Joesley: An Opportunistic Apology

On May 18 as part of a corruption investigation that was not directly related to Operation Car Wash, Joesley Batista, a director of JBS, the world’s largest meat packing corporation, dropped a bombshell, announcing that his company had paid bribes to around 2000 Brazilian politicians including coup President Michel Temer and Anglophone media-backed 2014 presidential candidate Aécio Neves. Shortly thereafter, new information showed that JBS had paid money to Congressmen and Senators to vote in favour of Dilma Rousseff’s technically illegal impeachment. It also emerged that they supported pro-impeachment protest groups financially. During the fall out from this scandal, Aécio Neves was kicked out of the senate and his sister and political strategist, Andrea Neves, was arrested. According to the leaked audio, Michel Temer paid hush money to jailed former house speaker Eduardo Cunha. In light of these revelations the fact that the so-called “anti-corruption crusader” Sergio Moro vetoed 21 requests of Cunha’s to question Michel Temer in his defense against charges raised in Lava Jato investigation has mortally wounded his reputation as an objective prosecutor. But what has happened to confessed fraud, Joesley Batista? He is currently enjoying freedom in his New York penthouse apartment after receiving amnesty in exchange for his testimony. In the following article, translated from Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil as part of our ongoing partnership, Raphael Silva Fagundes, Rio de Janeiro public school teacher and graduate student, analyzes the rhetoric behind Joesley Batista’s recent public apology.

“Apologies are not always sincere, almost never”

– Renato Russo

The fact is that apologies are not always sincere and when they aren’t, the one making them should create an image of sincerity, an ethos capable of convincing the affected party to pardon him. On the verge of president Michel Temer’s fall, we need to keep in mind that this coup inside of the coup is merely a strategy to accelerate conservative reforms. Alas, it was the same motive that led to the impeachment of ex-president Dilma Rousseff in the first place. This latest phase, which aims to trigger a mercy coup on a flagging system, has started through the testimony Joesley Batista, a businessman from JBS meat packing corporation who, afterward, published an apology in which, if analyzed closely, it is possible to identify the power project that has pushed this entire Brazilian political crisis.

The open letter was an explicit attempt by the businessman to not fall into what the philosopher Hannah Arendt calls the “banality of evil”. In addition to using fundamental rhetorical elements prop up the orator’s virtue, it affirms that one has to bypass his values to reach a greater good:

“Our entrepreneurial spirit is the immense will to perform in the face of a Brazilian system that many times creates obstacles to sell goods and drives us to opt for improper payments to government officials.”

The orator invents “constructions that ‘explain’ everything obscuring all of the details,” appropriating “cliches that turn the judgment superfluous and pronounce themselves without any risk[1].” The cliches that there are barriers to invest in Brazil are attributed to a political model that wants to corrupt, the same one that makes the businessman become wealthier. There is no risk to say them because afterward the businessman makes a comparison with other places where his industries proliferate, invoking argumentative strategy:

“In other countries outside of Brazil, we have been able to expand our businesses without transgressing any ethical values. In this manner we built a business group that generated more than 270,000 direct jobs, with extraordinary and competent teams, which operate 300 processing plants on 5 continents and offer quality products worldwide. “

Joesely draws an idea for his argument that is disseminated through the media to the Brazilian population and adhered to by many[2] that we live in a country where there is an immense difficulty to build large companies, while abroad the process is much easier. They forget, for example, that a large part of the profits that wealthy businessmen earn in Brazil are not taxed.[3] The media tactfully, defends the idea of the “difficulty of selling goods”, like it does by publishing Joesley’s letter in the Estadão newspaper: “In a letter sent to the press, the businessman guarantees that he did not break laws in other countries”.[4] This gives the impression that it was necessary to break the laws here. He knew exactly what to highlight.

Another strong rhetorical element in the letter is the use of values. “Values are simultaneously at the base and in the terms of the argumentation”, filling a large space in the process of persuasion[5] because they trigger the identification of emotional elements. It is certain that the “spirit and soul of eloquence consists in its affections”,[6] as the famous Roman orator Fábio Quintiliano shows us. Joesley and the press want to persuade us that there is sincerity behind the letter’s opportunistic language. “For this we are going beyond a request for forgiveness. We hereby assume a public commitment to be intolerant and intransigent with corruption,” he says.

In the epilogue of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil , Hannah Arendt demonstrates that there is a habit that explains the “reluctance, evident everywhere, to judge people in terms of individual responsibility”. In this manner, Joesley partially exhumes himself of guilt, accusing the Brazilian system of not facilitating entrepreneurial progress. None of it surpasses the level of a rhetorical sham.

What is implicit is the coup is consolidating through its proposals to reform the retirement and labor system. It is no accident that the Joesley says, “Brazil changed and we changed with it.” He implies that corruption will no longer be needed earn profits after the reforms are pushed through. Could it be? The challenge is that, for the reforms to lessen in unpopularity, they need to either install a less unpopular leader or increase the use of force against the population. The violent repression that occurred during recent protests and the behaviour of government officials shows that we are wandering between these two strategies.

But could it be that Joesley really had to be corrupt? And why, since he is so successful around the World? Was he forced to violate his ethical values to obtain more profit and become even richer? Sartre once said that “when the existentialist describes a coward, he affirms that this coward is responsible for his cowardice.” and that , “for the coward, there is always a possibility to not be a coward[1].” With this apology, Joesley appears to want to stop being a coward, however what he really did was contribute to the fall of Temer and influence the legal proceedings against the Rousseff-Temer coalition. He didn’t do this to be a good boy, but to give a final blow in the proceedings that began in 2015-2016 and accelerate retirement and labor reforms to, therefore, satisfy the nation’s elite economic interests with a clean conscience.

[1] SARTRE, Jean-Paul. O existencialismo é um humanismo. Trad: Rita Correia Guedes. p. 12. Disponível em:
[1] ARENDT, Hannah. Eichmann em Jerusalém: um relato sobre a banalidade do mal. Trad: José Rubens Siqueira. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 2000.
[2] PERELMAN, Chaïm e OLBRECHTS-TYTECA, Lucie, Tratado de Argumentação: a nova retórica. Trad: Maria Ermantina de Almeida Prado Galvão, São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2005, p.75.
[3] MENDONÇA, Heloísa. E se os ricos ajudassem a pagar o rombo nas contas públicas.Disponível em:
[4] Joesley Batista pede desculpas em carta aberta. Disponível em:,joesley-batista-pede-desculpas-em-carta-aberta,70001793981.
[5] REBOUL, Olivier. Introdução à Retórica. Trad: Ivone Castilho Benedetti. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2004, p.165.
[6] QUINTILIANO, M. Fabio. Instituiçoens Oratórias. Trad: Jeronymo Soares Barbosa. Tomo Primeiro, Coimbra: Imprensa Real da Universidade, 1788, p.440.