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Brazil's Former President to Be Indicted?

Walter Russell Mead

Brazil’s top prosecutor has asked the country’s Supreme Court to indict former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for obstruction of justice in anti-corruption investigations. The FT has more:

In the nearly 300-page document sent by Mr. Janot to the Supreme Court late Tuesday, the prosecutor says that Mr. da Silva and others were also involved in an effort to bribe that witness—former Petrobras executive Nestor Cerveró—and to help him flee the country. Mr. Cerveró’s son recorded a conversation between himself and the senator about the offer and turned the recording over to police, according to prosecutors. Mr. Cerveró had been negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors regarding his alleged participation in the kickbacks-and-bribery scheme at Petrobras.

This is big, and possibly very serious news. Lula is much more popular than current embattled President Dilma Rousseff among the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party) rank and file—he’s a big hero for many of the people who voted for him, and who continue to benefit from the welfare programs he instituted and the educational reforms that he pushed for poor Brazilians. In addition, many Lula supporters think—with excellent reason—that the political establishment trying to impeach Dilma and prosecute Lula is at least as corrupt as the PT leadership. It’s like the Corleones vs. the Sopranos as far as many ordinary Brazilians are concerned.

The impeachment effort against Dilma has made the mistake of proceeding on relatively weak legal ground, with the consequence that many will view this as a political exercise rather than the kind of last-ditch step to save the constitution that is what impeachment should really be about. That is going to raise the cost of a prosecution of Lula—and increase the chances that the country will be polarized at a time of economic crisis. Imagine if the United States had had a combination of the Watergate scandal, a massive recession, and the kind of vitriolic contest over politics that we saw during the Bush-Gore contest in 2000.

Things aren’t quite that bad in Brazil just yet, but most trends are not good. South America’s largest and most important country (and in many ways, the country most like the United States) bears watching these days. There are, fortunately, a lot of people in Brazil who are moderate, prudent and patriotic. One hopes they will be listened to as the various scandals continue to heat up.

There is, however, one heartening sign. The prosecutors investigating the rampant corruption that has been a foundational element of the nexus of political power, financial power and corporate power in Brazil for decades aren’t just concentrating on the allies of Dilma and Lula. More and more politicians from more and more parties are getting caught in the web. That’s good: Brazilians need to see that the legal process is truly fair.

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