In Brazil Nepotism Never Dies

In Brazil Nepotism Never Dies

There are an estimated 20,000 "positions of trust" in the Lula
administration and according to
press reports the greedy PT
has grabbed about 80 percent of them. This wasn’t supposed
to happen
since socialists give the impression of being decent,
honest, and against vested interests and corruption.


John Fitzpatrick


Politics is a pretty sleazy affair in most countries, whether they are democracies or dictatorships. The name of the
game is power, and one of the most important instruments in exercising power is patronage. Presidential systems, such as we
have in Brazil, are probably more open to abuses of patronage than parliamentary systems, although I would not bet on it.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration has come in for a lot of criticism recently, over allegations that
it is reserving too much of the cake for members or supporters of the Workers Party (PT) and its allies. While much of
this criticism is justified, singling out the PT is like saying Stalin was worse than Hitler.

The PT is just doing what every other political party has been doing for decades, and the fact that it has made some
bloopers is just part of the learning curve of a party heading a government for the first time. However, the PT’s attitude in
jumping on the gravy train is disappointing, and rules out any meaningful political reform for a long time.

Should we really blame the PT? In one way, yes, since socialists and social democrats everywhere give the
impression of being decent, honest, compassionate, in favor of the people and against vested interests and corruption. Therefore,
just as we expect democracies like Israel, the U.K. or Spain to behave more decently than Palestinian, Irish or Basque
terrorists, regardless of the provocations, so we expect the PT to be different from the other parties.

However, right wing parties and dictatorships have no monopoly on abusing power and privilege. We saw
numerous examples of this during the eight years in which President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s social democratic PSDB was
in the driver’s seat.

Lula’s Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, claims the PT has in fact reduced the number of public service appointees
compared with the Cardoso administration. Whether this is true or not—and the details appear on the PT’s site—Dirceu is right to
point a finger at the previous administration, which relied on a range of alliances with unsavory characters.

Let me describe a small personal example of abuse. During the PSDB administration of São Paulo state Governor
Mario Covas, a close friend of mine was offered a position in the press office of a state secretariat. The job required a
scientific/technical background, journalistic experience and linguistic skills, since one of the secretariat’s aims was to attract
foreign investors. She had all these qualifications and worked directly with the state secretary, a non-political person with an
academic background and the technical know-how the job required.

One day, Governor Covas decided to appoint a new state secretary and chose a political crony from the PSDB who
had no experience in that area and could not even speak English. This individual showed little interest in day-to-day
business of the secretariat, and devoted most of his time to politicking in the run-up to last year’s presidential election. He often
failed to turn up for meetings with important visitors, and was so boorish he would address my friend, a professional with 20
years’ experience in Brazil and abroad, as
menina (little girl).

One day my friend was told that she was being summarily sacked, since this secretary wanted to give her position to
someone else as part of a political favor. She was in no position to argue, and was forced to accept the decision. As for the
politician, he did not stay much longer at the secretariat, eventually took a senior position in the election campaign and tried,
unsuccessfully, to get elected to Congress.

This case is not at all untypical, and similar situations happen every time there is a change in political control,
whether at national or town hall level. Parties from all sides grab the positions they can and spread them around among their
political allies, friends and families. These positions range from high-profile directorships in regulatory agencies like the
National Petroleum Agency, banks such as the BNDES, the board of directors of Petrobras, to lesser management roles and, in
some cases, run-of-the-mill positions. There are an estimated 20,000 "positions of trust", as they are called, and press reports
say that the greedy PT has grabbed about 80 percent of them.

Three of Lula’s top advisers—Chief of Staff José Dirceu, Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, and Social Security
Minister Ricardo Berzoini—were embarrassed when the media revealed that their wives had been named for positions in
Brasília. Denials of nepotism were made in all three cases and, although the wives appear to be qualified, few observers believe
they were chosen purely on their professional qualifications. 

The PT also made an enormous blunder when it appointed a political ally, Jamil Haddad of the PSB, to run the
National Cancer Institute in São Paulo. Haddad is a doctor and former health minister but, to the dismay of institute staff, one of
his first moves was to appoint as administrative director a 70-year-old woman who happened to be his cousin. This caused
such an outrage that a number of senior staff resigned.

The sheer insensitivity of playing politics with cancer patients and their relatives is almost unbelievable. It displays
the arrogance and, at the same time, the naivety of the PT. Fortunately, Lula saw sense and the director stood down
although, at the time of writing, his cousin is still in place. Defending this appointment, PT party President and former
Congressman, José Genoíno, described it as "a gesture to an old militant in the health area."

Political Reform—Not Now, Probably Not Ever

By rushing to stick its snout in the swill bucket, the PT is showing that changing the system will not be a priority in
the near future. When the first Cardoso administration took office, its priorities included reforms of the pension, tax and
political systems. It has taken eight years to get any meaningful reform of the pension system through Congress and, to his credit,
it was Lula who succeeded where Cardoso had failed. The tax reform is proving to be much tougher and, although the
Lower House has just approved the bill, the reforms have been watered down and face a rocky ride in the Senate.

Against this background, political reform is barely on the drawing board. Big changes are needed to remove the
opportunities for patronage and corruption that exist, and to ensure that a permanent class of professional senior civil servants
advises and carries out the policies of sitting governments in a non-political way.  

There should also be an end to the shameful situation in which elected politicians move from one party to another
whenever it is in their personal interest to do so. One of last year’s presidential candidates, Anthony Garotinho, did so recently
when he deserted the PSB for the PMDB. He also took his wife, Rosinha, who is the Governor of Rio de Janeiro state, and a
dozen of his followers with him.

Since Garotinho is still in his early forties and likely to run again for the presidency, there is little chance of him or
the PMDB showing any interest in political reform. Nor, unfortunately, will the PT, which is currently crushing a rebellion
by traditional leftists within the party in a manner that would do credit to any reactionary
coronel from the impoverished Brazilian Northeast.

The party has postponed a decision on expelling the rebels to later in the year, thereby preventing them—in the
event that they are kicked out—from standing in next year’s municipal elections rebounding back to the political arena.
Current rules require one year’s membership in a party before anyone can run for office.


John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995.
He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at

© John Fitzpatrick 2003

This article appeared originally in
Infobrazil, at

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