Melvyn Levitsky appears in Inter-American Dialogue's Latin America Advisor, answering the question: How Will an Investigation of Lula Affect Brazil's Politics?

April 24, 2013
How Will an Investigation of Lula Affect Brazil's Politics?

Question from Latin America Advisor

Prosecutors in Brazil announced April 5 that they have opened an investigation of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in connection with the so-called "mensalão" vote-buying scheme. The scandal has already led to several convictions, including that of Lula's former chief of staff, José Dirceu. Have the prosecutions dealt a significant blow to corruption in Brazil? How is the scandal, and now the probe involving Lula, affecting the country's politics ahead of next year's presidential election?

Answer from Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky.

"Corruption, entrenched bureaucracy, and lack of political and administrative reform are the principal impediments to Brazil moving to major-country status. Unfortunately, these are all tied together and a comprehensive approach would be necessary for significant progress toward that goal. The mensalão case is a perfect example of how power corrupts. Out of national power, the PT was considered by most observers to be the most honest party in the political spectrum, right or left. In power, it showed itself to be no different than other parties, with the mensalão as only the leading demonstration of greed and corruption. Thus far, Lula has been the 'teflon' ex-president, essentially untainted by the scandal. His popularity remains high primarily because of the economic leap forward Brazil experienced during his tenure. (Ironically, the leap was from the springboard his rival Fernando Henrique Cardoso constructed.) If the investigation proves that Lula had knowledge of the mensalão scheme, or even worse, if it proves that he was engaged in or directed the scheme, his ability to call the shots could suffer significantly. President Dilma has developed a reputation and popularity of her own that, when bolstered by Lula's campaign charisma, would normally make her unbeatable. If Lula's teflon is corroded during a long, revealing investigation, her ability to govern effectively and consequently her electoral prospects are sure to suffer. However, they will probably not suffer to the point that she would lose the next election. In fact, her major advantage is the lack of a strong, nationally popular candidate from the centrist political parties."

Editor's note: Reprinted with the permission from the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor newsletter.

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