Lula defends the indefensible

Some commentators had hoped that Lula would use the crisis to instigate athorough root and branch reform of Brazil’s bloated congress, starting withSarney’s impeachment. After all, while in opposition, Lula had openlycriticised the privileges of Brazilian congressmen, going as far as to call them“a bunch of crooks” in 1986, when he was elected to congress. Sarneyhimself was the target of one of Lula’s outbursts against corruption inpolitics, saying that other notoriously corrupt politicians were “pickpocketscompared to the biggest thief of them all, who is the president of the NewRepublic” - a reference to Sarney, who became Brazil’s first civilian presidentafter 21 years of military rule in circumstances that remain controversial.But, as sceptics feared, short-term electoral motivations prevailed over anysuch scruples: Lula needs Sarney’s PMDB to control a senatorial investigationinto alleged corruption in Brazil’s state-owned energy companyPetrobras. The investigation could damage his chief of staff and politicalheir, Dilma Rousseff, who appointed the company’s management whileserving as mines and energy minister at the start of Lula’s first term in 2003.Lula is backing Rousseff ’s candidacy for president in 2010 and hopes to getthe PMDB on her ticket as a junior partner.
This is not the first time that Lula has seemingly intervened to save a politicalally implicated in wrongdoing. His detractors argue that he abandonedany remaining commitment to ethics when he came out to dismiss the allegationsagainst members of his party implicated in the 2005 cash-for-votescorruption scandal. But the fact that Lula has openly called for a differentialtreatment for Sarney, something that goes against the primary principle ofthe democratic state - that all are equal before the law - shows he hasallowed the institutionalisation of corrupt practices in Brazil.
Reinaldo Azevedo, an influential columnist in the current affairs magazineVeja, says that before Lula corrupt politicians - when caught out - woulddeny they had done something wrong. After Lula, they stopped denyingtheir wrongdoing, blaming “the system” for their own faults instead. Thiswas only possible because once Lula came to power, his stance regardingethics in politics changed. Lula has gone as far as to dismiss corruption allegationsas press fabrications - despite strong evidence of wrongdoingfound by the police and the ombudsman, and denunciations from publicprosecutors.
While defending Sarney, Lula said he was “concerned with the wave ofdenunciations, which have no end and lead to nothing.” Veja, which hasbroken several corruption stories involving members and allies of the Lulaadministration, claims that this is because Lula “has thrown a life jacket toevery drowning politician.”

American Weekly Report 9, 25. Juni 2009, WR-09-25