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Brazil Has No Senate. It’s Been Buried Under Corruption, Omission and Incompetence

Brazilian senate in session The worst thing about a building collapse is that it silences the dead
or the unconscious victims under the ruins, leaving them voiceless and unable to
call out for rescue. The disaster occurring today in the Brazilian Senate is
like that. It is collapsing upon the dead and the unconscious: senators who are
making accommodations or are indignant but who are all perplexed and
powerless.

The Brazilian Senate’s one weapon is its credibility. The principal reason for the loss of confidence is the suspicion that weighs upon some of its members, who are under investigation by the police or by the Ethics Council.


And the Brazilian people are asking who will be the next; they perceive the hidden artifices as the rules are manipulated to protect colleagues. This manipulation is done out of corporativism, fear of undergoing the same, and threats that dossiers will be compiled against those who dare to deepen the investigations.


This is even worse when it is the President of the Congress who is the suspect. In addition to the paralysis, there is the idea that power is used for self-defense and not for leading the Senate. If there is still a voice beneath the ruins, therefore, it must demand that President Renan Calheiros take a leave from his presidency of the Senate for as long as the investigations of his conduct may last.


On Tuesday of last week several senators called for this in the Senate Plenary Session. It was a good sign that not everyone is dead or unconscious. The decisions of the Senate Board of Directors earlier this month – resubmitting Senator Renan’s case to the Ethics Council and leading Senator Joaquim Roriz to resign – brought a sense of relief. But this is still not much.


The Senate needs an Ethics Council that is above suspicion. With council members who have a clean past and will be immune to future pressures, whether they be from the government and President Renan to absolve him or from adversaries or the public to blame him without an impartial, far-reaching analysis.


Only members of Congress who are above any suspicion whatsoever will be able to recoup the credibility of President Renan and of the Senate. The worse possible accusation that could be made against him would be that a commission itself under suspicion tabled his case. Like a character in a Greek tragedy, he would be condemned to live under the ruins of the collapse that he himself helped to provoke.


But the collapse is not the fault of Senator Renan alone. All of us senators are to blame. His episode is not the first – nor will it be the last – to involve denunciations of corruption. Another has already emerged with Senator Roriz.


Our crisis does not stem only from the suspicions and the proofs of corruption. They raise what Senator Jarbas Vasconcelos has called a “stink,” something very common in the locales of collapsed buildings.


But under the surface rot, the Congress had already been ruined. Because its agenda has little to do with the needs of the majority of Brazilians. Because we make politics without causes, politics for the sake of politics, like a game without statesmanship; we are content with the most simplistic politicking, that which is imprisoned by the interests of the present and has no commitment to the Nation’s future.


After so many omissions and so much accommodation, we have turned into an irrelevant power, leaving Brazil to be governed by Provisionary Measures and judicial preliminary measures.


Because – and it is not only the present members of Congress who are to blame – there is no Republic where the Republic does not yet exist.


We live in a country where the population is divided between an aristocratic elite, in which the senators are called “Excellencies” and not “Citizens,” and the mass of the people, who are either abandoned or the recipients of miniscule revenue transfers.


This is the most lasting and greatest of our corruption scandals: we have not constructed the Republic that was proclaimed 120 years ago.


Because no senator is demonstrating leadership to promote the cause of reconstruction, we are observing the collapse but not reacting.


Today, Brazil does not have a Senate. Instead of cleaning up the grounds and reconstructing the House, we, the senators, are buried under the ruins of corruption, omission or incompetence. The Congress has succumbed to the ruins of its own failure.


And when a part of the Congress tries to react, corruption greater than that weighing upon President Renan emerges: the buying of congressional votes in exchange for “mensalões” or other currency; the demoralization of the political parties that have abandoned their commitments; the accommodation when it comes to social justice due to the actions and policies of a charismatic President of the Republic.


The Senate has collapsed and the greatest proof of this is that a senator said that the Senate “stinks” and another is writing that the Congress collapsed, but neither has been taken before the Ethics Council.


Either the Senate has collapsed and it stinks, or the senators who are making these claims should be judged after a more thorough verification of their lies or of the cause of the demolition.


But this has to be done by an Ethics Council with credibility. That is the point of departure.


Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at mensagem-cristovam@senado.gov.br


Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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