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BRAZIL
Combating corruption mobilizes civil society
José Pedro Martins
5/4/2012
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The government has made progress in fighting corruption, but not enough.

The “iron fist” with which President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party handles the corruption cases of government officials has led to a significant increase in her popularity.

Sixty-four percent of Brazilians consider Rousseff’s administration good or excellent, according to numbers released Apr. 22 by polling firm Datafolha. This is the highest approval rating for the president since she entered office Jan. 1, 2011.

Good economic performance, although with lower growth rates than during the second term of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), helps explain the popularity of Rousseff’s government. But for many people, her approval is based on her decisions to dismiss several ministers accused of corruption linked to their positions.

Less than six months after coming into power, Rousseff ousted powerful Chief of Staff Antônio Palocci on June 7, 2011, one of the most influential Workers’ Party politicians and vital in choosing Lula’s successor. At one point he was considered by the party for a presidential bid.

Between July and December, Rousseff also dismissed the following ministers: Transport, Alfredo Nascimento, of the center-right Republic Party, allied with the Workers’ Party; Agriculture, Wagner Rossi, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB; Tourism, Pedro Novais, also of the PMDB; Sports, Orlando Silva, of the Brazilian Communist Party; and Labor, Carlos Lupi, of the Democratic Labor Party, or PDT.

Iron fist?
The removal of the ministers reinforced the image that Rousseff rules the country with an “iron fist” and will not collude with acts of corruption. In parallel with these presidential decisions, various civil society movements in Brazil continue to intensify their actions aimed at combatting corruption in all spheres of public life.

“The government should be more aggressive in fighting corruption,” argued lawyer Luciano Santos, one of the founders and members of the Brazilian Coordination against Corruption and Impunity, or Abbracci, one of several organizations created in recent years to combat corruption and calling for greater transparency. Abbracci includes more than 70 institutions across the country.
The most expressive manifestation in Brazilian society against corruption was the movement that led to the so-called Ficha Limpa, or Clean Record, a law that prevents people who have been criminally convicted from running for public office.

The grassroots-driven bill that established the Ficha Limpa received 1.3 million signatures (1 percent of Brazilian voters) and was delivered to Congress on September 29, 2009.

The initiative, which establishes the criteria for ineligibility for public office depending on a candidate’s history, was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed on June 4, 2010 by President Lula.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, or CNBB,  has been one of the country’s most active organizations in the fight against corruption. Following the adoption of Ficha Limpa, the CNBB, the Brazilian Press Association , or ABI,  and the Order of Brazilian Lawyers, or  OAB, demanded further action to extend the measures to combat corruption.

In September 2011, in a joint statement the three organizations called for reform in the legislature, including “elimination of the secret ballot on all matters and approval of the bill which increases the maximum penalty for the crime of corruption from two to four years in prison.”

With respect to the Judicial Branch and the Public Ministry, the organizations called for “speed in the prosecution and investigation of crimes of corruption and misconduct, in order to create a solid barrier to impunity.”

No to impunity
“We are concerned not only with corruption, but also impunity. This is a concern not only for the bishops, but of the OAB, which has made rather harsh statements, (as well as of) the ABI and grassroots activists. We feel that there is a fairly large concern in society regarding this issue,” said CNBB Secretary General, Archbishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner.

In their attempts to improve the mechanisms to combat corruption and improve transparency, various movements and organizations are trying to reform policies to carry out profound changes in the electoral and political party systems in Brazil.

“With the current system of campaign financing determined by economic power, we make little progress,” said Santos, who advocates that the public financing of campaigns would add transparency to the electoral system.

A new bill resulting from a grassroots initiative is being crafted by the Platform of Social Movements to Reform the Political System. It proposes broad and democratic political reform to encourage popular participation in decision-making, not only in the choice of representatives, but also in the public financing of campaigns, which are currently funded by private companies that then control the actions of lawmakers.

“These demonstrations are very important and educational because they show that, contrary to what is said, the Brazilian citizen cares about politics when there is something serious to participate in,” said Santos, adding that the defeat of corruption requires “a major cultural change”, which is why these measures require time and organization.
—Latinamerica Press.


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