Folha Columnist: “The Phantom Menace To Democracy”

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Luis Nassif reproduces a column today by Janio de Freitas of the Folha de S. Paulo.

The columnist is reacting to a concerted media campaign by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court here, who is saying in interviews that a wiretap of a conversation of his, published by Veja magazine, proves that Brazil is living in a police state.

Which is not the sense that we have, by the way. Our cleaning lady does not feel that way, either.

On the Veja story, see

It has not been demonstrated yet that any official police or intelligence agency produced the alleged wiretap. Or that any wiretap actually occurred, for that matter. And yet Veja continues to extrapolate from that claim as if it were.

Ecce Veja. Veja pretty much just lies.

O Globo reported today, for example, that the federal police is extending its investigation of the matter because it has yet to find material evidence of the crime alleged. This is a probably a dig at Veja, which cited an anonymous source, published the transcript, but has not produced the audio of the alleged bug.

The strongly worded column in a journal of conservative opinion, my rough translation, as always (literary prose is always a challenge):

Ameaça e democracia não podem ser aproximadas em vão, sem a companhia de fundamentações ainda que polêmicas

A threat to democracy cannot invoked in vain, without any foundation, no matter how controversial.

PASSADO O LONGO período de umas 48 horas sem aparecer em nenhum meio de comunicação, o presidente do Supremo Tribunal Federal, Gilmar Mendes, aponta ameaças à nossa democracia na ocasião mesma em que seu parceiro, o ministro da Defesa, é abatido por suas próprias forças com um desmentido definitivo.

Having disappeared from the media for the lengthy period of 48 hours, Chief Justice Mendes now returns to point out threats to our democracy even as his partner, the Minister of Defense, is presented by his own armed forces with a definitive rebuttal of his statements.

Nem o promissor carimbo de “confidencial”, pespegado no documento que Nelson Jobim entregou à CPI das Escutas Telefônicas, poupou-o da divulgação de que foi inverdadeiro nos depoimentos à CPI. Mais: também nas contestações ácidas ao ministro da Segurança Institucional, general Jorge Felix. E ainda: na indução ao presidente da República para afastar, por suspeitas extremas, o delegado Paulo Lacerda e outros diretores da Abin. O laudo final do Exército assegura que os equipamentos da Abin não poderiam ter gravado Gilmar Mendes e o senador Demóstenes Torres.

Not even that very promising “confidential” stamp stuck to the document that Minister Jobim delivered to the special commission on telephone intercepts spared him from the revelation that his statements to the commission were not truthful. More: neither were the statements he made to induce the President to suspend Paulo Lacerda and other directors of the National Intelligence Agency and place them under extreme suspicion. The Army’s final technical report reaffirms that ABIN’s equipment could not have recored Mendes and Sen. Torres.

A partir da indução precipitada por Jobim, tudo a respeito daquela escuta concentrou-se na hipotética maleta da Abin, em detrimento da investigação de “grampeadores” particulares, a soldo de interessados, e mesmo como um dos desmandos decorrentes da Operação Satiagraha. Pouco depois de uma visita de José Dirceu à sua casa às 8 da manhã, Nelson Jobim chegou a exibir na CPI um comprovante documental de suas afirmações. Voltava lá porque um laudo do Instituto de Criminalística da PF refutara-lhe as contestações ao general Felix e ao delegado Paulo Lacerda.

Starting with Jobim’s urging the suspension, the entire case of the supposed wiretap has focused on ABIN’s hypothetical “suitcase,” and with a supposed lack of control in the federal police’s Satiagraha investigation. Not long after a visit to his house by José Dirceu at 8 a.m., Nelson Jobim showed the commission documentary proof of his statements. He returned to the commission because a report from the technical institute of the federal police had refuted his efforts to contest what General Felix and Paulo Lacerda were saying.

General Felix is head of something called the Office of Institutional Security (GSI), to which ABIN is subordinated. Supposed to keep the President from being bugged and stuff, or driven to suicide as Gen. Pinochet orders the palace bombed.

The Folha really has it in for Zé Dirceu, the ex-minister of the Lula government turned lobbyist (for Carlos Slim, among others, but his client list is not fully known) who has been demonized in an astonishing way by the local press.

Rumors of his having a political rival inside the PT whacked recalled the “Bubba Clinton had Vince Foster whacked” conspiracy theory. And the Folha has fueled a lot of the nonsensical hysteria.

All this, even as the only substantial charges against Dirceu are on the order of standard “lobbyist crosses the ethical line” type stuff. And even those accusations have yet to be aired fully in a decent legal proceeding. Not that there might not be something to them. We have to wait (until 2010) and see.

In this case, however, it really is striking how wholeheartedly Dirceu supports the Chief Justice’s dire warnings of a “police state,” on his daily Web log. Even his defenders seem a bit taken aback by this.

Jobim mostrou e entregou o prospecto do que seria a maleta, por ele apontada, capaz da gravação feita. Era, de fato, apenas a reprodução de um prospecto encontrável na internet. Impressionou muito, com a junção do papel à ênfase. E com o prestígio pessoal, ao explicar a visita matinal de Dirceu para lhe “levar charutos”. Não foi só o que lhe levou José Dirceu, hoje tão dedicado à internet quanto à idéia de que o verdadeiro objetivo da Satiagraha e do delegado Paulo Lacerda era prendê-lo.

Jobim displayed, then handed out a supposed prospectus for the apparatus, which he pointed to as capable of having made the intercept in question. It was, in fact, merely a copy of a sales brochure downloadable from the Internet. It was very impressive, with the mound of papel to emphasize the point. As was his personal prestige, when he explained that Dirceu’s morning visit was simply to “bring him some cigars.” That was not the only thing that brought Dirceu, these days as dedicated to the Internet as he is to the notion that the real purpose of Satiagraha was to bust him, over to the Minister’s house.

Ao enredo sintetizado na falsa associação de determinada maleta a determinada escuta, o ministro Gilmar Mendes junta um ingrediente inesperado: “o projeto institucional que estava por trás disso” [a gravação de sua conversa com o senador], “acho que era extremamente perigoso para a democracia. Uma mente perversa pensou isso”.

To this phony story about the association of a certain “suitcase” apparatus with a certain wiretap, Chief Justice Mendes adds an unexpected ingredient: “The institutional project behind all this [the intercept of his conversation with the Senator.] I think was extremely dangerous for democracy. A perverse mind thought this up.”

Da escuta e difusão de uma conversa sem riscos pessoais, deduzir a existência de um projeto ameaçador para a democracia é mais do que um passo excessivo. É o mergulho em uma responsabilidade que o país e a democracia merecem ver justificada, tanto mais que é também a responsabilidade de um ministro do Supremo Tribunal Federal. Ameaça e democracia não podem ser aproximadas em vão, sem a companhia de fundamentações ainda que polêmicas.

Deducing the existence of a threat to democracy from the publication of a conversation innocuous to the persons recorded is more than just an exaggeration. It is an assumption of responsibility that Brazil and its democracy have the right to hold Mendes to, especially given that he is a Supreme Court justice. A threat to democracy cannot invoked in vain, without any foundation, no matter how controversial.

The metaphor here is “taking [the Lord's name] in vain.” It cannot be invoked frivolously, in other words.

O conceito de democracia, aliás, não fica bastante claro na preocupação exposta pelo ministro. Eis outro trecho seu: “quando a questão [de escutas e vazamentos] se alçou a esse plano de ouvir senadores, ministros do Supremo, e isso se comprovou, então isso chamou a atenção da sociedade e atingiu aquele ponto limite no qual é preciso dizer basta”.

The concept of democracy, furthermore, is not all that evident in the concerns raised by the Chief Justice. Here is another quote of his: “When the issue [of intercepts and leaks] reaches the level of eavesdropping on Senators, Supreme Court justices, and this is a proven fact, then society takes notice and it has reached a breaking point where it is time to say enough’s enough.”

Não consta, nos termos da Constituição democrática, que entre os cidadãos em geral e, de outra parte, os senadores e ministros do Supremo haja “pontos de limite” diferentes para os atos que atinjam os seus respectivos direitos. Os quais, nos termos da Constituição democrática, nem são respectivos, mas iguais na cidadania. Senador e ministro do Supremo são funções com direitos de cidadania iguais ao do servidor que recolhe o lixo de ministros e senadores. A idéia de “pontos de limite” de tolerância para uns é essencialmente incompatível com a democracia -para não dizer que também a ameaça.

There is nothing in Brazil’s democratic constitution that says that there are different breaking points for common citizens on one hand and Senators and the like on the other. It says they both have equal rights. Senators and justices are posts whose occupants enjoy the same rights as the employee who takes out their garbage. The idea of one “breaking point” for some is fundamentally incompatible with democracy — not to mention a threat to it.

A defesa de uma reforma política urgente, de dar-se caráter impositivo a parte do Orçamento do governo e a recusa à proposta de miniconstituinte, feitas por Gilmar Mendes, são necessidades reais e coerentes. A de apontar com clareza ao país o que o ameaça, também é.

Mendes’ defense of an urgent political reform that would give the federal budget obligatory force, and his rejection of a mini-Constituent Assembly, address real and coherent needs. But it is also a real and coherent need to tell Brazil just what the threat to democracy really is.

That is, Mendes’ Federalist Society-style “imperial judiciary” is. This is an argument that seems to be gaining force.

One of Brazil’s top generals recently resigned over Jobim’s humiliation in what really does seem like a bizarre insistence on gabbling nonsense about 007 spy equipment acquired, after all, from the U.S. government.

I personally and sincerely think this Paulo Lacerda really is one of today’s most eminent Brazilians. Because look, this poor country is freaking mobbed-up to the gills.

Lacerda, at the head of the Royal Brazilian Mounties, has rolled up his sleeves and made some amazing progress on making that much less so. Starting with cleaning up his own house.

Only just this week the federal police busted two of their own getting paid off to put the fix in for an “adulterated gasoline mafia” — a very common criminal enterprise here (the PCC is supposedly into gas stations as money laundering fronts, and watering the gas as an additional revenue source).

Things like that really do impress me. I live with my wife in this country and have developed a sympathy for the place. It really is a shame to see such a nice country sunk in the shit for so long. And it’s kind of exciting to watch democracy under construction, in the raw. Makes you appreciate it more, back home.

See also

http://stream.agenciabrasil.gov.br/media/imagens/2008/04/09/1340FP1698.image_pequena_horizontal.jpg

Paulo Lacerda: By all accounts, an eminent Brazilian

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