The Case for Federal Intervention in Brasília. Would It Make Any Difference?

Brasília's Legislative Assembly On April 21, Brazilian capital Brasília will celebrate its 50th anniversary. A question on a lot of people’s minds at the moment is: Who will lead the civic celebrations? A specter hangs over the city. The governor is in jail. The lieutenant governor has resigned.

And the next in the line of succession to the governorship, the president of the Legislative Assembly (CLDF), has also resigned. As a result, an untried politician from the lower ranks of a demoralized assembly is the acting governor.

José Roberto Arruda, the only sitting governor in the history of Brazil to go to jail ( see the sun come up square – “ver o sol nascer quadrado”- as they say in Portuguese) is behind bars because of obstructing justice, trying to bribe a witness and tampering with evidence.

Paulo Octavio (aka PO), the former vice governor, was so closely implicated in Arruda’s bribery schemes, slush funds and generalized corruption, that he was treated like a leper by his own political party, and most of the cabinet and the CLDF. 

The leaders of his party first recoiled in disgust and then, refusing to support him, forced him out of office.  Leonardo Prudente, the former president of the assembly, was filmed stuffing wads of money into all of his pockets and, when he ran out of pockets, jamming some more into his socks.

Arruda, PO and Prudente were all members of the same political party – DEM – so the party leaders have been doing a lot of recoiling recently.

Wilson Lima, who substituted Leonardo “socks” Prudente, is now the acting governor (this is in accordance with the Federal District charter (or local constitution). He once sold Popsicles on the streets of Brasilia. Give the man credit: he finished high school and has been elected to the Legislative Assembly three times.

But he belongs to a small political party (PR) and his political power base is very narrow, to say the least. Lima is one of those politicians who survive, and sometimes thrive, by moving in sync with more powerful politicians.  Many see him as little more than an Arruda lackey.

That is the background. Now enter the lawyers.

Last week the Federal government’s chief prosecutor, Roberto Gurgel, filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Court demanding federal intervention in the Federal District claiming “institutional bankruptcy” has contaminated the executive and the legislative branches.

Gurgel added: “What we have in the local government (GDF) is a truly criminal organization deeply rooted in the nation’s capital with strong evidence of the existence a criminal ring engaged in unlawful appropriation and malfeasance of public monies…”

Gurgel went on to say that the objective of the intervention would be “to get the Federal District operating as a democracy again, which is not the case at the moment.” He was also especially emphatic about not letting anyone in the Legislative Assembly “inherit” the governorship.

Of course, that is exactly what happened: pursuant to the DF charter, with the resignation of the old president of the CLDF, a member of the CLDF became the new president of the Legislative Assembly, and then with the resignation of PO, he, Wilson Lima (PR), became the new acting governor – for the time being.

A few days later, the Federal District’s chief prosecutor, Marcelo Galvão, went to the Supreme Court to argue against federal intervention, claiming that “the institutions in the Federal District are safe and operating normally. And even though the crisis is grave, there are no signs of political upheaval or social unrest.”

What is this business of federal intervention? “Intervention” is mentioned in no less than eleven articles in the Brazilian constitution (somebody saw this as a clear possibility)..

It is identified, defined, characterized and delineated. Reasons are given for its use and when it can and cannot be used is explained. But the constitution does not say exactly what federal intervention is.

That is because the fact is that it is the president (Lula) who decides how federal intervention will operate. He could close down the GDF and the assembly (CLDF) and put all the decision-making processes in the hands of one person – creating a virtual viceroy.

Or he could just substitute the governor or the president of the CLDF and leave everybody else in place. Any way the president decides to do it, federal intervention means that the problem falls lock, stock and barrel into the lap of the federal government.

And an interesting thing about federal intervention is that unless there are impeachments, imprisonments or resignations, everybody goes right back to the same office they held before the intervention once it is over. That is in the constitution.

ABr

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