President Lula da Silva has once again attempted to excuse the corruptpractices of a political ally, this time the president of the senate, JoséSarney. For Lula, Sarney “should not be treated as a common person”because of his long political history. His critics argue that his declarationconfirms once and for all that Lula has allowed the institutionalisationof corrupt practices in Brazil in order to perpetuate his own party inpower.
Sarney has been in politics for 54 years, having served as Brazilian Presidentbetween 1985 and 1990 and, after that, as senator. He has also presided overBrazil’s senate on three separate occasions, having been re-elected for thepost in February this year. He has been a controversial figure in Brazilianpolitics, not least because of his hold on the impoverished north-easternstate of Maranhão and the baffling expansion of his family’s wealth. Butfollowing an article in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo earlier thismonth, Sarney has found himself directly accused of being the mentor andbeneficiary of a clandestine apparatus that has operated in the Braziliansenate for many years.
This apparatus, mounted by the senate’s management team that wasappointed by Sarney in the 1990s, was responsible for the flagrant abuse ofexpenses and the widespread use of ‘secret directives’ for nepotism,favouritism and political gain [WR-09-24]. Initially, the newspaper O Estadode São Paulo reported the existence of some 300 such acts, but in recent daysthe number has doubled to over 600. At least eight relatives of Sarney havebeen secretly appointed to positions in the senate management and havebeen on the senate’s payroll despite having actually never worked there.Sarney has tried to excuse himself, saying that “the crisis is not mine, it is ofthe senate.” Indeed, the latest list of senators who benefited from the ‘secretdirectives’ include 37 (of a total of 81) of the most important parties, includingSarney’s Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB), Lula’sPartido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and the opposition Partido da SocialDemocracia Brasileira (PSDB) and Democratas (DEM). Commentators agreethat this does absolve Sarney of responsibility.