Lessons from Brazil’s Fight Against Corruption
By Geraldine Cook March 11, 2020
“Corruption threatens the safety and the way of life of citizens all over the world,” said Brazilian Appellate Court Judge Reis Friede, director of the Federal Justice Cultural Center in Brazil. “Corruption costs lives, especially when someone dies because of lack of medication or care because a corrupt politician embezzled public hospital money.”
Judge Friede, who has written more than 40 books about law and international security, spoke before military and civilian personnel at the presentation “The Fight Against Corruption in Brazil and its Consequences for the American Continent,” held at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), in Doral, Florida, on February 26, 2020.
During his presentation, judge Friede explained how institutional corruption in Brazil evolved, who benefited from it, and its impact on democracy, human rights, security, and socio-economic development. Brazil ranks 106 among 180 worldwide countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2019.
The fight against corruption hasn’t been easy, said judge Friede, referring to the largest corruption investigation scandal in his country, known as Operação Lava Jato (Car Wash Operation), which uncovered corruption at the highest levels of government, among politicians and the country’s largest corporations.
The investigation began as a money laundering case in March 2014 but was extended to cover allegations of corruption at the oil company Petrobras, where executives allegedly accepted bribes in return for awarding contracts to construction firms at inflated prices. Investigators indicted and jailed well-known politicians, including former presidents Fernando Collor de Mello, Michel Temer, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
According to the Brazilian Federal Public Ministry, in 2019, the operation recovered $3.4 billion and sentenced 361 people for crimes related to corruption, abuse of the international financial system, drug trafficking, and money laundering. The Public Ministry affirmed that Lava Jato’s corruption crossed Brazilian borders to involve 11 countries in Latin America and two in Africa.
“The Lava Jato Operation and others showed that the judicial system is strong, powerful, and it’s capable of even removing a sitting president from power,” said judge Friede. “It showed the strength of democracy and the capability and maturity that people can have through strong institutions, rallying against corruption, creating an environment of political stability without direct military interference.”
In addition to exposing corruption within the highest levels of the Brazilian government and the influence of corporate elites in corruption, judge Friede noted that Operação Lava Jato and overlapping investigations left the corporations involved with massive layoffs, billions of dollars paid in penalties and major financial losses.
Judge Friede pointed out that corruption can migrate to other countries, especially neighboring nations, and called upon the region to unite in the fight against this scourge.