperous businessmen with their secretaries, promoters of events.

Now that it is chic to wear striped shirts with smooth and gleaming collars the metaphor of white-collar crime has become inappropriate, but it is universal. The delinquents continue to be impeccable and unrecognizable, but they don't leave fingerprints, and can be seen in the finest restaurants and in the most respectable company. This is why among those arrested is one of the close associates of the present minister of health, working side bye side with veterans from the PC Farias generation.

The contiguity of different scams under the aegis of the public budget leads to bizarre matches, as in the case of the inspectors in the Rio de Janeiro `'propinoduto'' (bribe-a-duct) and in the presence of a prosperous owner of a newspaper in the midst of the Blood Mafia. Our corruption is interstate, transnational, apolitical, non-temporal. Above all, agile.

And mutant. Switzerland still fascinates sophisticated folk like former São Paulo mayor Paulo Maluf, but the old republic of the cuckoo clock, of chocolate and numbered accounts is becoming démodé.

Newer generations don't believe in tradition, they prefer hard cash. In São Luís do Maranhão, two years ago, a fabulous collection of 50 real notes appeared (the presidential hopeful Roseana Sarney's scandal); in São Paulo, a few months ago, Operation Anaconda found in a cabinet heaps of dollars and gold bars. Now, with the European Union in ascension, the vampires have taken to hoarding euros.

A few days ago the head minister of the Casa Civil (Presidential Staff Office) surprised the politicians by proposing a national pact to confront the uncertainties of the world economy. Not a bad idea. But first we need a national pact to depoliticize the fight against corruption.

Our entrenched tribalism leads us to turn a blind eye to the bandits in our tribe, and to focus only on the bandits under the enemy flag. In power we are tolerant, in the opposition we are belligerent. In this immoral relativism, the bandit from the left makes common cause with the bandit from the right, and the result is impunity.

Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório da Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br.
This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa — www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German, and is also active as a musician. Comments welcome at querflote@hotmail.com.

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