Brazilian Congressmen Are on Sale But Lula Is Still Haggling

The Three Powers Square in Brasília, Brazil Two weeks ago, gathered in Brasília, close to three thousand Brazilian mayors tried to get from the government a share in the CPMF’s revenue, a tax charged on every bank check written in Brazil.   President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said no to the request but ended up granting a compensation: he pledged to increase by 1% the amount due the mayors through the Municipalities Participation Fund.

Instead of getting 22.5% of that money, they would now receive 23.5%. Something around an additional 1.4 billion reais (US$ 700 million). The kind of handout no beggar would refuse.

Well, the government offered the necessary constitutional amendment, signed by the House leader, José Múcio Monteiro, and the measure went for debate. All right, wouldn’t you think? Not really. All wrong, all terrible, all hideous.

Because the Finance Minister, Guido Mantega, trampling on the president’s order and disregarding his wish, sent three deans of discipline to Congress demanding that the amendment discussion be halted, that is, he overturned and ruled against the paltry 1% that the municipalities would get.

The worst is that everything stays like that. Lula will say that he didn’t know a thing about it, the finance Minister will claim that there is no money right now and the alms will be postponed until the Greek calends. The municipalities should make do with whatever they don’t have. This is a portrait of Brazil where blows are inflicted from top to bottom.

Business Counter

There is no need to know what God created first, the egg or the chicken. The Lula administration promises that the PMDB (Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) will get its slots in the government’s second echelon if the party behaves according to the administration’s interests in Congress.

In turn, the PMDB says it’s ready to vote with the government as long as it gets the nominations for the second echelon posts. The result is that, faced with the congressional inquiry on the air traffic, known as Apagão Aéreo (Air Blackout) in the House, the PMDB prepared two lists of legislators to integrate the inquiry committee.

The first one has three accommodating representatives, the kind that will do anything his master orders until the investigations are killed. A second list contains so-called independent legislators, who presumably will take a little more seriously their mission of investigating possible irregularities at the Brazilian air authority Infraero and neighboring state organs.

That’s the way things are: with no nominations in advance, there will be an inquiry commission ready to investigate in earnest.  With nominations in advance, all the trouble can just be buried and forgotten.

It doesn’t matter who started this unfortunate phase of political relationship with Congress, whether it was the executive or the legislative who required that the other side recite the Saint Francis Prayer that says "For it is in giving that we receive." The result is the same: the Three Powers Square in Brasília has turned into an immense business counter.

Forgetful

Brazilian Harvard professor Mangabeira Unger has accepted Lula’s invitation to head the newly created Secretariat of Long-Term Actions, which will give him the level of minister. We don’t know what he is going to propose for the future.

As long as he doesn’t suggest new immediate terms of office for president Lula, an always dangerous possibility, any other of his proposals will be ignored. If we don’t know what’s going to happen to Brazil in the next fifteen minutes, how can we take seriously plans for ten, twenty or fifty years from now?

Who knows if our sociologist du jour will suggest our entrance in paradise, or maybe the participation of our country in the campaign to recover the Red Sea’s whiskerless shrimps.  Or still the creation of the United States of Latin America, with its capital in Chavezburg, a new city to be erected in the Amazon.

The question here is to find out who has outdone whom. Whether president Lula gave the kid glove treatment to his old enemy for whom the current government was the most corrupt of the Republic, or professor Mangabeira who may now boast of having humiliated a president who ended up forced to acknowledge his intellectual attributes.

They say that the new minister first seduced late Ulysses Guimarães (a senator), and then Leonel Brizola (former Rio governor) who is also dead, and, later still, Ciro Gomes, who is Brazil’s National Integration minister. All of them were presidential candidates.

It can’t be true. The three characters showed they possessed the capacity, the public spirit and the ethics, in their attempts to get to the Planalto palace. They wouldn’t be fooled by someone who has been fooling his readers year after year.

Carlos Chagas is a veteran Brazilian journalist who writes for the Rio’s daily Tribuna da Imprensa. He welcomes your comments at carloschagas@hotmail.com.

Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.

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