Is the US using Odebrecht as a Trojan Horse?

On February 17, 2018, Brasil Wire editor Brian Mier was interviewed on Chicago radio station WNUR’s This is Hell Program. The following is a transcript, edited for readability.

Chuck Mertz: The US has launched a new kind of war on Latin America and it’s called “lawfare”: using the local legal system to oust unfriendly but democratically elected politicians while ignoring corruption by their allies on region’s far right.  Here to tell us about what we don’t know about our own country’s involvement in Brazil and what our government and media won’t tell us is our correspondent in Sao Paulo Brian Mier. He has a new book out called Voices of the Brazilian Left. You can now get it at Brasil Wire’s website, Brian is an editor at Brasil Wire and a freelance writer and producer. Welcome back to This is Hell Brian.  You talk about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in Lava Jato, the investigation into corruption in Brazil that has now spread into several other countries as we’ve been seeing on MSNBC on a regular basis. It looks like the Russians have somehow been doing something to have had an impact, an influence on the 2016 presidential elections. How would you compare the way in which Russia has had an impact on American democracy to the way that the United States, especially under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had an impact on Brazilian democracy?

Brian Mier: First of all, I think the criticisms I’ve made about Hillary Clinton have mostly been related to Honduras. The Lava Jato investigation started after Kerry took over as Secretary of State. Now there is some information implicating collaboration from the State Department while Hillary Clinton was in charge of it with the chief justice of Lava Jato, Sergio Moro, and we’ve traced back the beginning of this kind of US initiated war on Latin American corruption to Otto Reich in the Bush administration.  So it seems like there’s been continuity between Republicans and Democrats with this strategy of lawfare.  Compared to Russia, I don’t feel like I am really qualified to say but I will say this… [phone goes dead]

Chuck: Sorry we got cut off there. We were talking about Hillary’s or, I should have really rephrased that because John Kerry was involved in that process as well. Is the Democratic party’s assault on democracy within Brazil any worse or not as bad as with whatever Russia may have done with the democratic party?

Brian: You always ask tough questions and I just want to give you the short answer here.  I don’t feel like I am qualified enough to talk about Russia but I will tell you this, Russia hasn’t caused an illegal impeachment in the US, but the US has overthrown dozens of democratically elected governments in Latin America in the last 100 years.

Chuck: Exactly. So let’s get to Lava Jato. I think what it is revealing is that there is this long term American plan to essentially overthrow other countries through this kind of lawfare, as you call it. Why don’t you describe what you mean by lawfare and is this lawfare for all intents and purposes a warfare being conducted against places like Brazil, like Peru, like Venezuela, like Panama, like Mexico?

Brian: Yes, I feel like war is a valid metaphor although there isn’t gunfire going on. But people are dying because of the measures implemented by the post-coup government and supported by the US. 12 million people have slipped below the poverty line since the coup against Dilma Rousseff began. Hunger is coming back to Brazil, the UN is going to put Brazil back on its World Hunger Map, which it was off in 2010 for the first time ever. There’s a lot of suffering caused by these deep austerity programs initiated by US-supported, conservative presidents all over Latin America. War is a good metaphor for that. What it comes down to basically, and you mentioned Hillary Clinton earlier. Even though the strategy goes back- we’ve traced it back to around 2003 with Otto Reich in the Bush administration –  Hillary gave a speech in 2009 in which she said, “having a functioning democracy isn’t enough in Latin America, we have to support these countries to have strong, independent judiciaries.” The problem with a strong independent judiciary in most Latin American countries is that it is the one branch of government that is un-elected. It historically represents rich white interests. It’s the upper middle class who pass these civil service exams to become judges. Traditionally it is the most conservative branch of government and it is the branch of government that has the least accountability because there is no electorate. So in strengthening judiciaries in Latin America essentially the US government is weakening democracy. Essentially the US Department of Justice and FBI have an agreement with dozens of countries around the world where they can step in and support investigations in which bribery has been made using US dollars or in which companies involved in corruption do any activities on US soil. Well, I would think the dollar is the money of choice in bribes –  not that I know first hand. But this opens up for the US to step in in all kinds of corruption investigations around the World, as selectively as it wants to. There is one company in Brazil called Odebrecht construction company which was one of the largest construction companies in the World before the Lava Jato investigation began. It had dealings in over 50 countries. It had even built things in Florida and it seems like, and I am not saying this out of my on opinion, someone in a very high place in Brazil told me this off the record last week. It seems like the Department of Justice and the FBI are using Odebrecht construction company as a Trojan horse to conduct corruption investigations against politicians that they don’t support all around the World. Michelle Bachelet was accused of corruption involving Odebrecht construction company in Chile. Odebrecht came into play in the impeachment proceedings against a president in Peru recently. And Odebrecht has operations in Africa that are being investigated. Furthermore, one of the chief lawyers from Odebrecht is saying that most of the documents that have been used in the Lava Jato investigation are completely fabricated. On top of that, the Brazilian military has stepped in and criticized the Lava Jato investigation because the prosecutors, led by Sergio Moro, who is a big friend of the United States  – he’s always up at the Wilson Center and AS/COA, the Rockefeller funded think tank in New York, he had a US State Department scholarship in the past, he’s a big friend of the US – him and his team seized 5 computer hard drives with encryption codes from Odebrecht as part of their plea bargaining deal to reduce sentences for the business executives charged. Five hard drives worth of information, spreadsheets, financial records, information about all the bribes that took place and they essentially destroyed the evidence. Now the Brazilian army are also asking why.

Chuck: People would think and the way that you and Brasil Wire editor Daniel Hunt points out in his writing is that the reason that this Brazil corruption investigation, or a corruption investigation anywhere, sells so well to our American media is the idea that, well, we’re just getting rid of all corruption within this country so we’re protecting it, protecting its democratic values, it’s democratic core. How fair are these corruption charges and investigations being prosecuted?

Brian: Not even vaguely fairly, because two of the former presidential candidates from the conservative PSDB party, which is the main conservative opposition to PT in Brazil and a long time friend of the United States, have been implicated in tens of millions of dollars worth of bribes with audio and video evidence and had all charges thrown out against them, even though you can just go online and see the evidence yourself, whereas ex-president Lula was given a 9.5 year prison sentence for supposedly receiving $200,000 worth of reforms on a luxury apartment that the prosecutors and judges – who are the same people in this investigation – cannot prove that he ever owned or set foot in. There’s no proof. Lula himself recently said in a speech, “the least they could do is give me the deed to this place.” So it is very selective. You don’t see any politicians from the conservative PSDB party going to jail in Brazil over this. It’s very selective and the way that it is being implemented goes against everything that the US government does itself in corporate corruption scandals. HSBC Bank was implicated in laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and the US government gave them a slap on the wrist because they were considered to be too big to fail. But this Lava Jato investigation, which is supported and collaborated on by the US Department of Justice and the FBI, has shut down some of the biggest companies in Brazil that should have been considered too big to fail. As a result it spun the country into a massive recession. When Odebrecht construction company had all of its operations paralyzed for 6 months by this judge, Sergio Moro, there were 500,000 immediate construction sector job layoffs and hundreds of thousands of indirect layoffs, so you see the US is applying a double standard in its anti-corruption witch hunts in Latin America, compared to what it does in its own country to Goldman Sachs, to HSBC and all these other corrupt corporations when these billion dollar scandals come out, that get a slap on the wrist, with maybe one executive in minimum security prison for six months.

Chuck: So how much to Brazilians see Lava Jato not as a corruption investigation as the US wants people to think and as the US media believes it is, and instead how much do Brazilians see this as economic sabotage by the United States?

Brian:  I can’t speak for 210 million Brazilians but there is a general consensus among the majority of the Brazilian people that this is a witch hunt against Lula. The majority of the people consider him to be innocent. 96% of the Brazilian people reject the Coup president Michel Temer. He’s got a 4% approval rating. And I would also say that most people, probably slightly over a 50% majority, believe that Lava Jato is a witch hunt targeting the PT party, that has had disastrous results for the Brazilian economy.

Chuck: Daniel Hunt, the editor at Brasil Wire, had an article at Truthdig that you sent to me this week, and he writes that in 2004 the Mensalão scheme of cash for votes in Congress was being uncovered. It developed into a media scandal so great it almost gained traction enough to trigger the impeachment of then president Lula despite originating under previous administrations. Lula was not charged but it did result in prison for some of his closest party allies. A private spy agency, Kroll, which operates a revolving door with the CIA, was implicated in attempts to ensnare Lula when caught spying on communications of government staff. In fact, now it appears that Kroll is the same group that’s behind the investigation into the Lava Jato affair.  How much do you think Kroll’s involvement in the investigation should lead to a media questioning of the entire corruption scandal and to you, what explains why the Northern media isn’t questioning an investigation that seems to be done by a company that has a revolving door for CIA agents?

Brian: Well, there’s that. There’s Kroll, and then there is the fact that the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth Blanco, publicly said that the Department of Justice was contributing to the Lava Jato investigation and he bragged about arresting Lula last July. So we know that there are private intelligence firms, petroleum corporations like Chevron, and the US government, all with a vested interest in privatizing petroleum in Brazil and accessing petroleum and all the other mineral rights and I feel like the media that is funded by advertising doesn’t want to do anything to risk its advertising revenues. We know for example that the Guardian has a very close relationship with HSBC Bank so they under-publicized the corruption scandals with HSBC and I would assume that most papers that get advertising money from petroleum corporations and other companies that have interests in Brazil don’t want to scratch too deeply into what is going on here to not effect their own revenue, their own bottom line. On top of that you have what Arundhati Roy calls the “honey trap” of foundation funding which I think affects a lot of the left press in the United States.  I know that NACLA, who I have written before and I generally respect,  and Jacobin, had a one week series of round-table discussions about the coup in Brazil and the Lava Jato investigation a couple of weeks ago and they didn’t mention US influence at all.  They give very good reporting and analysis about what’s happening down here up to the point where you start talking about the United States. So I feel that the corporate media doesn’t want to affect its advertising revenue and the foundation funded and otherwise progressive media has a blind spot on the issue of imperialism in Latin America.

Chuck: You write that in 2004 Lava Jato’s inquisitor judge Sergio Moro published a paper called “Considerations of Mani Pulite”, his interpretive thesis on the 1990s Italian – with US cooperation – anti-corruption probe which decimated Italy’s political order, in particular its center-left, and paved the way for both the political emergence of Silvio Berlusconi, the most corrupt leader in its history, and a wake of privatizations of its massive public sector nicknamed ‘the pillage of Italy’. Mani Pulite in particular, its use of the media to whip up public indignation and support of convictions served as the prototype for Moro’s own operation Lava Jato, launched a decade after his paper. How much do you believe that this new intensified order of privatization, all starting with a scam corruption trial causing media indignity and the overthrow of democratically elected governments with social welfare programs, only to be replaced by truly corrupt leaders who sell off all the goods, how much do you think this is a carefully laid out plan around the World, not just in Brazil, for the overthrow of countries that are not interested in neoliberalism.

Brian: Well I can say for the case of Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina and Brazil that this seems to be part of a plan of neoliberal hegemony for Latin America. I don’t know enough about other countries. I think that regarding other countries in Africa and Asia there are other imperialist powers at play like China and some European countries that may have a counterbalance to the US but Latin America is really the US’ back yard, as it has liked to say since the Monroe Doctrine. I feel like we’re victims of US imperialist geopolitical objectives down here in Latin America.


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.