Brazilians set to stage nationwide rally against corruption

Scandals, from politics and oil to meat, have taken a toll, and there's fear people are jaded

RIO DE JANEIRO • A lot is rotten in Brazil, from politics to tainted meat, and activists hope crowds will show their disgust tomorrow.

A long-planned day of nationwide protests will seek to turn the screws on corrupt leaders and defend prosecutors heading politically explosive probes into bribery and high-level theft. The goal, said organiser Rogerio Chequer from the Vem Pra Rua or Take To The Streets group, will be to stop members of Congress accused of corruption "from getting away with it".

A giant, three-year probe named Operation Car Wash has uncovered a seemingly endless web of politicians and executives who fleeced state oil company Petrobras, with plenty of dirty money funnelled into party election funds.

That probe got even bigger this month with the request by Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot for the opening of new investigations expected to target more than 100 politicians. Leaks indicate that at least five ministers in President Michel Temer's government, the Speakers of both Houses of Congress and former presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be in the crosshairs.

Revelations about corrupt politicians are an almost daily occurrence in Brazil. But people got a shock on a new front last week when police said that they had uncovered a scheme to bribe health inspectors at meat-packing plants to certify tainted meat.

 

The scandals in the oil and meat industries have been deeply embarrassing and harmful at a time when Brazil is in its deepest recession.

Although the scale of the bribery and adulteration is relatively small - 33 inspectors are being investigated out of a force of 2,300 - agri-business, like oil, is a pillar of the economy.

And the fallout has been devastating. China and Hong Kong suspended all imports and Brazilian officials say meat exports have plunged by a stunning margin, from US$63 million (S$88 million) a day to just US$74,000.

The scandals in the oil and meat industries have been deeply embarrassing and harmful during Brazil's deepest recession ever.

But in a country with more than 12 per cent unemployment and two straight years of recession, there may be growing weariness at the kind of protests that the organisers of tomorrow's demonstration hope to stage.

Take To The Streets organised huge protests last year that helped to push Congress into forcing the unpopular Ms Rousseff out of office in an impeachment vote.

But a nationwide anti-corruption protest held last December drew far smaller crowds.

Law professor Daniel Vargas of the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro pointed out: "They're tired of this subject. It's been two or three years that this word corruption has been used to mobilise the people and promoted as a cure for all the problems in the whole country."

Prof Vargas added: "Even the people who are most worried by corruption have stopped to reflect on the impact of decisions taken to combat it."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Brazilians set to stage nationwide rally against corruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe