By José Ricardo Aguilar
Brazil is highly known for its diverse and dynamic culture. This population is the product of a long-going “melting pot” that has combined ethnicities from all over the globe. This mixing of cultures resulted in a nation unlike any other. Here, they dance the majestic samba, they play beautiful soccer, and finally, the country’s location in the tropics is one of pure privilege.
But another matter that sets Brazil apart from many other countries is the continuing practice of political corruption. Brazil has been practicing the dark art of corruption for a long time. Unfortunately, it is not only the political and economic arenas that become most affected, but the ideology of the citizens themselves.
Brazilians have grown accustomed to a broken political system that insists on remaining in place. Efforts to change the way politics have been conducted rose once before in the 90’s, but soon died, leading to a continued path of corruption. Now, a call for cleaner politics is starting to reemerge once again, but it is hard to tell if this time it will succeed. Today, the topic of corruption is a permanent section in national magazines such as Veja and IstoÉ. People go on with their lives reading about political scandals on their way to work. For years, daily TV news has reported nothing but corruption and violence. The real question now asks who is really to blame for the modern corruption. We cannot tell if it is the culture that unknowingly allows continuing dishonesty or if it is the politicians the ones who cannot seem to “play nice” and help clean up the mess.
Sadly enough, Brazilian culture has been exposed to the burden of corruption since its early years. It is safe to state that the spree of corruption started in 1808 when the royal Portuguese family fled to Brazil in an effort to escape from Napoleon Bonaparte. This period was marked by a number of significant changes, which later on would result in the inevitable independence of Brazil, but a corrupt court made itself known in the colony. Dom João VI and his royal crew constantly bribed their way around and seemed to enjoy naming incompetent people to vital positions in the government.
Two centuries later, Brazil still remains marked by corruption and leaves many countries behind in the “competition” of which country is most corrupt. Transparency International, an organization created to measure global corruption in the world, ranks countries on their corruption levels. In the latest 2012 research, Brazil tied with Macedonia and South Africa. On a scale of 0 – 100, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 100 means that a country is perceived as very clean, Brazil scored 43. Compared to 2011, this score showed great improvement on Brazil’s part. Based on the overall ranking positions of last year, the country jumped from the 73rd to the present 64th position, which is positive, remembering that the “1st”placement is for the cleanest country. On the opposite end of the rankings, the top scores are North Korea and Somalia assuming the 174th position and taking the lead of most untrustworthy.
In the United States, a country that holds the 19th position, corruption also plays its role, but it appears to be much more controlled. The US has 5% of the entire population in the globe and almost 25% of the inmates in the world. This country sentences an average of 1.000 people every year on charges of corruption, whereas Chicago leads the charts. These numbers obviously are not pretty, but are certainly better than Brazil.
Recent history shows that Brazil has successfully fought corruption once before. In the early 1990’s, Former President Fernando Collor was the target of an anti-corruption movement called “Caras-Pintadas.” This group was made up of mostly young adults who peacefully protested on the streets by painting their faces with the colors of the national flag and holding signs demanding a presidential impeachment.
Fernando Collor came to the presidency in 1989 as a symbol of hope and democracy. That election was of extreme importance because it was the first time the people were directly electing a president, excluding the so called “elections” of 1960, since the military dictatorship. Collor was a charismatic man who ran on promises of fighting hyperinflation and ending corruption. In the first days of his new administration, Collor announced a plan that was supposed to finally contain hyperinflation. This initial action turned out to be the most radical economic intervention in the history of Brazil and resulted in the biggest recession the country has ever seen. The main factor of the plan involved freezing savings accounts beyond the value of NCZ$50,000 (in 2013, the equivalent to $3,100) in an effort to reduce money circulation and contain a deeper devaluation of the currency.
This economic theory of simple currency supply and demand made sense, but neither the country nor the Collor Administration were prepared for such an important move. Following failed attempts to control hyperinflation, Collor found himself as the center of serious corruption allegations. Most of these accusations came from his brother, Pedro Collor, who accused Fernando Collor of supporting a corruption scheme within the presidential administration. In an effort to reverse the situation and discredit the Senate, which had already launched an impeachment process, Collor called on the people to take to the streets and support the government by wearing pieces of clothing with the colors of the flag.
The result was young people on the streets, dressed in black, and showing their faces painted in protest against the corruption of the Collor administration. In 1992, Fernando Collor de Mello resigned before the conclusion of his impeachment trial. The Senate still continued the trial and found Collor guilty on the charges of corruption and sentenced him to disqualification to hold a public office for eight years. Criminal charges were later not sustained due to lack of evidence, but the separate sentence of disqualification was upheld and the people of Brazil could celebrate their most significant democratic action in the recent history of the country.
* José Ricardo works in the commodities industry and lives in CT. He has a Bachelor’s in International Business and a MBA in Finance from the University of Bridgeport – To contact him: jrbaguilar_at_gmail.com