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The Apostheosis of Gilmar Mendes: Nassif, In Disbelief

Today’s economic column from online journalist Luis Nassif follows up on the flap over an appearance by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes on last night’s Roda Viva, the venerable live interview program on TV Cultura here in Sambodia.

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From my own observations, I tend to agree with Nassif’s assessment here, as I often do. Nassif has an analytic bent and an “average reasonable man” approach to life in general that I tend to share.

Imagine, for example, Justice Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court hiring Burston Marsteller to orchestrate a nationwide media blitz on his behalf, in which he loudly and publicly defends his judicial philosophy and his votes in significant rulings by the court, while pontificating about how the court ought to rule in the future, what Bush should do about the Iraq war, and how Congress should vote on the bank bailout.

The media blitz culminates in one of those Bush-style phony press conferences in which planted shills pose as “journalists.”

I am thinking especially of a State Dept. press conference last year in which press aides did exactly that — impersonated journalists.

That gives you some notion of the spectacle Brazilians are bedazzled by at the moment.

Writes Nassif:

Nos últimos dias, o presidente do Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF), Gilmar Mendes, tem sido alvo de uma impressionante onda de solidariedade: governadores, entidades empresariais, canais de televisão, uma louvação ampla e irrestrita.

In recent days, the Chief Justice has been the object of an extraordinary wave of support: state governors, industrial associations, TV broadcasters, all rendering an ample and unrestricted homage to the magistrate.

Por diversas vezes assumiu atitudes corajosas contra atos arbitrários de juízes, procuradores e policiais. Por outro lado, expôs a imagem do STF com uma verborragia incompatível com o cargo.

On a number of occasions, Mendes has taken courageous stances against arbitrary acts by judges, prosecutors and police. On the other hand, he has degraded the image of the Supreme Court with a tendency to talk too much that is incompatible with the post he occupies.

He is a real ex parte animal, this Mendes.

The sight of the man engaging in this freewheeling punditry, amplified by the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone of the national news media, goes against everything they taught me in those pre-law courses back in college about what judiciousness is supposed to look like.

O primeiro passo para entender esse fenômeno é situar corretamente a questão da repressão no país, dividindo-a em dois pontos.

In order to understand this phenomenon correctly, we must first properly situate the issue of law enforcement in this country, dividing it into two points.

O primeiro, são os abusos contra direitos individuais, a obsessão pela penalização, a perseguição a pessoas. Após a Constituição, o fortalecimento do Ministério Público deu margem, em uma primeira fase, a muitos abusos, acusações sem fundamento, armações.

The first has to do with abuses against individual rights, the obsession with criminalization, the persecution of people. After the Constitution of 1988, the power and autonomy afforded to the Public Ministry opened the way, initially, to many abuses, unfounded accusations, set-ups.

O segundo, é o combate ao crime organizado, que nada tem a ver com o primeiro – embora eventualmente possam das margem a abusos individuais. Esse combate exige articulação entre as diversas forças de repressão, trabalho de inteligência policial, tempo para investigar e colher provas. É o caso típico da Operação Satiagraha.

The second point has to do with the combat against organized crime, which has nothing to do with the first point — although from time to time both might open the way to individual cases of abuse. Combating organized crime demands coordination among various law enforcement agencies, with police intelligence work, time to investigate and collect evidence. The Operation Satyagraha case was typical of this.

In that case, Mendes issued two writs of habeas corpus to the defendant, Daniel Dantas, within 48 hours.

In one of the those cases, some legal experts say, he improperly bypassed normal procedures — allowing the petition to be appealed up the chain — to do so.

In one of the (leaked) wiretaps in the case, the defendants boast that they do not fear going to jail because “we have facilities in the Supreme Court.”

This has led to suspicions being raised about Mendes, a political appointee to the court by President Cardoso. Questions have also been raised the ethical probity of the magistrate — he owns a legal education institute that receives (no-bid) government contracts — and his relationship with his brother, Chico Mendes, ex-mayor of Diamantino.

A woman who accused Chico Mendes of vote-buying turned up dead, mafia-style.

O que colocou Gilmar Mendes no centro da polêmica foi o fato de utilizar a bandeira relevante dos direitos individuais para comprometer uma operação que visava desmantelar um trabalho de quadrilha.

What put Mendes at the center of the controversy was the fact that he [mis]used the legitimate banner of individual rights to try to undermine a police investigation that was working to dismantle a criminal organization.

Sua atuação foi vergonhosamente parcial, a ponta de não se manifestar contra casos ostensivos de assassinatos de reputação (inclusive contra juízes), cometidos pelo esquema de Daniel Dantas, de ter emitido pré-julgamento em um episódio suspeito (o factóide do grampo telefônico, que a cada dia que passa mais parece uma armação), de ter investido contra juízes de primeira instância e, mesmo com todo apoio midiático, ter exposto o Supremo ao maior risco de imagem desde os tempos da ditadura.

His conduct was shamefully biased, to the point that he failed to take a position against flagrant cases of character assassination (including against other judges) committed by the Dantas scheme, while issuing prejudicial statements about a dicey episode (the factoid of the bugging of his offices, which with each passing day looks more and more to have been phony and rigged), attacking lower-court judges, and in general, despite all the support he has had from the news media, exposing the Supreme Court to the greatest risk to its public image since the days of the dictatorship.

Então, qual a razão para tantos apoios?

So what underlies all these shows of support?

Aí se entra na grande balbúrdia financista dos anos 90 – que narro em detalhes no meu livro “Os Cabeças de Planilha”. Nesse período, o Banco Central, Receita e CVM (Comissão de Valores Mobiliários) fecharam os olhos a um conjunto amplo de fraudes.

Here is where the grand financial mess of the 1990s comes in — a story I tell in my book The Spreadsheet Heads.

Interesting book. Asks provocative questions, such as “How come everyone involved in the devaluation of the Brazilian real got rich working for people who bet the right way, even as other financial markets players went to wrack and ruin?”

Embarrassing questions. Legitimate questions. Unanswered questions.

During this period, the Central Bank and the Securities Commission closed their eyes to a wide range of fraudulent activity.

Permitiram o florescimento de um terreno pantanoso onde havia de tudo, do crime menor da sonegação fiscal das empresas (desviando recursos de atividades não-criminosas para não pagar tributos), até o dinheiro graúdo do crime organizado, narcotráfico, corrupção política, bingos, comércio de jogadores etc.

They permitted the creation of a swampy terrain in which flourished all sorts of dubious activities, from minor crimes such as corporate tax evasion (misappropriation of funds from noncriminal activities in order to avoid paying taxes) to the vast sums involved in organized crime, narcotrafficking, political corruption, the gambling rackets, and so on.

Trailers desse jogo apareceram na CPI dos Precatórios, na CPI do Banestado e, mais recentemente, nos inquéritos abertos pela Polícia Federal. Agora, chegou a hora do acerto de contas com a Justiça. Há justificado receio de empresas e investidores de atividades não-criminosas, de que suas contravenções fiscais sejam confundidas com o crime organizado.

Previews of this dodgy game appeared in the congressional commission (CPI) on the São Paulo municipal debt paper scandal, the CPI of Banestado, and most recently in the investigations run by the federal police. Now, the time has come for a reckoning with justice. Firms and investors are understandably leery about their noncriminal activities, fearful that their financial misconduct might be confused with organized crime.

A fiscal amnesty for these sorts of cases was recently proposed — as was an amnesty for philanthropic organizations used as fronts for various forms of financial shenanigans.

The moralistic opposition jumped up and down and screamed hysterically about the latter, in a demonstration of that sadistic Brazilian propensity for punishment that Nassif alludes to.

Gilmar Mendes navega nessas águas. Ganhou procuração desse pessoal para se tornar a última trincheira contra o seu enquadramento. E poderia até cumprir adequadamente sua missão, não fosse a circunstância de ser visto, por parcela expressiva da opinião pública, como um defensor de Daniel Dantas contra os rigores da lei.

These are the waters that Gilmar Mendes navigates. He has received the proxy of this class of person and has become something of their last hope for avoiding being held to account for their own fiscal misconduct. He might well fulfill this role, were it not for the fact that a signficant portion of public opinion sees him as a defender of Daniel Dantas against the rigors of the law.

I tend to that intuitive impression myself.

I even wrote a little marchinha de Carnaval about it, “The March of the White Collar Criminals” — inspired by an old marchina known as “The March of the Ass-Kisser’s Brigade” (O cordão dos puxa-sacos).

Hilarious, that one.

Com isso, conseguiu comprometer duas bandeiras: a defesa dos direitos individuais e a defesa da imagem do Supremo.

Thus he has managed to undermine two causes at once: The defense of individual liberties and the defense of the Supreme Court’s public image.

As an indication that the panel of interviewers may not have been as “stacked” as critics of the program claimed, there was this from Folha columnist Eliane Cantanhêde, according to Nassif:

Pergunta objetiva de Eliana Cantanhede, mostrando que Gilmar se colocou contra a Polícia Federal, os juízes de primeira instância, procuradores, associações. Ficou só ele ao lado dos advogados. Seria sinal de que todo o sistema é comprometido e só ele certo?

An objective question from the Folha columnist, indicating that Gilmar has positioned himself against the federal police, lower court judges, prosecutors, associations. Only the lawyers are on his side. Is this a sign that the system is corrupt and only he is right?

Resposta de Gilmar: o papel do magistrado é ficar contra o que todos querem.

Response: The role of the magistrate is to resist what everyone else wants.

Therefore, if society (and the law) demands that drunk drivers be jailed — I demand this! — then it is the judge’s duty to let them off, by this principle of Mendesian contrariety?

Eliana insiste: o senhor fica contra todos mas ao lado de advogados que ganham milhões para livrar seus clientes.

Eliana insists: The Chief Justice is against everyone but on the side of defense attorneys who make millions to get their clients off.

It happens to be true that only those attorneys — a portion of the OAB — have publicly supported the Chief Justice. Prosecutors, police, and judges associations have lambasted the man mercilessly.

A resposta é que o STF libertou pessoas presas por furtar chinelos. Usou o princípio da irrelevância para comparar os dois casos.

The answer was that the Supreme Court freed people arrested for stealing slippers. He used the principal of irrelevance to compare the two cases.

Eliana insiste que ele quer fazer justiça mas está condenando toda justiça brasileira.

Eliana inists that he says he wants to do justice but is condemning the Brazilian judicial and law enforcement establishment as a whole.

Mendes blasts the lower court judge who issued an arrest warrant for Daniel Dantas, even though he will likely hear the case on appeal, eventually: