A new law proposed by the Supreme Court President would quarantine judges and prosecutors from electoral candidacy for up to 8 years, to prevent using politicised trials to generate political popularity. This would effectively end superstar judge Sérgio Moro and his supporters’ (both Brazilian and foreign) presidential hopes.
Curitiban Judge Sérgio Moro, who delivered Jair Bolsonaro the presidency by jailing his main opponent, Lula da Silva, has long been rumoured to harbour political ambitions of his own.
Although lacking in charisma, years of incessant promotion as the “hero of Brazil” meant that he was expected by some to run himself in 2018. Instead, Moro was rewarded for his help by Bolsonaro with the Justice Minister’s position, as well as the highest military honours available for his “work for the country” following the 2016 coup against Dilma Rousseff and the jailing of Lula.
Now, in all 2022 polling scenarios, the U.S. backed Moro is present as the main conservative candidate to face far-right Jair Bolsonaro, who has also enjoyed the backing of U.S. Government and business. Investors are now thought to have lost faith in Bolsonaro himself, but wish ideally to preserve the ultraliberal economic programme of Paulo Guedes in any post-Bolsonaro scenario.
Moro is thus key to corporate efforts to control what happens next politically in Brazil. And prevent the left’s return to power.
Since resigning from the Bolsonaro government after 18 months, there has been an effort to rehabilitate Moro, an already internationally promoted “anti-corruption hero” for his own presidential run in 2020. Prosecutors from the Lava Jato task force were also believed to be planning their own candidacies, using their high profile political scalps as a populist pitch to voters. This has led people to ironically refer to Lava Jato as a “political party” in itself.
But this plan has now hit a major obstacle. Supreme Court president Dias Toffoli has proposed extending the quarantine period for judicial officials running for political office from six months to eight years.
This would make it almost impossible for a judge or prosecutor to benefit politically from the media spectacle prosecutions which were a key component of Lava Jato’s strategy. This would mean that the earliest presidential election in which Moro could run would be 2030, when memories of his perceived anti-corruption heroics have long faded from memory.
Having eliminated Lula from the 2018 race on spurious grounds, in an operation working in collusion with the FBI, commentators point to the irony of Moro’s potential plight with not a little schadenfreude.
Journalist Kennedy Alencar reacted on social media: “The law cannot harm anyone retroactively. It would not be valid for Moro, who deserves all the guarantees of the democratic state of law that he denied many as a judge and minister of genocide.”
“That eventual law would have a first and last name. I think it would be similar to the one used by Moro and the TSE (Electoral Court) to take Lula out of the game in 2018. I don’t think it’s good to use the weapons of those who threw Brazil into the abyss. Moro is a pandemic democrat who acts with hypocrisy and opportunism. It is better not to act like him.” Alencar concluded.
Earlier that day Supreme Court President Dias Toffoli had proposed that Congress define an 8-year impediment for judges who decide to quit and run for elections. “They have to include the ineligibility of magistrates and prosecutors in the Law of Ineligibility for at least 8 years,” said Toffoli during a meeting of the National Justice Council. This measure, Toffoli insisted “would avoid using the judiciary and the judge’s impartial power for demagogy; to appeal to public opinion and then become a candidate”. This was widely interpreted to be aimed directly at Sérgio Moro and Lava Jato prosecutors.
The proposed “quarantine” period was immediately rejected by the Association of Brazilian Magistrates (AMB). It complained that such a move would “violate the principle of equality and violate the political rights of members of the Judiciary. A disproportionate affront to the fundamental right of magistrates to exercise citizenship”.
Despite this hostility the proposal was enthusiastically supported by leader of Congress, Rodrigo Maia. “President Toffoli knows the machinery of the Judiciary better than I do, and he proposed 8 years. It is a long term, two terms…President Toffoli knows the policy, if he makes the proposal, parliament must listen and decide on 8, 6, 4 years, it is a decision for the plenary,”
Far-right Congresswoman Joice Hasselmann, a former Bolsonarista turned Moro loyalist, complained on social media that “PT, Centrão, Jair Bolsonaro and their minions want to get Sérgio Moro out of the way for fear of an eventual candidacy in 2022”.
But it is not just his supporters in Brazil who will be concerned about this new proposal. For the U.S. and multinational business community, most visibly represented by Council of the Americas, Moro would be an ideal candidate, a more acceptable face of Brazil’s authoritarian right, a man whose image has been relentlessly boosted over the past decade, even listed as a Time Magazine person of the year. Crucially he would be expected to preserve the economic policies which was their justification for supporting neofascist Bolsonaro and Michel Temer before him, whose tenures combined have enabled a historic loss of Brazilian patrimony to foreign investors.
Should they lose Moro as a candidate it is difficult to see where they will look, yet with their busted flush Bolsonaro still yet capable of re-election. Anyone but the Workers Party will still be the objective, and keeping the left as divided as possible, part of the strategy.
Prior to Toffoli’s move, Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos had no doubt that Moro would be the U.S. backed candidate in 2022: “Moro is the man from the United States, he is the United States candidate for 2022. He did all the work. And his political career is exactly this – destroying the Brazilian economy, destroying the left, opening the way for a transition politician – obviously opening the way for himself, he is their candidate. This means that the United States Embassy itself must probably be involved in all of this. This means that Moro began to be seen for his political career, Bolsonaro is no longer a resource, he can be discarded ”.
Domingos Neto a former political prisoner, federal deputy for Piauí and a retired professor of Political Science at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) observed how strong support for Moro in the military was, at least prior to his split with Bolsonaro: “Obviously, there was strategic planning. We are experiencing a new type of dispute, which some call hybrid war, and in which the judicial apparatus has a very relevant function. And he was the big piece. The military love Sérgio Moro because he’s the face of moralism. It doesn’t matter if he destroyed Brazilian engineering, if he was a judge who always acted against the law, a guy who will be accountable to history, who has a heavy debt. I don’t think his fate will be pretty, but he is a figure deified by the military. In the speech with which General Villas Boas handed over command of the Army [in January 2019], he extolled Moro. With all his manipulation of the law, with all its arbitrariness, spurious games, with all his collaboration with the Pentagon and the CIA, he continues to be considered a great man, and is still highly rated among politicians. He is even better off than the president himself. Sergio Moro is a key player, even for an eventual closed regime. His image could serve a future repressive regime very well.”
If Bolsonaro has the continuing support of the Trump administration and the most savage sectors of U.S. business, it is Moro who has enjoyed favour from the corporate Democratic party and the so called deep state. Having already been on various exchange programmes in the United States, Moro first appeared in a 2009 Hillary Clinton-era State Department cable which outlined plans for an anti-corruption task-force, very similar to the eventual Lava Jato, which indicated a shift towards a war on corruption to deliver foreign policy goals, part of what Clinton called smart power. “The ballot box is not enough in Latin America” she insisted at the Council of the Americas annual meeting earlier that year.
Moro’s relationship with the United States became more blatant once in office, with his March 2019 visit to CIA headquarters along with Bolsonaro, who became the first Brazilian president in history to be recieved at Langley. Later, Moro visited US fusion intelligence gathering centers which are the blueprint for a similar facility in his home state of Paraná, in the tri-border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, which has long been of strategic interest to the U.S.. Beyond this, the FBI was able to greatly expand its activities in Brazil during Moro’s time at the justice ministry.
Thus there is much at stake for the United States in keeping Moro in the 2022 race by whatever means, as a plan A, plan B or even plan C.
As new coalitions of convenience are forged is as yet unclear where the real push for Moro’s exclusion is coming from, and Dias Toffoli has been judged to have acted in the military’s interest before.
But, if it passes, the new law would shatter a years old shared fantasy between comprador class and foreign capital in which Judge Sérgio Moro is one day gloriously and legitimately elected as President of Brazil.