House of Cards in Rio: day three

Historic or passing moment? Clock at SuperVia headquarters (whose trains still run late)

Is this for real?

State legislature president Jorge Picciani made his involuntary deposition Wednesday at the Federal Police offices and went home a free man. The arrests that same day of five state accounting court (TCE) councillors are preventive; unless the term is extended, they may very well be back on the bench next week.

Leia aqui em português

Few know that the web of favors described in former accounting court president Jonas Lopes’ plea bargain grew in the loamy earth of the system by which councillors are named to the court, which judges state legislative, gubernatorial and state spending in general.

Three TCE councillors are named by the governor and four by the state legislature, Alerj. The councillor least likely to be swayed by the very politicians he or she judges is one of those named by the governor, the one who must come from the state attorney general’s office. Thus it’s no coincidence that a single councillor among the current seven is untouched by the ongoing investigations: Marianna Montebello — a career servant from the state attorney general’s office.

While the race is already on to occupy the seats of those sleeping a few nights in Bangu, yesterday’s Globo reported that the state chapter of the Brazilian attorneys’ association, the OAB, proposes changing the system.

It’s so fertile for crime that the plea bargainer, Lopes, has gone to the U.S. with his entire family — allegedly the object of a death threat. The Supreme Court approved a forty-day stay.

This period may be remembered by historians as a time when Brazilians became aware of the institutionalization of privileges for the rich and barriers to the poor.

For those who prefer to live in the moment it’s opportune to start betting on the corruption yet to be officially revealed. Lélis Teixeira, president of the Rio state passenger transportation federation, Fetranspor, was also taken in for questioning by Federal Police. Local reports point to favors and bribes between the accounting court and the federation.

Ad in today’s Globo. Odebrecht defended itself similarly, at first

Today the federation published a half-page ad denying criminal activity, admitting the existence of an “investigation of expired RioCard credits” (Fetranspor reportedly pocketed R$ 90 million in expired credits), saying the matter is “under judicial consideration.”

And city buses? A former City Council staffer told RioRealblog about having seen, in the 1990s, a “payroll” of state representatives and city council members and the “wages”  bus companies paid them, often more than what they earned from their supposed public service.

A bus fare increase of twenty centavos is what sent thousands of protesters into the streets in 2013. Strange events followed: a formal City Council investigation was aborted and an independent municipal bus company audit, promised in 2014, disappeared. While fares continue to increase yearly, we still don’t know what the companies’ real costs and receipts are, nor the reasons for so little transparency. All of this took place during the administration of former mayor Eduardo Paes, who now lives in New York. He’s been allegedly cited in an Odebrecht plea bargain, part of the Car Wash investigations.

Speaking of transportation, it’s useful to recall that one of Jorge Picciani’s sons, Rafael, was municipal transportation secretary during part of Paes’ time as mayor. Rafael was in charge when a badly-conceived and implemented bus rationalization plan went into force in 2015 e 2016, creating commuter hell for thousands of passengers.

Another son, Leonardo, is Sports Minister in the Temer administration.

Where else will mud bubble up? It will be no surprise if corruption were to explain most of the difficulties Brazilian governments have in meeting citizens’ basic needs: health, education, public safety, housing. Practically everything.

The mega-events and the oil bonanza exacerbated longstanding behavior; even Maracanã stadium was handed over to the barons of malfeasance.

Yesterday Jorge Picciani was back presiding over Alerj. He was applauded. After all, he enjoys excellent relations with politicians across the spectrum. “Picciani never abandons you and never lets you go wanting,” says a smalltown mayor, in the unforgettable Piauí profile by Malu Gaspar, now sans paywall.

Malu’s still on the beat. “People who know details of state government deals made with TCE approval are betting that we’ll soon be hearing about secret meetings with court members present, to release funds to suppliers hurt by the state’s financial crisis. The powerful bus companies’ federation’s influence on the Rio political world will also become clearer,” she wrote in an online Piauí post published Wednesday.

The mud surges forth and Rio natives weigh trust against mistrust, a local exercise as typical as frescobol. On the one hand, Adriana Ancelmo, wife of former governor Sérgio Cabral — said to be working on a plea bargain’s (fingering whom? many ask) — left jail Wednesday to serve house arrest so as not to leave her children unmothered (while none may use the internet or cell phones, the judge determined). On the other, judge Sérgio Moro sentenced former federal representative Eduardo Cunha to more than 15 years in jail, in just one of the cases against him.

Will all this come to mere musical chairs, with new corrupt politicians replacing the old ones? Is slight regard for the greater good in just about the entire nation’s DNA ? Many disgusted Brazilians are packing their bags.

It may be, however, that the emigrants will miss the long-term positive effects of a justice system that’s begun to function as never before. Possibly, we’re witnessing a watershed moment. Some Brazilians — such as the founders of the new Agora movement — are staying, to work for a deepening of democracy and responsible capitalism.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to House of Cards in Rio: day three

  1. curmudgeon says:

    Julia, I hope your last paragraph is correct. Back about a decade or so ago, when Brazil was booming, had just been awarded the World Cup and the Olympics, not to mention mammoth events hosting millions, I pondered that 2016 was the “sell by” date for Brazil to become a “serious” country, meaning one that could seriously aspire to world-wide recognition as something more than creators of samba, coffee and football.
    2016 has come and gone, the bust has followed the boom, but in one sense, there is still hope for Brazil to become more serious. That hope is the judiciary.
    Needless to say, the executive and legislative branches, rotten to the core, are doing everything in their power to eviscerate the judiciary and guarantee they remain in power for decades more. If they succeed in packing the STF with their lackeys, it will all have been in vain.
    Italy had the “mani puliti” judges that succeeded for a while, but then fizzled out, because the corrupt politicians came back into power. Judges aren’t elected, they’re appointed.

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