The most despised institution in Brazil

In “Public Rage Catching Up With Brazil’s Congress,” The New York Times gives us a pretty good idea about why the Brazilian public is so fed up with their legislators.

Maurício Santoro, a political scientist, notes that “Congress is without a doubt the most despised institution in Brazil” and a big reason for that is the fact that the legislature “has a tradition of preventing its own members convicted of crimes from ever going to jail.”

Almost 1/3 of the current Congress have pending trials in the Supreme Federal Tribunal.  Legislators can only be tried in this tribunal, which means that there are huge delays. Even this is better than pre-2001 though, when  a politician could only be tried if Congress authorized it. Wow, I can see some bad incentives arising from that law.

And what are these legislators on trial for?  Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of unpaid parking tickets.  Here is the rundown on some of the worst offenders, past and present:

a.”There is Hildebrando Pascoal, commonly called the “chain saw congressman.” When he ran for office, it was public knowledge that he was being investigated for operating a death squad in a remote corner of the Amazon, employing tactics like throwing victims into vats of acid or dismembering them with chain saws. But he still won by a large margin and served in Congress before he was stripped of his seat, convicted and sent to prison.

b. Another is wanted by Interpol after being found guilty of diverting more than $10 million from a public road project to offshore bank accounts.

c. A congressman was convicted by the tribunal of having poor female constituents, who could not afford more children, surgically sterilized in exchange for their votes.

d. In 1963, Senator Arnon de Mello shot dead a fellow legislator on the Senate floor, only to escape imprisonment, since the killing was considered an accident because he was aiming at another senator. (!)

e. That gun-wielding senator’s son, Fernando Collor de Mello, was elected president of Brazil in 1989 and impeached amid a flurry of corruption charges in 1992. Yet in a political resurrection that dismayed anticorruption activists, he was elected to the Senate in 2006 and retains his seat, even as he remains embroiled in a case in the Supreme Federal Tribunal in which he is accused of profiting from an advertising contract scheme during his brief presidency. The article notes that “Even when lawmakers are convicted and sentenced for crimes, it can be difficult for them to lose their seats.”

f. Talvane Alburquerque, a legislator from Alagoas in northeast Brazil, was found guilty in 2012 of ordering the murder in 1998 of another member of Congress, Ceci Cunha. That killing allowed Mr. Alburquerque, Ms. Cunha’s stand-in, to temporarily take her seat in Brasília. An appeals court rejected this month a request from Mr. Alburquerque to be paroled from prison.”

The public is also unhappy with the fact that legislators make $175,000 a year, with stipends to cover housing, gas, electoral research, and up to 25 aides.  In fact, “the frustration toward traditional politicians is so high that Congress now includes Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, a professional clown better known as Tiririca, or Grumpy, who was elected in 2010 to Brazil’s lower house with more ballots in his favor than any candidate in the nation’s history.” 

brazil_clown

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