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Brazil's House of Cards Collapses

Walter Russell Mead

In Brazil’s political class, the rot runs deep. With President Dilma Rousseff suspended and impeachment proceedings in process, the corruption scandal grows unabated. Now more political figures are under scrutiny, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Brazil’s attorney general requested the arrest of four senior members of interim President Michel Temer’s party in connection to the country’s long-running corruption probe, a person familiar with the matter said, creating new political uncertainty for the government that stepped in for the country’s impeached leader.

The politicians include the former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who is accused of interfering with congressional affairs though he was suspended from his post in May in an earlier phase of the corruption investigation. The others, Senate President Renan Calheiros, Sen. Romero Jucá and the former President José Sarney, are accused of trying to interfere in the probe.

That’s right: another former Brazilian president is now under investigation. Of Brazil’s living presidents, only Fernando Henrique Cardoso has not been tarnished by a corruption probe. Dilma is being impeached. Collor was impeached. Lula and now Sarney are under investigation. It is a sobering thought that only one of five living democratic presidents in modern Brazilian history managed to stay out of corruption entanglements—and tells you much about the political class as a whole.

The near total corruption of the political class (and, therefore, of the senior business class) is the biggest problem for Brazilian reformers. Brazil’s educated and professional middle class is sick of the way the country is being run, but where will the people come from who can and will run it in a new way?

One thought for foreigners: with the political class of Brazil, the 9th largest economy in the world, intensely corrupt for half a century, there must have been a lot of illegally obtained wealth moving into the offshore banking system. Brazilians and others fighting corruption in their own countries would have a much easier job if foreign banks refused to act as accomplices for kleptocrats and thieves.

If the U.S. Congress is concerned about hemispheric democracy and stability—and it should be!—it might be worth holding hearings into why so much stolen money from so many Latin American countries has been allowed to disappear into the murky world of international finance, and to ask if there are ways that U.S. legislation could make it easier for prosecutors in Brazil and elsewhere to track politicians’ ill gotten gains?

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