In 2018, Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Before that, he had been a member of the House of Representatives, the lower house in Brazil, for roughly three decades without any significant achievements in his career. His 2018 presidential campaign opposed the 14 years ruling labour party, Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). He was undoubtedly elected for his promises to fight corruption and support the Car Wash operation (Operação Lava Jato), a large-scale investigation into corruption within the government.
Corruption has been a prevalent issue in Brazil for a very long time. The Sixth Republic of Brazil had eight presidents before Jair Bolsonaro, with six currently being investigated for corruption. Only Tancredo Neves, who died before taking office, and Itamar Franco, are not involved in ongoing investigations. Even the military dictatorship, installed in 1964, used allegations of corruption within the government to justify its coup d’ état.
More recently, the most extensive corruption investigation in Brazil is by far the Car Wash operation. Many high-profile politicians in Brazil, including Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil between 2002 and 2010, and José Dirceu, the Civil House’s chief minister between 2003 and 2005, are being investigated and convicted. Some firms are also involved in the corruption scandals in Brazil. One such firm is Odebrecht, which used to be the largest construction company in Latin America. Another company is Petrobras, a petroleum firm that used to be the fourth largest in the world in 2010. Petrobras was at the centre of the scandal in Brazil. Odebrecht, on the other hand, was involved in the second stage of the operation, which investigated the overpricing of public constructions. These public contracts were used to divert tax-payers’ money away from the government and into the pockets of the firms’ bosses and high-ranking politicians.
The construction firms were used to launder money, with the firms paying the government for construction contracts. In return, the government paid exorbitant amounts for those constructions. The firms then donated funds to political campaigns, causing a vicious cycle. This scheme is an example of public officials using their position to benefit themselves instead of the country,
The firms’ involvement, especially Odebrecht in the corruption scandals, transcended borders, with countries like Peru, Angola, Argentina, and even the U.S. investigating alleged bribing and money laundering involving Brazilian construction companies. In Peru, the statue of a Christ (similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro) was built by Odebrecht, which admitted to having paid $29 million in bribes to secure construction contracts in Peru. In Angola, the country allegedly paid $50 million and profited $261.7 million. In Argentina, Odebrecht paid $35 million and profited $278 million. In the U.S., the firm operated primarily in Florida, where it built the Florida International University football stadium and the airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. They also made illicit payments from banks in New York City.
Earlier this month, president Bolsonaro claimed to have eradicated corruption within the government. The president then ordered an end to the Car Wash operation, which came at a very convenient time as members of his own family were being investigated for corruption. Three of his sons are involved in politics. One is a councilman in Rio de Janeiro, the other a member of the House of Representatives, and the third is a senator. All three were involved in recent scandals. Even though the president might say the opposite, corruption is still rampant in Brazil. And it will remain so as long as it goes unpunished.
In November 2019, the Supreme Court had the audacity to declare prison sentences from the lower courts unconstitutional, meaning that criminals would not go to prison after being convicted in the lower courts of justice. In other words, even after being declared guilty, an individual would still not go to jail but wait for the upper courts to convict them as well, a process that could take years. In the U.S. and Canada, prison sentences in the lower court are permitted. It should be allowed in Brazil as well, considering that the criminal has already been convicted.
Moreover, nearly 55 thousand people have privileged jurisdiction in Brazil, meaning that the lower courts cannot try them. This privilege does not exist in countries like Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. This jurisdictional privilege has a massive effect on the fight against corruption in Brazil. Many corrupt politicians will go unpunished for years since only the higher courts can judge them. This not only makes the process significantly slower but can also lead to a complete halt in the investigation process as a whole.
It is imperative to put an end to corruption across the world. The Brazilian situation is not isolated. It has proven that corruption can spread quickly across borders and that it might even affect developed economies. The U.S. is already showing signs of increased political corruption, as the investigations into President Donald Trump’s tax payments continue, among other allegations against former staffers. Canada is not an exception, with British Columbia’s casinos used for money laundering and the recent SNC Lavalin scandal.
For Brazil, the best solution would be to remove the privileged jurisdiction system for everyone and allow prison sentences in the lower court. As a global solution, establishing an impartial international court specializing in judging corruption in countries like Brazil, where the highest-ranking officials in government are involved in bribery, could increase the chance of seeing justice. In the end, we all need to do our best to hold our politicians and governments accountable by voting, protesting, and paying attention.