Brazil Caudillismo: A State Where Everything Is Named After Senator Sarney

José Sarney bridge in Maranhão. BrazilFollowing a series of scandals that took Brazil’s Senate President, José Sarney, to the headlines of Brazilian major newspapers, for charges of nepotism, tax evasion, and abuse of power, change is on the way in Maranhão, the senator’s home state. A few places, including streets and government buildings will be getting new names soon.

Governor Roseana Sarney of Maranhão, the Senator’s daughter, submitted official petition to remove her name off the façade of the State Audit Office erected back in 2002, during her second term as governor. Maranhão is considered one of the poorest states in Brazil, and for years has been under the Sarneys control.

According to Folha online, the governor had already made her decision back on July 10, 2009, before taking office on her third term as governor, following the impeachment of governor Jackson Lago (PDT – Labor Democratic Party).

Lago was accused of electoral fraud and abuse of power during his 2006 electoral campaign. The State Official Press later informed the petition to remove Roseana Sarney’s name had actually been submitted on July 1st.

What the official release didn’t reveal, however, is that two recent court decisions had already determined that Roseana Sarney’s name should no longer appear on the façade of the State Audit Office, in order to preserve the anonymity of the institution.

The decision also ordered the exclusion of Edison Lobão’s name, Minister of Mines and Energy and José Sarney political ally, from a major seashore avenue. A public school in São Luís had also been named after Edison Lobão.

The court has also ordained that vice-governor João Alberto from the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) remove his name from the façade of Maranhão’s State Data Processing Center building .

The building where the State Audit works was not the only construction baptized after Roseana Sarney. Maranhão’s Sambadrome Avenue, which hosts Carnaval festivities was also named after her. The initial petition requesting the removal of names came from Helena Heluy (PT – Labor’s Party) back in 2004, when a major avenue in the State of Maranhão received Roseana Sarney’s name as well. At the time, Roseana was still a senator.

Back in the 90’s, the local Regional Labor office located in the 165th region in São Luís – Maranhão’s capital – was also named after Senator José Sarney. A few of São Luís districts received Sarney’s family name too, such as Vila Sarney Filho (named after the son), Vila Mauro Fecury, former mayor of the city, Sarney’s political ally, currently occupying Roseana Sarney’s previous senate seat.

Maranhão’s most famous bridge built in the 60’s is called José Sarney, and some small cities in Maranhão’s country side were christened after his family including the municipalities of President Sarney, Governor Edison Lobão, Ribamar Fiquene and Governor Luiz Rocha.

Luiz Rocha was Maranhão’s governor between 1982 and 1986. The municipality of Luiz Rocha was created in 1994. He is the father of Deputy Roberto Rocha, former Sarney’s ally at the time. Today they are political adversaries. Edison Lobão and Fiquene governed Maranhão during the 90’s.

In 1988 a law prohibiting to name public buildings, institutions, or places after live citizens was approved. On April 2009, Veja Magazine published an article revealing the influence of the Sarneys in the State of Maranhão, and defined the state as an oligarchy, having the power of even granting themselves streets names.

Streets are not the only places to honor the family. São Luís bus station also carries Sarney’s name. According to Veja Magazine, even Sarney’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Fernanda Sarney, has had her name posted on the façade of newly inaugurated school in the city of Bom Jardim.

The list of honors did not exclude a court-house – Forum José Sarney – a Maternity Hospital named after the former president along with a Medical Center. We should also mention the Maranhão Municipal Public Library and Fundação José Sarney (a Museum), which is the target of an investigation involving Petrobras. The state-controlled oil multinational donated close to US$ 600,000 to the foundation, which apparently were used elsewhere.

Along with the listing of buildings and streets names, Veja also published Sarney’s listing of assets, which includes Curupu Island, 4 Television networks, a Daily news periodical O Estado do Maranhão, 17 radio stations, stock options from Jaracati mall, a 20,000 square meter mansion in São Luís, 2 mansions in Brasília, 1 apartment in Leblon – Rio de Janeiro, a summer home in Búzios, a touristic city in the state of Rio as well, 19 properties in Maranhão’s countryside. Homes and stores in São Luís, Rio de Janeiro and Macapá, state capital of Amapá, where José Sarney was elected senator. A visible patrimony of R$ 125 million (US$ 62 million).

José Sarney is being investigated for acts of corruption, including: nepotism, tax evasion, abuse of power and public funds misappropriation. The charges are triggering a crisis in the Brazilian Senate.

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 12 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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