When back in September 2003, the Getúlio Vargas Foundation shocked Brazil by placing Maranhão in the Brazilian Northeast as Brazil’s poorest state, no one could believe it. As astonishing as it could have seemed, the Foundation revealed that an incredible 68,42% of the state population was living in misery, making less than 80 Reais (US$ 40) per month.
Following the alarming data Maranhão was on the news, prompting several conferences on how to combat poverty within the region, including a seminar held in São Luis, Maranhão’s state capital, promoted by the United Nations in 2004.
The situation was so bewildering at the time, that the Secretary of Strategic Planning for Cities, José Cursino Moreira Raposo, affirmed: “The causes for the poverty in Maranhão are the improper usage of land, and political practices benefiting allies.” The declaration was published November 17, 2006 on the daily newspaper O Imparcial.
Six years later, the latest report by the United Nations on March 30 2009 reflected very little change. The document reveals that 58% of Brazilian cities will not be able to decrease poverty in 50% by 2015 as planned, and Maranhão still remains in critical condition.
As the state still struggles with poverty, more news about mismanagement in Maranhão is coming down the pipeline as headlines reveal the latest corruption stories involving that northeastern region.
The Sarneys, a family that has controlled the state for decades, are once again in the center of the political turmoil. The most recent episode published by daily O Estado de S. Paulo, July 16, involves business entrepreneur Fernando Sarney, Brazil Senate President José Sarney’s son. He is being accused of misrepresentation, and illegal business practices favoring commercial deals with state-run enterprises.
The younger Sarney is the object of an investigation called Boi Barrica, a legendary creature of Maranhão’s Folklore. The Federal Police committee created in 2006 investigates cases of irregularities within financial institutions, money laundry schemes, and use of slush fund for electoral purposes, including Roseanne Sarney (Sarney’s daughter) funding during her governor campaign.
According to Agência Estado, the police has obtained documents and recorded conversation linking Fernando Sarney with a criminal organization, which had the intent of “bleeding” public coffers.
The organization apparently utilizes Sarney’s family name in order to have access to important information from the Ministry of Mines and Energy and state-run hydroelectric companies. Another company was also mentioned Valec – a state run company – responsible for the construction of the polemic North-South railway connecting Brazil Northeast to the Southeast region.
Despite the Senate crisis, where there is a movement to oust the senior Sarney, who was President of Brazil from 1985 to 1990, and despite allegations of corruption within his state, the old senator remains, at least publicly, stoic: “The challenges, the workload, the insults, the threats, have never frightened me and they never will . We are building a new Senate, this I am certain of”.
Agência Estado informs that Fernando Sarney is pleading innocent to all the accusations. The Brasília Federal police are still tracking financial transactions done on behalf of Fernando Sarney.
According to the FENAPEP website ( Federação Nacional dos Policiais Federais – Federal Police National Federation), five lines of investigation were conducted, in order to verify any scheme of illegal transfer of funds to offshore accounts, including the amount of US$ 1 million to a bank in China . The transactions also include banks in the Bahamas, United States, British Virgin Islands and fiscal paradises.
The Federal Police have reported that Fernando Sarney has exerted improper influence within the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and that he has strong connections with Edison Lobão from the PMDB party. Lobão is Minister of Mines and Energy and is a close ally of Senator José Sarney .
The scandals involving the Sarney family are strengthening the movement Fora Sarney (Out Sarney). Senate chamber has prohibited public manifestations following a student protest, where 10 teenagers appeared in T-shirts painted with letters that shown together spelled “Out Sarney.”
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.