En hommage

By Rob Packer

As ballsy and shameless justifications go, José Sarney is a past master.

He was president of Brazil between 1985 and 1990, is currently the president of the Senate and has been implicated in corruption cases for “misappropriation of funds, tax evasion, and nepotism” (see this article from the UNHCR on a gagging order put on a Brazilian newspaper to curb reporting on a 2009 scandal). More recently, it was exposed in August that he’s been going to business meetings on his private island in Maranhão state by a helicopter bought for the Polícia Militar to fight crime and to help in medical emergencies. This kind of thing really does happen everywhere and it barely came as a surprise that the helicopter was needed in a medical emergency at the same time; it was his explanation that left me incredulous. In short, he was exercising his constitutional right to transport and security within Brazil.

This week, the ex-president has been at it again, telling the newspaper Zero Hora that privileges for Brazil’s elected representatives were created so that deputies are free and don’t have to live in misery. He then went on to say that he has a constitutional right to be transported by a state-owned, rather than private, helicopter—and that this “pays homage to democracy”. Clearly, Mr Sarney and I have different definitions of democracy.

Watching Brazil at close range, it’s difficult to keep track of the intricate details of corruption scandals (this helicopter scandal is both easy-to-understand and relatively minor, here is an example) and it’s very easy for scandal fatigue to set in. On the other hand, Dilma’s lack of tolerance for corruption does feel like a breath of fresh air and it does feel like things could, maybe, come to a head in the near future. It’ll be interesting to see how many people attend the Marches against Corruption across Brazil today (video and site here), although past experience has shown that it’s quite common for people not to show up.

Hopefully, Arnaldo Jabor was wrong when he said, “a Brazilian’s social consciousness is fear of the police”.

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