Tue, Jun 12, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Wielding justice as a political tool bodes ill for Latin America

By Gaspard Estrada

However, it is Brazil that serves as the quintessential model for politically driven judicial proceedings. Most of the Brazilian public believes that former president Dilma Rousseff was impeached because of corruption. In fact, she was accused of using an accounting maneuver — used by previous presidents without major consequences — to reduce government deficits temporarily. According to one federal government prosecutor, Rousseff did not commit a crime.

The same cannot be said of Rousseff’s replacement, Michel Temer, who has managed to evade two impeachment attempts by buying political support in Congress. In fact, there are recordings of Temer allegedly authorizing hush payments to Eduardo Cunha, a former speaker of the lower house who is in prison for his involvement in the Petrobras scandal.

Aecio Neves, who lost the presidential election to Rousseff in 2014, is set to stand trial on charges of corruption and obstruction of justice, but the judges in charge of the investigation have not moved nearly as fast as Moro and his colleagues did in the Lula case, even though the Neves case is supported by much stronger evidence.

“The law is for everyone,” declared supporters of Moro’s campaign. They are right, but that means that the law should also be for Lula, who has been the victim of real judicial, media, and political persecution in the last four years. That is why world leaders, global scholars, and Nobel Peace Prize laureates — including former French President Francois Hollande, economist Thomas Piketty, and activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel — signed several appeals on Lula’s behalf.

None of this is to say that there is no need for the judiciary to prosecute politicians and other powerful figures for corruption. On the contrary, Operation Car Wash has made starkly apparent the incestuous relationship between money and politics in Latin America.

However, when judges circumvent the rule of law, they weaken it. And when those tactics serve political ends, as they have in Brazil, judges put democracy itself at risk.

In any case, the wave of judicial activism that the recent scandals have spurred has so far produced little or no actual change. In particular, there has been no electoral or campaign-finance reform, because that would require the support of the political and economic power brokers who benefit from the current system. Moro’s declaration that Operation Car Wash may be coming to an end has further weakened their incentive to act.

From Brazil to Mexico, those tasked with upholding the rule of law are increasingly wielding the administration of justice for partisan purposes. At a time of intensifying political polarization, this does not bode well for Latin America’s future.

Gaspard Estrada is executive director of the Political Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean at Sciences Po in Paris.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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