Friday, August 17, 2012

The Mensalão Scandal, Including A Primer for Children

You cannot read a Brazilian newspaper without seeing references to the Mensalão scandal. The articles are often long, and tend to be loaded with terms and references which are not easily understood to the outsider. 

In simple terms, the Mensalão refers to a scandal involving allegations of systematic corruption in the Brazilian federal government, which is said to have begun during Lula's first term as President.

Even a novice student of Brazil's history knows that corruption has been an ongoing problem in Brazil, not only in federal and local governments, but also in the workplace and even in police forces. It has had a corrosive effect on political, social, and economic progress. It is no coincidence that one of the top-grossing Brazilian films, "Tropa De Elite 2: O Inimigo Agora É Outro," was as much about police and government corruption as it was about gang violence in the favelas.  

What makes the Mensalão scandal unique is that it is not being swept under the rug, but is being dealt with in a public trial. I do not pretend to know the details, but here are the basics. 

There was an alleged scheme by the ruling Workers' Party (PT, or Partido dos Trabalhadores) to pay Congressional members of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB, Partido Trabalhista Brasileiroas much as $12,000 a month to vote in favor of legislation supported by the PT. This payment was seen as a sort of "monthly salary," or "salário mensal," from which comes the term "mensalão." In other words, the PT was accused of buying votes.  

The story first broke in the Brazilian magazine "Veja" in September, 2004. The fact that it took the case almost 8 years to come to trial says something in itself.

In order to help Brazilian youngsters understand the scandal, the government has set up a website that explains it in terms that children (and curious foreigners) can understand.....well, in the case of this curious foreigner, more or less understand.  

I want to give credit to the excellent blog "Brazil Portal" for posting this information, as well as information that has led to several other recent posts I've made. Brazil Portal is a project of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

If you prefer an infographic that was designed for grown-ups, click here, but be warned, it's complicated:

This scandal is complex and involves a lot of people, and while I don't fully understand it, it is helping me to get a better idea of why it has been so difficult to eliminate corruption in Brazilian politics. Some of the accused may very well be innocent, and everyone deserves a trial before they're found guilty. 

Of course the scandal has become highly politicized, since it involves politicians. While there has been no definitive proof that Lula himself was involved in, or was aware of, the scandal, that has not stopped his political enemies from declaring him to be implicated. 

As far as I know, there haven't been any accusations against Dilma, probably because she has already established a zero-tolerance policy for any corruption that has occurred during her administration.

It's easy (and simplistic) to say that the government and all politicians are corrupt, and that corruption should simply be eliminated, but when it's this pervasive and systemic, getting rid of it is not easy at all. Whatever criticisms one might have about the Brazilian political system, the fact is that the system seems to be working, if somewhat slowly, in addressing this scandal. 

Source:  Brazil Portal

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