Beauty and the Beast

Since the emergence of what would come to be called “Lava Jato” in 2009, every honest political commentator has been clear: the operation was designed to reach ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. All other targets were secondary, the implosion of Rousseff’s government, 12 million people without jobs, and an accumulated loss of almost 8% GDP over two years, did not matter. Whether the country will bear the weight of Lula’s destruction or not is not our politicians or judges real concern. The problem is, even if this self-destruction could assure corruption will cease in the short term, maybe we could agree with this huge effort. The reality, however, has pointed another way.

Michel Temer’s Government have been strangely shielded by both Media and Judges from the bombastic effects of Operation Lava Jato. Although more than ten members of his initial staff have been directly implicated in corruption scandals, none of them have been arrested or coercively brought to justice to give any official declarations. Aside from former lower chamber President Eduardo Cunha, all the harassment is driven towards Lula and Rousseff. In simple financial terms, Lava Jato is inflicting more damage to the economy than it is recovering from the corrupt. In other words, Brazil has been living with a chronic disease called “corruption” for the last 500 years, but it is not entirely clear if it will recover from the treatment. It is even harder to predict if the treatment will, in fact, cure the disease.

Last Friday, Prosecuting Judge Sergio Moro (a Brazilian version of italian Giovanni Falcone) ordered Lula’s testimony in Curitiba, a Southern city with less than two million habitants and the home of Operation Lava Jato. Almost 50,000 people travelled from around the country to express their support for the former President. The city’s security forces entered into a war footing, expecting violence, due to some media hoaxes that claimed Lula would be imprisoned right after his hearing. In fact, no violence took place, but the unexpected crowd presence sounded red alarm to Lula’s opponents. The former President has been constantly depicted in oligarchic media as a “kingpin” of all Brazilian corruption, but at the same time Lula has almost 50% of voting intentions in every opinion poll conducted over the last two years.

Lula’s opponents were expecting a ‘silver bullet’ from Judge Moro. The problem is that not a single piece of proof or solid evidence was presented against the former President. The most robust evidence presented was a commercial contract for the purchase of an apartment, without any signature. This contract, supposedly, proved that the former President was trading a previously owned apartment for a new and bigger one with a leading civil construction firm. Anyhow, the dated contract did not match the period the former President was in government and it was not even signed. The polite tone judge Moro used with Lula could not disguise the fact he could not present any solid evidence of any crime committed by Lula. Lula had no international bank account, no illegal money transference, no illicit assets or wealth.

The adamant Lula seems to be unbeatable. Right after his testimony he made a speech to a passionate crowd in Curitiba, criticizing the excesses committed by Brazilian judiciary and media against him. Lula remembered the violence against Rousseff when she was ousted from government saying, “no Brazilian could say his life got better since the coup”. The bare truth is that even if Judge Moro could not present any evidence against him, Lula has plenty of evidence against the current Government. Even right wing commentators are angrily complaining that Lava Jato could not present anything serious against Lula after almost three years of investigations. They know that on the political battleground the former President is only getting stronger.

Nowadays in Brazil you can talk without fear of negative consequences using the tale of beauty and the beast, but you should exercise caution when individualising the roles. Some people say Moro is the Beast, some say it is Lula. The terms rarely diverge, in one narrative the judge is a ruthless, abusive and revengeful “god” who manipulates the law against Lula, in others Lula is an elusive, shadowy thief who has been stealing from Brazil in the past 13 years, without leaving any trace of it. In between, the economy is melting down, the unemployment rate is soaring, life is getting worse and social / economic rights are being taken away by a ruthless, abusive and vengeful President, with the aid of an elusive shadowy congress that has been stealing from Brazil since the beginning of Republican period.


By Fernando Horta

PhD in History of International Relations at the University of Brasília (UNB). Denver University Visiting Scholar.