On the whole, Lula did a good job as president. He pulled 30 million out of poverty, rapidly expanded the middle class, and entrenched Brazil as an economically and politically credible country. His charismatic touch continues to stroke Brazil. If he ran in an election today he likely could win without campaigning. The very genuine love many Brazilians hold for Lula might explain why so few trenchant questions are being asked about how he governed, questions that probably should be resurfacing very forcefully with the publication of this photo:
Public reaction has not been what we could call good. O Estado de São Paulo is running reports of general disgust at the cheerful body language between Lula (left), Fernando Haddad (centre, and current Workers Party candidate for mayor of São Paulo) and Paulo Maluf (right, former governor and mayor of São Paulo and current federal deputy).
Why is this an issue? Maluf’s current job as federal deputy is providing him with a handy escape route from prosecution for corruption. In 2005 he actually spent 40 days in jail on accusations of racketeering, tax evasion and money laundering, being sent home from a private prison cell with personal telephone line and cable tv for house arrest because he was over 70 years of age. In 2007 Maluf was indicted in New York on charges of conspiring to steal $11.6 million, with prosecutors having additional questions about some $140 million that passed through an account he controlled with Safra Bank in New York.
For Haddad the question is whether or not the apparent chumminess with Maluf in the photo will have a negative impact on mayoral run.
The questions for Lula should be a lot deeper.
While there is hopefully little substance to charges that Lula himself is actively corrupt in the sense attributed to Maluf, a certain stench is starting to surround his legacy. Just a couple of key examples stand out.
First, Lula’s first term was marked by a vote buying scandal that saw presidential confidant and adviser Jose Dirceu engineer a program of paying federal congressmen to support the government’s legislative agenda. Dirceu was run out of congress, which entailed a suspension of some key political rights such as a temporary ban on running for office. But Dirceu was not run out of the Lula machine, continuing on as an informal adviser and shuttle diplomat managing various left-wing irritants in South America.
The second and more damning suggestions come from the legacy Lula left Dilma, whom he effectively appointed to the presidency when term limits prevented him from running again. Stuck with a number of Lula’s ministers as the price for the former president’s benediction, Dilma appears to have taken a rather pragmatic attitude of letting the corrupt hang themselves. One of the first to go was her chief political minister Antonio Palocci amidst charges that he exploited his public position to amass some serious consulting contracts. At least a further six ministers have subsequently been ditched for corruption. Keeping track of the accusations and resignations is getting to be a bit like following the convoluted plot of a telenovela.
The leading foreign policy journal Foreign Affairs has recently published a vigorous exchange of articles and replies about whether or not Brazil can sustain its development path. Corruption very much remains a part of the picture, and in particular an attitude to the corrupt activities of high officials that still holds too much in common with the sort of local boss characters found in a Jorge Amado novel. As the Estadao articles from June 19 and 20 appear to suggest, public patience is wearing very thin.
What will be interesting to see is if this will lead to questions and a vibrant and inclusive public discussion about Lula, his legacy, and future directions for Brazil. Estadão has already started with awkward musings about how far Lula will compromise for his electoral ambitions. Others might start to ask how much Lula knew about the nefarious activities of his ministers and closest advisors, and if he didn’t know, why not? Dilma is likely quietly counting on this to kill her padron’s ambitions for a return to office in 2014.