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More Wikileaks: Corruption, Amazon Paranoia and Uncritical Brazilian Media

US ambassador in Brazil Clifford Sobel A Wikileaks cable says that the president of Brazil,  Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is ending his eight years in office with a performance marked by open corruption “among his closest political allies,” with a “plague” of vote-buying in Congress and the ruling party, and without having given a reply to the issue of crime.

This is basically the US embassy evaluation of Lula’s administration which was reported by US ambassador Clifford Sobel in one of the many cables exposed by Wikileaks.

“The main public opinion concern, crime and public security, have not improved during the administration of President Lula,” says Sobel in a cable sent from the embassy in Brasília to the State Department.

The document mentions the several corruption scandals that have occurred under President Lula. “The Lula administration has been affected by a serious political crisis,” reads the cable adding that “vote-buying and influence peddling” have become a “plague for certain elements of Lula’s Workers party.”

Anyhow Sobel clearly points out that the “personal popularity of the president did not suffer even after many of his closest associates were caught red-handed in corruption practices.”

The telegram was part of background information sent by the embassy in March 2008 in anticipation of Defense minister Nelson Jobim visit to Washington. US policy objectives at the time were to build closer links with Brazil offering military cooperation agreements and collaboration in guaranteeing ‘certain stability’ in Latin America.

The document also suggests that the successful food basket program, Bolsa Família, distributed among millions of poor in Brazil had been a big help for the re-election of Lula in 2006.

“President Lula was elected in 2002 partly because of his promise to promote an ambitious social agenda including generous handouts to the millions of poor. Given the strong popularity feedback of these measures, Lula was re-elected in 2006, even when support among middle classes diminished.”

Other cables describe the Brazilian “traditional paranoia” in protecting the Amazon basin “sovereignty” from foreign involvement. Similarly Brazil’s insistence in having “independence” in arms manufacturing and establishing military cooperation agreements with countries willing to transfer technology.

Ambassador Sobel points out that (former) Planning Minister Roberto Mangabeira Unger “gives more importance to ‘independence’ than to military capacity or the efficient use of resources.”

The comments refer to the National Defense Plan, PND, launched by President Lula investing billions to upgrade Brazilian forces and re-launch a defense industry. To that effect the announced construction of a nuclear powered submersible by the Brazilian navy in association with France is described as “a white elephant politically popular.”

Finally ambassador Sobel criticizes the Brazilian media coverage of PND which was lacking any serious analysis: “maybe the most significant comment on Brazil’s defense strategy is precisely the lack of any comments,” simply based on government releases.



  • Show Comments (5)

  • hubbel

    Well, this thing with the U.S. invading the amazon is and always has been ludicrous. There isn’t one shred of proof, evidence, or any statement that a U.S. politician or the gov’t. has ever made to suggest any such thing. These kind of rumors and behavior do not benefit brazil nor brazilians, to the contrary actually. And at least these wikileaks are beneficial in one respect, we are actually seeing supposed private communications between diplomats and the state dept. Seeing that the American embassador of Brazil talks about the “paranoia” of some in the brazilian gov’t. concerning the Amazon certainly states the fact that they do not have, and have never had interest in invading brazil for any reason, much less to take over the Amazon.

    Speaking of the U.S. manipulating american minds, that is exactly what certain brazilian groups have done in manipulating brazilian minds to make them think that the U.S. has these intentions. When it gets to the point that teachers in Brazilian schools are telling their students this completed fabricated story, it really makes it difficult when trying to explain to a brazilian that it’s all hog-wash.

  • Rafael

    Sorry for the crossed line thing.

  • Rafael

    more superficiality
    The vote-buying scheme was denounced by a Congressman named Roberto Jefferson. At the time the scandal came to public knowledge, Jefferson made a point to say that he didn’t know of a personal involvement of Lula in the affair. Mind you, Jefferson belongs to a party, the PTB, that is part of the opposition coalition. So I don’t think that, by saving Lula’s face, he would have gained something. Of course, if Lula indeed participated in the scheme, or if he was at least aware of something related to it, wouldn’t be surprising. But that is just speculation. And all the major names implicated in the affair – the so-called Mensalão – were purged from the government positions they had previously held. What is the point of punishing Lula or his party, then?

    Ranting about corruption, saying that “[s]adly, it seems Brazilians failed to hold their leaders to higher standards”, might make you look righteous, but it is already a tired, fruitless thing. Changing politicians everytime there’s a corruption scandal won’t solve anything. A newly inaugurated politician, how can one be sure he won’t be as corrupt as the thug whom he has just replaced? There’s no how. And just trusting someone else’s character is naïve. The main opposition party, the PSDB, might look very virtuous when it decries government corruption. But let us not be fooled by sanctimonious rhetoric: it is always easy for the opposition party in any country of the world to look better than the ruling one. And the period when the PSDB itself held the presidency was not visibly less corrupt than the current one. For instance, we all know how the PSDB managed to pass the reelection bill one year before Fernando Henrique applied for reelection: by buying lawmakers’ votes. So when the PT itself engages in vote-buying schemes, is electing the equally corrupt opposition the most sensible thing to do?

    Only one thing will reduce corruption levels: to increase public decision-makers’ accountability. One example of a measure that might do that, is to supress tax privacy for all those who hold public positions. In the US and in most OECD countries I believe that is already done. In Brazil it is not. The perspective that one is under surveillance, and is thus vulnerable to judicial punishment, is the only thing that will make politicians act responsibly. After all, one can never expect others will behave righteously unless they are forced to do so.

    As for the Amazônia thing, I tell you this: you, whatever you come from, can never be sure what your government plans to do. Government decisions, in both the domestic and foreign arenas, are made behind a veil of secrecy. Most citizens don’t know what thought-process led to them. If a powerful country decides to abuse a weaker one, then few things will stop it. Public opposition won’t do, for the public can be manipulated. When Germany invaded Poland at the beginning of WWII, to unite public opinion in their favour the Nazis led the German people to believe Poland had just attacked a German military office at the German-Polish border. There was an attack against Germans — but it had been orchestrated by the Nazis themselves. You say that it was the Gulf War and 9/11 that justified the Iraq War. It was not. It was a Nazi-style lie that made it to the American people: that Iraq had developed WMD. And there was substantial world opposition, by both governments and peoples, against the Iraq War before it had even begun. But nothing stopped the US from invading that country and killing its people. And the countries, ALLIED countries, that did oppose the war – France now comes to my mind – faced the ridicule of the US media and the scorn of the population. Do you remember the Freedom Fries thing?

    The US and foreign powers might not have a shred of interest in the Amazônia. But supposing they do, they can make their way into it WITH public support. A demonization campaign like the one that led to the Iraq War, forged stories of abused Indians, of how Brazilians put world citizens at risk by being environmentally irresponsible; I don’t know what will do, but one can’t doubt that can be done. The history of international relations is a most unpredictable, and immoral, thing.

  • These are secrets?

    more of the same
    I find nothing scandalous or surprising in these Wiki leaks about Brazil. It what people have been saying in the news for years and summarizes many of the problems and issues that have troubled Brazil for years: crime and corruption. Two interesting points were made however: despite being caught repeatedly in corruption and vote-buying, Lula remained popular. This in my opinion attests to a serious contradiction in Brazilian democracy: there should have been popular revulsion and rebellion against this corruption especially considering that Lula promised to be different. While Brazil’s economy is doing well currently, I have to wonder how this trend of ignoring and accepting corruption in politics as normal bodes poorly for the future development of the country. Unfortunately, Brazilians have grown accustomed to corruption and seem unwilling to politicize it and reject it. I agree that many voters were willing to overlook the corruption and were also “paid-off” for overlooking this with the bolsa de familia program. Sadly, it seems Brazilians failed to hold their leaders to higher standards. Many on this site and elsewhere like to blame the US for interfering in their politics, yet as they increasingly and compulsively take positions challenging the US (supporting Iran’s nuclear development project) as a means of distinguishing themselves as independent, their domestic politics reflects a great hypocrisy and complicity by the voters to accept corruption under Lula ( or any other government). Rather than continuously railing against the US, Brazilians should get their own house in order: crime and corruption is a mess that they complicit in promoting. This is not something created by the US. Crime seems correlated with the vast inequality of wealth that mars the country, so some solution challenging this is needed. In regards to corruption, the voters need to organize a movement that will no longer overlook this reality. Finally, this article notes an interesting paranoid delusion that Brazilians seem to suffer from: the US is going to invade Brazil for access to the Amazon. I suppose any kind of paranoid mindset always justifies some over-reaction by the government. The fear of the bogeyman always takes the heat off the corruption and contradictions of the government in power, focusing anger and attention on the imaginary evil forces: witness the Cold War paranoia that justified all sorts of abuses of military and police forces: this is in fact what justified and allowed the dictatorship to come to power. Not only is the fear of the US invading Brazil irrational since it would illicit major condemnation and protests in the US and worldwide, it seems to exaggerate and misread US policy. The US has intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it took 9/11 and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq to justify these incursions. I am not justifying these invasions, just noting that there was an elaborate history that lead to them. More importantly, China seems to be buying up the resources of Brazil and Latin America without any need of invading, and few seem trouble by this. China and other nations are showing that by finding the right officials to bribe and entice, the Amazon can be traded away without an invasion.

  • hubbel

    [quote]Finally ambassador Sobel criticizes the Brazilian media coverage of PND which was lacking any serious analysis: “maybe the most significant comment on Brazil’s defense strategy is precisely the lack of any comments,” simply based on government releases.[/quote]

    That would be quite funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

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