The Rich Also Get Arrested in Brazil, But Only the Poor Go to Jail

Handcuffs I have friends who feel proud that they were handcuffed because of their ideas. They would have liked it if, back in those days, the television had divulged the news of their arrest because they could have publicized their fight for democracy, and the record of their imprisonment would be a form of protection. 

But they were not even able to cry out. Their mothers, wives, entities like Order of Attorneys of Brazil (OAB), the Brazilian Press Association (ABI), the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and other groups had to mobilize, attempting to let the country know what was happening and where they were imprisoned.

These days while watching the news show in which the Federal Police arrested those accused of forming a gang, influence peddling, illegal enrichment, money laundering, I imagined what some of these friends would think, these friends who were imprisoned fighting so that this would not happen again. What they would think of the action of the police in the democracy for which they fought so hard?

My first thought was that, this time, there was an order, signed by a judge, authorizing the imprisonment. The police spent months in assembling evidence, listening in on telephone calls with a Justice authorization. Their choice of whom to arrest was not a random one.

The second was that, in that time of clandestine prisons, my friends would envy the protection that the TV spectacle would have afforded them. If there had been a spectacle when the army soldiers arrested three young men from a favela, they would not have been turned over to their death at the hands of a rival gang.

An arrest, carried out by the police and shown on television, humiliates the prisoner but becomes public, giving out the information of where he will be taken. It works with transparency.

In a certain way, my formerly-handcuffed friends would think how strange the situation is: in the past they were proud, although afraid, to be arrested, and today it is the police who are proud and the prisoners who feel ashamed but not afraid.

My friends would envy the rapidity of the judiciary system now. In a few hours any prisoner is released and will be released again if the police re-arrest him, even on the basis of new evidence.

Something else that would attract my friends’ attention would be the competence and honesty of the police. Accustomed, in the past, to fear and hate the police who persecuted them and killed their comrades, they are surprised how those of today resist corruption and confront the powerful. Some police even have the honesty and courage to participate in a sting by accepting bribes of as much as a million dollars, merely to collect evidence against the bandits.

But, above all, it is possible that my friends who fought for the democracy are divided between the justice of arresting the corrupt and the legality of the judicial apparatus. Because one cannot speak of justice without legality, but it is possible to speak of legality without justice.

They would think that it is possible that the police are exaggerating when they arrest people even upon the basis of judicially authorized recordings of conversations and arrest warrants.

Despite this doubt, however, I think that between the hurried arrest and the hurried release, my friends certainly would prefer the former; they consider the hurry of the police more democratic than the strange hurry of justice.

After such a struggle for democracy, my friends are encouraged by the fact that, in Brazil, the rich are also arrested, although these remain under arrest only for a short time. The legality has not turned just.

For the first time there is criticism of the use of handcuffs, as if they had been invented only yesterday, as if they were not used every day in the arrests of criminals without the money to pay good lawyers, as if the handcuffs were only bad because they damage the fabric of the beautiful clothing worn by the rich, something that does not happen when the poor are arrested since they always appear shirtless on television.

After so many years of use, the handcuffs have become an abuse. The abuse now is the handcuffs and not the crime committed – forming a gang, evading income tax, laundering money. It is even possible that handcuffs will become illegal. But this certainly will not make the legality more democratic.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

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

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