Temer is a trained contortionist in the Brazilian political circus.
Temerarious Temer ducks impeachment again With a miniscule approval rating of just five percent, caught in the eye of an anti-corruption hurricane that has placed Brazil’s entire political class under suspicion – or in jail – Michel Temer still sits on Brazil’s presidential chair. Pundits and political analysts say that if he has managed to survive to this point he will almost certainly make it to the finish line in January 2, 2019 when the next president elect shall be sworn in.
Temer is a trained contortionist in the Brazilian political circus. After Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, he succeeded her in August 2016 and has already ridden out two impeachment charges against him. The first one came in early June, when the Electoral Tribunal finally decided not to overturn the 2015 presidential election result despite evidence that the Rousseff-Temer campaign had received illegal funds.
He fended off a second one on August 2, when a majority in the Lower House killed off the referral of the corruption case the president had been named in by Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot. President Temer was taped allegedly endorsing bribes to judges and lawmakers in a conversation with Joesley Batista, the head of the JBS meatpacking conglomerate; who in a plea deal has traded off information about the kickbacks for lenient treatment. His brother Wesley Batista has confessed paying kickbacks to over 1,800 Brazilian politicians.
The president could have faced a third attempt this week, when Mr Janot almost succeeded in indicting him for new corruption charges, based on Batista’s plea deal. To block that impeachment trial at the Supreme Court Temer would have needed, as in August, the vote of at least 172 out of the 513 members of the Lower House. But on Wednesday, a cataract of new scandals contributed to offer him yet another time out from impeachment and from the public’s moralising eye for a couple of hour. Firstly, Janot dropped an H-bomb when he told the press that in a new recording, Joesley Batista had admitted contacting a former prosecutor from the Attorney General’s Office. There were suggestions that Batista’s entire plea deal could be rescinded and with that the whole case against Temer perhaps even shelved. Apparently though that will not be the case and the Attorney General’s office will continue on the same track.
The attention on Temer’s corruption cases has been further taken away by a hurried Janot – in mid-September, Brazil’s attorney general will end his four-year term ¬ who has also accused former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff of heading a criminal organisation that diverted funds away from Petrobras during the 14 years they were in office. However, those headlines were literally blurred out by the visuals of carnivalesque footage released by the Federal Police after US$14.6 million in cash, in notes of 50 and 100 reais, were found stashed in suitcases and boxes in an apartment belonging to one of President Temer’s former Cabinet members. It took the police 16 hours just to count the money piled up from bribes.
From a different cast of characters, but from a tale certainly staged in the same theatre, prosecutors this week accused Carlos Nuzman, the president of Brazil’s Olympic committee, of orchestrating a scheme of kickbacks designed to secure the 2016 Games for Rio de Janeiro. And as wrap-up to this week’s roadshow of sleaze, Lula’s ex-finance minister Antonio Palocci has accused his former boss and Rousseff of taking bribes from construction firm Odebrecht. Palocci is trying to reduce his sentence to 12 years in prison – and that is why he is now so outspoken and generous.
So in this archipelago of corruption, Michel Temer is not a solitary Crusoe. He has 14 months to go in office and no red carpet ahead of him: according to the latest Datafolha survey, 83 per cent of Brazilians believe that he has been directly involved in corruption and 7 out of 10 disapprove of the way he is doing his job. Worse still, 8 out of 10 want him to face trial. And 45 per cent think that corruption will continue even after Lava Jato (Car Wash) tails off.
The conclusions aren’t hard to draw. Discontent, apathy, pessimism and even nihilism are the ingredients that today make up Brazil’s recipe. Take, for instance, the O Globo newspaper, part of the large media conglomerates. A large portion of Brazilians thinks it is a coup-monger, to blame for pushing for the impeachments of Rousseff and Temer.
Turn around and take a look across the political spectrum: Fernando Collor de Melo, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula da Silva, Rousseff and Temer, the five living presidents of Brazil, all of them are being probed for corruption. Eduardo Cunha, Renan Calheiros, Romero Jucà, Geddel Vieira Lima – all of these members of Temer’s political party, the PMDB – are in prison or under investigation. Go to the opposition trenches: Aecio Neves (PSDB), Jose Serra (PSDB), Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB), Sérgio Cabral (PT), are just some of the 90 politicians being investigated today.
The landscape may look very familiar to an average Latin American but for two exceptions to the rule: all these investigations have been originated by the Judiciary or Attorney General’s Office and not as a follow-up of a scoop broken by the media. Secondly, Brazil’s Judiciary is perhaps, so far, the one and only in the region to prosecute, indict and put down top brass officials from the ruling party (namely presidents and ministers). The ordinary route for prosecutors, federal police and judges in Latin America is to go after the dirty linen of a former administration, with a blind eye toward the misconducts and trespasses of the people in power.
So what is shielding Michel Temer from being scorched? No doubt his skill with members of Congress. After almost 40 years in the congressional arena, the temerarious Temer will likely exorcise future attempts against him in the Lower House, the caste he belongs to, and remain despised by the electorate. The financial markets and Brazil’s strong industrial lobby back him and his quixotic reforms to the pension, labour, and taxing systems. He cannot – after two terms in the Executive – run again for VP or president. There is not much to lose. Nor gain. But he can certainly achieve a place in history as the reformer who succeeded against all odds. Including impeachment.
* Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald. (2010-2013)