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Car Wash | Big Brother Is Watching

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Jean Wyllys, an openly gay Big Brother Brasil winner elected in 2010 to the federal congress by the PSOL, writing this week in CartaCapital.

In the Car Wash case, the major corruption schemes – constantly portrayed in the media as proof of the moral degradation of specific individuals and generally associated with the party in power – are shown for what they really are: a fundamental component of a sociopolitical system controlled not by corrupt civil servants but by the companies that corrupt them.

Nine such companies are currently under investigation: OAS, UTC, Queiroz Galvão, Odebrecht, Camargo Corrêa, Iesa, Galvão Engenharia, Mendes Junior, and Engevix. Altogether, they have R$ 59 billion in contracts with Petrobras.

In Rio de Janeiro alone, three companies  (OAS, Camargo Corrêa and Odebrecht) are participating as associates in various consortia building the ten largest public works for the World Cup and the Olympics (Subway Line 4, Maracanã, Parque Olímpico, Transcarioca, Transolímpica, Porto Maravilha etc.) at a cost of R$ 30 billion.

They have contracts with governments of nearly every stripe and color. Some have partnered with government in the privatization of airports and other PAC projects, and some are working on the São Paulo subway, marred by a corruption scandal in which governor Geraldo Alckmin, who also received money from public works contractors for his campaign, is under investigation.

More recently, the state-owned Sabesp [BVMF:SBSP3] —  has fessed up to delaying news about a looming water shortage in the state during the campaign season.

The CEO of Sabesp was overheard on tape telling her colleagues that it was a “mistake” to postpone public announcements on the issue.

If it does not rain by November, there will be outages where now there seem to be discreet adjustments in the middle of the night, the morning paper says.

Both federal and state administrations have made extensive use of the PPP — public-private partnership — to organize Pharaonic undertakings. Is there something endemic about the model, that makes it risk-insensitive? 

Working in various business sectors and involved in various corruption scandals, the list of Brazil’s most important contractors is headed by Odebrecht, which, according to rankings produced by O Empreiteiro, is worth R$ 5.292 billion. Do you know how much this company “donated” to candidates and parties in the last elections? More than R$ 30 million!

Odebrecht donated to: PSDB, PT, PSB, PMBD, PP, DEM, PCdoB, PV, Solidariedade, PROS, PRB, PSD, PPS, PSC, PCdoB, PTC e PSL. R$ 2.95 million went to the Dilma campaign, R$ 2 million to opposition candidate Aécio Neves and R$ 500,000 to Eduardo Campos [RIP] …, but also to candidates for governorships and federal deputies and the finance committees and the national and state committees of various parties.

Of all the parties that elected federal deputies, the only party that received no donations from the companies under scrutiny was the PSOL. You heard me correctly. PSOL was the only hold-out.

Second ranked, with R$ 5.264 billion in assets, is Camargo Corrêa, which donated R$ 1.5 million to the DEM. Queiroz Galvão made donations of more than R$ 50 million to candidates of 15 different parties, including the PT, PSDB, PMDB, DEM and PSB (Socialist).

Another champion donor was OAS, which benefited Aécio, Dilma, Marina and candidates from 12 parties with R$ 52 million. UTC donated R$ 34 million to 11 parties, including the chief parties of government and opposition. All of these companies are now caught up in operation Car Wash.

Some candidates do not receive money directly from a specific corporation; instead, this corporation donates to the party leadership, or to its national or state committees, which then pass the donation on to the candidate. Some of these companies have various subsidiaries, each incorporated under a distinct registration number. But there are also sums of money that flow directly from the federal, state, and township coffers into those of contractors working on public works projects. This promiscuity between politics and the business sector are enormously damaging to democracy.

The problem is not just direct corruption, bribery and money laundering. It also consists in the power these companies have to disturb the equilibrium the democratic system, backing specific candidates with absurd sums of money that leave others with little chance of success unless they agree to join the scheme.

In the last election, 326 legislators had their campaigns financed by public works contractors – except for the PSOL! Among these, 255 received money from companies involved in Operation Car Wash. Do the math. Candidates backed by contractors are a majority of the Congress! Of these, 70 deputies and 9 senators are cited in the Car Wash investigations. These are both pro-government and opposition – including the PT and the PSDB (although some newspapers report exclusively on the cases involving the PT.)

In this way, corporate campaign finance perpetuates itself and isolates those who refuse to take part. I was the seventh-ranked federal deputy in Rio de Janeiro, with 144,770 votes, and the total income of my campaign was R$ 70 thousand in donations from individuals, of whom 14,000 did volunteer work. I received not a cent from the contractors, nor did I want one.

Now let me tell you a different story: federal deputy Eduardo Cunha, who received 232,708 and was the third most popular in the state, declared income of more than R$ 6.8 million. That’s right: nearly R$ 7 million. The national and state leadership of his party, the PMDB, which also donated money to his campaign, received “assistance” from OAS (R$ 3.3 million), Queiroz Galvão (R$ 16 million), Galvão Engenharia (R$ 340,000) and Odebrecht (R$ 8 million). The PMDB governs the state and awards contracts worth billions to some of these donors. Not to mention the banks, the mining sector, the shopping mall sector and other economic categories that contributed to Cunha’s campaign.

Can you see how unfair and antidemocratic it is to expect an honest candidate, counting only on the help of family, comrades and supporters, to compete with R$7 million from banks and contractors? Do you see what this does to your vote, which matters less and less, while the power of money talks louder and louder?

Now imagine this: Eduardo Cunha as the next president of the Chamber of Deputies! Cunha is part of the brain trust of the fundamentalist benches …. and is the spokesman of everything that is most reactionary, retrograde, conservative and antipopular in the Congress. Some believe the major villain of the right wing is Jair Bolsonaro, but in fact he is nothing more than a bizarre caricature of a man who draws more attention than he deserves. The real power is rooted in lesser-known players, like Cunha, acting in the shadows. And the million-dollar donations pouring into their accounts.

But I began by saying that the developments in the Car Wash case could be an exceptional opportunity to seriously discuss the problem of corruption and the damage it does to Brazilian democracy. It could be, but it is not headed in that direction. Most of the news media and certain opposition leaders with privileged media access are trying to create the impression that the operation represents nothing more than “one more PT corruption scandal.”

Senior police agents and sources inside the judiciary with ties to right-wing parties are selectively leaking information that involves only corruption in the PT, while concealing information that could affect corrupt members of the PSDB or other right-wing parties.

Everything becomes “the fault of Dilma, Lula and the sleazy PT.” The PSDB and its right-wing allies are trying to capitalize on the press coverage of the case, presenting themselves as champions of morality and honesty come to free us from this moral swamp. Hypocrites!

Clearly, corruption inside Petrobras during the PT governments must be investigated – but during the preceding governments of the PSDB as well. We should investigate all the civil servants and lawmakers involved in these schemes, regardless of political party.

Yes, the PT and its allies bear a special responsibility for all of this. But when we think of corruption as nothing more than a succession of individual episodes, and treat it as merely a matter of moral failing, we end up like the character in that advertisement: “I know nothing! I am innocent!”  The Car Wash scandal is being used by part of the news media not only to attack the government, but also to establish Petrobras as a topic for discussions of privatization.

For this reason, if we truly want to take decisive action against corruption, the first step is to put an end to fundraising from corporate donors. The OAB has filed a constitutional challenge with the Supreme Court, calling for the practice to be banned [in favor of individual donations only], but Justice Gilmar Mendes, who served as Advocate-General to the Cardoso administration, put a hold on the case in April of this year and since then has taken no action.

A variety of social and political movements launched the campaign #devolvegilmar (“Give it back, Dilmar”) calling on him to let the measure move forward. Putting an end to corporate donations should be one of the centerpieces of the political reform that Brasilia needs. With a Congress whose members were financed by the major public works contractors, there will never be a “congressional commission of inquiry” (CPI) into Petrobras. It will all be dismissed as just one scandal among so many others.

If we want to put an end to sensationalist headlines and really combat corruption, realistically and efficiently, without hypocrisy, we need structural reforms in a political and economic system that corrupts politics and at the same time disenfranchises voters, taking governments and legislatures hostage to a small group of billionaire family business interests.

Give it back, Gilmar! Let’s get serious!

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Graphic reposted by Conversa Afiada. Click to enlarge.