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the October 2001 issue of World Press Review
Brazil on the Road to Change
Luís Henrique Amaral, Veja
(centrist newsmagazine), São Paulo, Brazil, July 31, 2001.
Political scientist Marcos Coimbra, director of [the
polling firm] Vox Populi, observes that public opinion tends to draw
hasty conclusions from a few striking facts. This behavior can be
observed in most countries, including Brazil. When it was discovered
that PC [Paulo César] Farias [treasurer of the 1989 election
campaign of Brazils former President Fernando Collor de Mello]
ran his corruption scheme from within Collors government, public
opinion pronounced that Brazil was rotten to the core.
After the presidents impeachment, talk ran to a large-scale
clean-up operation. But soon after that, we had the federal budget
scandal, which showed that a group of congressmen were getting rich
at taxpayers expense. The country was rotting once againand
would be submitted to yet another cleansing once the culprits were
sacked or had resigned. It is no different in the case of Jader Barbalho
[accused of theft of public funds while he was governor of Para state].
We feel rotten when a man accused of all sorts of irregularities becomes
Senate president. Now, with his resignation, we are back to the cleansing
talk. But, Coimbra alerts us, Brazil has neither become rotten,
nor is it being cleansed, he states. It is merely evolving.
Brazil continues to be a place where there is a large amount of high-level
thievery. But several measures have been taken to raise the risk factors
for would-be delinquents. The public, even if it is not fully aware
of these control mechanisms, knows they are in place. Political scientists,
philosophers, and jurists identify several advances that have contributed
to an increased general moralization. Many point to the
progress made in the institutional arenastrengthening the Public
Ministry, the Federal Taxation Authority, and the principle of a free
Congress has approved various anti-corruption laws. The Fiscal Responsibility
Law, for instance, provides jail sentences for any civil servant who
siphons public funds. There have also been technological advances.
Bank and telephone accounts are now easily traceable. These days,
when a suspect appears who merits investigation, it is not difficult,
technically speaking, to uncover what he has been up to.
In the case of Brazil, an additional pressure is coming from outside
the country. Its name: globalization. Reducing corruption is not just
a moral necessity. It is also a practical concern. Brazil understands
that it cannot compete in the global economy if it does not first
confront corruption in all sectors of public life. In a corrupt nation,
productivity is lower and thus prices are comparatively high. Thanks
to globalization, Brazil was forced to make fiscal adjustments and,
as a consequence, has privatized state-owned corporations. This has
resulted in an immediate gain in the area of morality. Because it
reduced the amount of state interference in the nations economic
life, Brazil has already improved its position on Transparency Internationals
list of the most corrupt nations. And to improve matters further,
the state has created regulatory agencies.
Another even more subtle development has strengthened Brazilians
notion that, as citizens, they deserve respect. Twenty years ago,
industry put in the marketplace whatever products it saw fitand
if people were unhappy, they could look elsewhere. These days corporations
dont have much choice. Either they guarantee client satisfaction,
or they can go out of business. There is no other reason for companies
investment of billions to create customer-service centers. When clients
get angry, they make noise and go after those responsible for their
This is also what happened in the case of corruption.
Societys patience has reached its limit and things are
starting to change, says political scientist Sergio Abranches.
There is still a great deal to be done. It is not enough to
identify and jail corrupt people. We must put them on trial
and sentence them. This is the only way to fight against the
feeling of impunity. For this to happen, a profound modification
of the judicial system is necessary. Its current mode of functioning
is too slow and very inefficient. Perhaps that is one reason
why, despite all the advances, public opinion continues to be