Yes it can get worse

Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, has named André Moura, of the Social Christian Party, the government’s leader in the lower house of the Brazilian congress. Those unfamiliar with the Brazilian political process might be puzzled by this choice. The PSC is a tiny, although often scandalously vocal, force on the extreme right of the political spectrum, whereas Temer’s own party, the PMDB, has the largest number of deputies in the congress, although no party can govern on its own in Brazil. André Moura, who is a representative from the Northeastern state of Sergipe, has a personal track record that is strikingly scandalous even by the low standards that are typical of so many of his colleagues in the house. In fact, he is only a current member of the house in the first place because he managed to obtain an injunction against a judicial decision to bar him from public office for financial impropriety. He is not only yet another figure associated with the new government under investigation for involvement in the Lava Jato scandal (amongst other misdemeanours) but is also being investigated for attempted homicide!

What made Moura a compelling choice for his role was not simply his close personal association with the disgraced and suspended former house leader Eduardo Cunha, who continues to command a majority of deputies in the chamber from which he was expelled, but the fact that the support of the small conservative parties in what is called the centrão was essential for pushing through the vote to start the impeachment process against President Dilma, and remains essential for ensuring that any government of the day enjoys a majority in congress. This situation is Cunha’s enduring legacy and symptomatic of a continuing capacity to blackmail that may secure his eventual impunity. Dilma herself tried but failed to negotiate the support of minor parties in return for government posts, so although Cunha proved a supremely capable player of the game that brought Temer himself to power, the game as such is an entrenched structural feature of the Brazilian political system as currently constituted.

The consequences of the fact that the centre-right play it better are awful. The Temer government is not simply enacting neoliberal economic measures and transforming Brazil’s geopolitical role. It is hostage to the ultra-right wing agenda of the BBB lobby, which is socially regressive in every possible sense. Given that it is technically an interim government under an acting president, since the judicial process of impeaching Dilma Rousseff has not been completed yet and could technically fail should it fail to secure a final two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, it seems possible to question the legitimacy of many of the actions that it has already taken without any kind of democratic mandate. But each day that passes makes the political logic of what is happening in Brazil clearer, and it is sadly not a logic that depends on legitimacy of any kind.

Yesterday the federal judge in charge of the Lava Jato investigations, Sérgio Moro, sentenced one of the PT’s founders, José Dirceu, whom he declared recidivist because of his prior conviction in the mensalão scandal, to twenty-three years in gaol for corruption. As journalist Paulo Nogueira pointed out in his blog, the Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik only received twenty-one years for mass murder, and much of what Dirceu did to make money out of consultancy and influence trafficking doesn’t seem out of the ordinary by the low standards set in this area by some politicians from Britain and the United States. But the big question that many Brazilians continue to ask is, of course, why the full weight of the law has still to descend on Eduardo Cunha, and why investigations into members of Temer’s government allegedly involved in Lava Jato are not accelerated. It is a sad consequence of past experience that few are confident that the Brazilian justice system is capable of being even handed in its treatment of these matters. The choice of Deputy André Moura certainly doesn’t help.