Understanding The Most Recent Brazilian Political Shenanigans.
A year after assuming office upon the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff — ousted for taking loans from state-controlled banks without congressional approval to hide the poor condition of the public finances — Brazilian President Michel Temer is yet again implicated in corruption deals.
Temer has been mentioned several times since the beginning of the operation Lava Jato [Car Wash] in 2014, but since the actions attributed to him took place before his term as president, according to the Brazilian Constitution he cannot be investigated while in office. However, things have taken an extreme twist after a recorded conversation between him an Joesley Batista, owner of the J&F holding company — that controls, among others JBS S.A., the larger meatpacker of the world, and Alpargatas S.A., manufacturer of the famous Havaianas flip-flops — , was made public last night (05/17/2017) by O Globo.
In that conversation, Joesley tells Temer he is paying a bribe in the form of a monthly allowance to Eduardo Cunha — former head of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies (Brazilian Congress’ lower house) and one of the main articulators of Dilma’s impeachment, now jailed, sentenced to 15 years in prison for his participation in corruption deals investigated by the Operation Car Wash — , to buy his silence, to what Temer replied “You have to keep this, you see?”. Furthermore, in that same conversation Temer indicated a deputy belonging to his party, PMDB, to resolve some issue of J&F. That same deputy was later filmed receiving a suitcase containing BR$ 500,000.00 (about US$ 160,000.00) that was sent by Joesley.
Another interesting information revealed by O Globo is that Joesley seeks to close a quick plea bargaining deal with the Brazilian courts because he wants to get rid of the investigations he’s subjected to on the scope of operations Car Wash and Greenfield — this second one investigates frauds committed against the four biggest state companies’ pension funds: Funcef, Petros, Previ and Postalis. And he wants to get rid of that mess because JBS S.A., held by his J&F and owner of 56 factories on USA, where it leads some of the meat markets despite still struggling with the fallout of it’s food safety scandal, is to make an IPO on NYSE which is pending of a leniency agreement with the American Department of Justice.
Joesley Batista will get out of his trouble in Brazil with a fine of BR$ 225,000,000,00 (over US$ 82,000,000,00), a sum a little below half of JBS’s 2017 first quarter’s net profit of BR$ 422,000,000.00 (over US$ 135,000,000.00). For Temer, however, consequences will be direr. There are already plenty of requests for his resignation coming form the opposition as well as from allies. He’ll have to navigate the trial targeting him and Dilma on the Brazilian electoral high court, scheduled for next June 6th,— about their joint candidacy having used kickback money to finance part of the expenditures of their run —as an entire different, more tempestuous sea. And there’s already a petition for his impeachment, filed after the recording went public, on the Chamber of Deputies. Three different and dishonorable ways Temer may finish his short, one year term as president.
Resignation doesn’t seem likely as of now. In an official statement, Temer denied any participation on acts aiming to buy Cunha’s silence. Today, he cancelled the 17 different meetings he had scheduled, planning with his close cabinet members to address the nation in a television pronouncement. He has stated to O Globo that he’s a victim of a conspiracy but that he’s steady and won’t resign.
He might not have to though. TSE — Tribunal Superior Eleitoral, Superior Electoral Court, the higher court of the branch of the Brazilian federal justice system that deals with lawsuits involving elections, political mandates and accountability of electoral expenses for political parties and politicians — will decide the fate of Temer and Dilma’s 2014 joint run. In Brazil, President and VP run for office together as part of a same block, called chapa in Portuguese, whether they are members of the same party or not. That being so, they are responsible for the joint candidacy together.
Dilma and Temer are being indicted for taking kickback money to finance their candidacy. Temer’s attorneys defend, among other things,that their block has to be split, Dilma being the sole responsible for taking the kickbacks, while Temer was merely benefited by her election but didn’t take part on the illicit collection of the campaign funding. Besides the legal technicalities around the judgement making it a hard nut to crack, some of the judges that will decide the issue may also give cause to some head scratch.
While two of the seven judges that will decide the fate of the Dilma-Temer candidacy were indicated recently by president Temer himself, as their predecessors, both still indecisive about how to vote, ended their terms, the president of TSE and also a judge of the case, Gilmar Mendes has recently escaped being subject to an impeachment procedure himself, and because of a technicality. Mendes has also voiced severe criticism and disdain for public opinion on several occasions, and has had ethically questionable relations with politicians since he was indicated as a member of the Supreme Court, back in 2002. He’s, by far and wide, the most controversial member of the Brazilian high courts.
The third way out, the impeachment, will depend on how much support it’ll gather, specially on the House of Deputies. The opposition isn’t strong enough to vote Temer out by itself, but he’s causing outrage even among his allies. Moreover, the leader of Temer’s most important allied party, PSDB, was implicated on the same batch of recordings that got Temer on fire: Senator Aécio Neves — runner up to the 2014 Brazilian presidential elections and kickstarter to that lawsuit Temer has to defend himself on TSE — just got his sister jailed and has had his mandate suspended, risking to lose it definitively, for allegedly asking Joesley Batista the sum of BR$ 2,000,000.00 (almost US$ 650,000.00) to defend himself from Car Wash accusations. If Temer doesn’t renounce and if his mandate isn’t revoked by the TSE decision, he’ll face a though battle on the Brazilian Congress.
It’s unlikely that Temer will remain in office until the 2018 presidential elections. Whether he chooses to renounce now or is ousted either by TSE’s decision or by impeachment, nonetheless, Brazilian society is unsure of whom will take his place. The Brazilian Constitution says Chamber of Deputies leader assumes the post of president and, within 30 days, summons indirect elections within the Congress, in which deputies and senators will vote for new president and VP to assume and rule until the next direct elections takes place in 2018. But Brazilians don’t trust their representatives to choose a new president, since a great deal of the country’s congressmen are, to some degree, involved in corrupt deals. Temer’s oppositionists on the Congress are talking about making a change to the Constitution — which would require a favorable 3/5 of both the 513 seats of the Chamber of Deputies and the 81 seats of the Senate, in two separate sessions for each house — so that Temer’s removal is followed by a direct popular election for a successor. But time might be too short for such a move, right now.
One thing is for sure: Brazilians will face uncertain times, once again, due to the corrupt politicians they have elected. No systemic change will ever be able to give them institutional confidence if they, themselves, don’t start to rethink whom they vote for, and why.