Brazil: In the Face of Mired-in-Corruption Congress, President Lula Looks the Other Way

Brazilian senateThe article entitled “Brazil’s Scandal-plagued Senate: House of Horrors” published July 9 by British Magazine “The Economist” didn’t go well with Brazilian congressmen. While providing a summary on the sequence of scandals, that have been plaguing and shaking the Brazilian Senate, The Economist also drew attention to the fact that President Lula may be willing to shut his eyes to such scandals.

Over the last few weeks, senator José Sarney, a former Brazilian president who now presides over the Senate, has been in the center of major news headlines for his apparent involvement in acts of corruption, such as tax evasion and secret acts benefiting politicians, and favoring nepotism.

June 15,  the daily O Estado de S. Paulo revealed that Sarney was responsible for at least 20 secret acts, including job appointments for family members  One of the many secret acts has benefited Sarney’s 23-year-old niece, Nathalie Rondeau, who is also an aspiring model. She was apparently secretly appointed for an Editorial Council position within the Senate. The Senate President’s daughter-in-law, former Miss Brasília, Rosângela Michel Gonçalves, was also given a post.

According to O Estado, unemployment has not been a problem for senator Sarney’s family, which have been awarded several government job opportunities. The endless list includes: João Fernando Michel Gonçalves Sarney, Sarney’s grandson, who became senator’s Assistant from February 2007 until October 2008.

Another lucky winner was Rosângela Terezinha Michel Gonçalves, Sarney’s daughter-in-law, who took Fernando’s position following new approved legislation prohibiting nepotism. Virgínia Murad de Araújo, appointed parliamentary assistant also secure her government job. She has family ties to Jorge Murad, Sarney’s cousin. .

The Economist has brought to light the number of staff needed to assist the 81 Brazilian senators: 10,000 people. For Heráclito Fortes from São Paulo Democratic Party and first Secretary of House of Congress, the article is biased: “It is a very prejudiced and elitist article”, he said.

Brazilian Democratic Socialist Party Leader for the Amazon, Arthur Virgílio wasn’t happy either: “The House of Commons is not an example either, from what I have seen they do not need to learn from us. We had also seen terrible things, when we were there, even though they are the most experienced parliament in the world, they follow the same practices of countries, that have not yet reached their full and plain democratic development,” vented Virgílio.

Virgílio’s name was cited on the article for having taken a loan from Agaciel Maia, in order to cover his family trip to Paris. Maia is the head of the Senate Administration, and owns a house worth 5 million reais (US$ 2,5 million) under his brother’s name. He never mentioned the mansion in his income taxes.

The Economist has indicated however that Sarney may not be the only one to blame, as it seems corruption is going rampant all across the board in Brazil’s political arena, but warned that such corruption news can serve only as a reminder to Brazilians of the flaws of their politicians, who never impose austerity on themselves.

Another corruption headline has made the front page on daily Folha de São Paulo, and this time the Sarney Foundation is being investigated. It has to do with a museum run by senator Sarney, which received R$ 1,300 million (US$ 651,000) back in 2005 as part of the cultural development incentive program. Apparently the funds were used as investments into ghost companies or deposited into ghost bank accounts.

Despite criticism demanding a firmer position from government towards the Senate crisis, President Lula defends himself: “I think it is amusing that people have such an idea that the President can do anything to punish the Senate. They are untouchable. They are elected for an eight-year term, I am the president for four years only”, affirmed Lula.

For more details on the Economist article please check: www.economist.com/world/americas/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13998624

Edison Bernardo DeSouza is a journalist, having graduated in Social Communication Studies at Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, Brazil. He lived in the US and Canada for close to 10 years and participated in volunteering activities in social works agencies. DeSouza currently lives in São Paulo where he teaches English as a Second Language for both private English Language Institute and Private High-School. He has already participated as an actor in three English plays in Brazil and is pursuing further advancements in his career. He is particularly interested in economics, history, politics and human rights articles.

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