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A Great Leap Forward for Democracy and the Rule of Law? Brazil's Mensalão Trial

  • GREGORY MICHENER and CARLOS PEREIRA
Abstract

The Mensalão trial was Brazil's most important political corruption trial ever and an emblematic ex post accountability success. More than 28 individuals were convicted in relation to a legislative vote-buying scheme, many by the very officials they helped appoint. We relay the trajectory of the scandal cum trial, explain its successful prosecution and assess its implications. The article argues that the Mensalão has proved pivotal for Brazil's institutional and legal advances and asks – more than a quarter of a century after a new constitution – whether the country is entering into a stronger, more enduring relationship with the rule of law.

El juicio del Mensalão fue el proceso político por corrupción más importante de Brasil y un suceso emblemático exitoso de rendición de cuentas. Más de 28 individuos fueron condenados en relación a un esquema legislativo de compra de votos (en varios casos por los mismos funcionarios que ellos ayudaron a elegir). Estudiamos la trayectoria del escándalo/juicio, explicamos su exitoso proceso, y evaluamos sus implicaciones. El artículo señala que el Mensalão ha mostrado ser central para los avances institucionales y legales de Brasil y nos preguntamos –más de un cuarto de siglo después de una nueva constitución– si el país está entrando en una relación más fuerte y duradera con el estado de derecho.

O julgamento do Mensalão foi o mais importante julgamento de corrupção política da história do Brasil e um sucesso emblemático de responsabilização baseado em fatos ao invés de suposições. Mais de 28 pessoas foram condenadas pelo envolvimento em um esquema de compra de votos de parlamentares, muitas delas pelos oficiais que elas ajudaram a nomear. Relatamos a trajetória do escândalo/julgamento, explicando o exitoso processo judicial e avaliando suas implicações. O artigo argumenta que o Mensalão mostrou-se como um caso fundamental para avanços institucionais e legais do Brasil e questiona se o país, depois de mais de um quarto de século após a Constituição de 1988, está iniciando uma relação mais forte e duradoura com o Estado de direito.

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References
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1 Praça, Sérgio and Taylor, Matthew M., ‘Inching Toward Accountability: The Evolution of Brazil's Anticorruption Institutions, 1985–2010’, Latin American Politics and Society, 56: 2 (2014), pp. 2748 .

2 Praça and Taylor, ‘Inching Toward Accountability’, pp. 15–17.

3 Carlos Pereira and Marcus André Melo, Making Brazil Work: Checking the President in a Multiparty Regime (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

4 Michener, Gregory, ‘How Cabinet Size and Legislative Control Shape the Strength of Transparency Laws’, Governance, 28 (2015), pp. 7794 .

5 Sugiyama, Natasha Borges and Hunter, Wendy, ‘Whither Clientelism? Good Governance and Brazil's Bolsa Família Program’, Comparative Politics, 46: 1 (2013), pp. 4362 ; and Natasha Borges Suguyama, The Diffusion of Good Government: Social Sector Reforms in Brazil (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012).

6 David Samuels. ‘Brazil: Democracy in the PT Era’, in Jorge I. Domínguez and Michael Shifter (eds.), Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America, 4th edn (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), pp. 177–203; Frederico Bertholini and Carlos Pereira, ‘All the President's Men (and Parties): Coalition Management in Multiparty Presidential Regimes’, paper presented at the 13th session of the European School on New Institutional Economics (Corsica, 2014).

7 For a rationale of why President Lula da Silva bought votes in Congress, see Carlos Pereira, Timothy Power and Eric Raile, ‘Presidentialism, Coalitions, and Accountability’, in Timothy Power and Matthew M. Taylor (eds.), Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The Struggle for Accountability (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 31–55.

8 Matthew Taylor, ‘The Federal Judiciary and Electoral Courts’, in Timothy J. Power and Matthew M. Taylor (eds.), Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The Struggle for Accountability (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 162–83.

9 Lucio Rennó, ‘Corruption and Voting’, in Timothy J. Power and Matthew M. Taylor (eds.), Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The Struggle for Accountability (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 56–89.

10 Hunter, Wendy and Power, Timothy, ‘Rewarding Lula: Executive Power, Social Policy, and the Brazilian Elections of 2006’, Latin American Politics & Society, 49: 1 (2007), pp. 130 .

11 Taylor, ‘The Federal Judiciary and Electoral Courts’, pp. 165–7.

12 Michener, ‘How Cabinet Size and Legislative Control Shape the Strength of Transparency Laws’, pp. 88–92.

13 ‘Ministro Luiz Fux afirma que não se encontrou com Lula’, Folha de São Paulo, 31 May 2012.

14 Datafolha is a company associated with the newspaper, ‘Mensalão põe em xeque confiança no poder judiciário, diz oposição’, Folha de São Paulo, 13 Aug. 2012.

15 All convicted individuals, including their original and final sentences and fines are included in the appendix.

16 The law is known as the PEC dos Mensaleiros 18/2013PEC. ‘PEC’ translates as Constitutional Amendment Proposal, and Mensaleiros, as those involved in the Mensalão scandal.

17 Fabio Fabrini and Erich Decat, ‘Fundo partidário pagou escritórios que defendem condenados do PT e do PR’, Estado de São Paulo, 12 May 2014.

18 A table illustrating the rules regulating the progressive sentencing system is available at http://www.conteudojuridico.com.br/material-do-professor,tabela-de-calculo-de-pena-atualizada-ate-a-lei-1146407,20568.html.

19 Agence France Presse, ‘Brazil Anti-Corruption Fight “a Revolution”: Judge’, 19 Oct. 2015.

20 Wendy Hunter, Transformation of the Workers’ Party in Brazil, 1989–2009 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 167–70.

21 Fundação Perseu Abramo, ‘Pesquisa de Opinião Pública’, 2006. Quoted in David Samuels. ‘Brazil: Democracy in the PT Era’, p. 195.

22 Praça and Taylor, ‘Inching Toward Accountability: The Evolution of Brazil's Anticorruption Institutions, 1985–2010’, p. 11.

23 Taylor C. Boas, ‘Mass Media and Politics in Latin America’, in Jorge I. Domínguez and Michael Shifter (eds.), Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America, 4th edn (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), p. 67.

24 Eduardo Yoshio Nunomura, ‘O Mensalão impresso: o escândalo político-midiático do governo Lula nas páginas de Folha e Veja’, unpubl. doctoral diss., Universidade de São Paulo, 2012.

25 Vasconcellos, Fabio, ‘A construção de imagens do Jornal Nacional durante o escândalo do Mensalão’. Compolítica, 4: 1 (2014), 81118 .

26 Biroli, Flávia and Mantovani, Denise, ‘A parte que me cabe nesse julgamento: A Folha de S. Paulo na cobertura ao processo do Mensalão’, Opinião Pública, 20: 2 (2014).

27 Alfred Montero, Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge: Polity, 2014), p. 100.

28 Nunomura, ‘O Mensalão impresso: o escândalo político-midiático do governo Lula nas páginas de Folha e Veja’, p. 128.

29 Brinks, Daniel, ‘Judicial Reform and Independence in Brazil and Argentina: The Beginning of a New Millennium?’, Texas International Law Journal, 40 (2004), pp. 595622 .

30 Zachary Elkins, Tom Ginsburg and James Melton, Characteristics of National Constitutions (Version 2.0) (Data file and code book) (2014), available at http://comparativeconstitutionsproject.org/download-data/.

31 Ellen L. Lutz and Caitlin Reiger (eds.), Prosecuting Heads of State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 40–1.

32 Brinks, ‘Judicial Reform and Independence in Brazil and Argentina: The Beginning of a New Millennium?’, pp. 620–1.

33 Taylor, ‘The Federal Judiciary and Electoral Courts’; Rosenn, Keith S., ‘Recent Important Decisions by the Brazilian Supreme Court’, Inter-American Law Review, 45: 2 (2014), pp. 297394 .

34 Brinks, ‘Judicial Reform and Independence in Brazil and Argentina: The Beginning of a New Millennium?’, pp. 181–2; Matthew Taylor, Judging Policy: Courts and Policy Reform in Democratic Brazil (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

35 Taylor, ‘The Federal Judiciary and Electoral Courts’, p. 173.

36 Parliamentarian and Democratic Party head, Anas Urbaningrum in Indonesia, and Rafael Hui, former Chief Secretary for Administration in Hong Kong.

37 The legal theory on which decisions rested is referred to as Tatherrschaft. Allegations have come to light that the Supreme Court may have used the theory erroneously. See, for example, ‘Domínio do fato não convive com in dubio pro reo’, Consultor Jurídico, 22 Sept. 2013.

38 See Taylor, ‘The Federal Judiciary and Electoral Courts’, p. 182.

39 Taylor, Matthew M. and Buranelli, Vinícius C., ‘Ending Up in Pizza: Accountability as a Problem of Institutional Arrangement in Brazil’, Latin American Politics and Society, 49: 1, (2007), pp. 5987 .

40 See for example, Nunes, Rodrigo M., ‘The Politics of Sentencing Reform in Brazil: Autonomous Bureaucrats, Constrained Politicians and Gradual Policy Change’, Journal of Latin American Studies null, 47: 1 (2015), pp. 121–48; Daniel Brinks, ‘Judicial Reform and Independence in Brazil and Argentina: The Beginning of a New Millennium?’, pp. 613–16.

41 ‘STF confirma autonomia do MP em investigações com ou sem ajuda da polícia’, Globo (2015).

42 Government reports support these assertions more effectively than any particular scholarly work. For example, see, Malcolm Russell-Einhorn, Shawn Ward and Amy Seeherman, Federal-Local Law Enforcement Collaboration in Investigating and Prosecuting Urban Crime, 1982–1999: Drugs, Weapons, and Gangs (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, 2000).

43 Balán, Manuel, ‘Competition by Denunciation: The Political Dynamics of Corruption Scandals in Argentina and Chile’, Comparative Politics, 43: 4 (2011), pp. 459–78.

44 Michener, ‘How Cabinet Size and Legislative Control Shape the Strength of Transparency Laws’, pp. 77–94.

45 Ibid .

46 Ibid .

47 See the Right to Information Rating (http://rti-rating.org/) for Brazil's global ranking; and for Brazil's performance on a freedom of information audit, see Gregory Michener, Luiz Fernando Moncau and Rafael Velasco, Estado brasileiro e transparência: avaliando a aplicação da lei de acesso (Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Getúlio Vargas/Open Society Foundations, 2014).

48 Eduardo Militão, Edson Sardinha and Eduardo Torres, ‘Número de Parlamentares Investigados Bate Recorde’, Congresso em Foco, 25 Sept. 2013.

49 ‘ONG Avaaz faz abaixo-assinado por fim do voto secreto no legislativo’, Folha de São Paulo, 19 Nov. 2013.

* The authors would like to thank Octavio Amorim Neto, Ivar Hartmann, Marcus Melo, Matthew Taylor, and the editors of the Journal of Latin American Studies for helpful comments and revisions of the text. They would particularly like to acknowledge the comments and suggestions offered by Professors Rogério Arantes and Bruno Reis to previous versions of this article.

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Journal of Latin American Studies
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  • EISSN: 1469-767X
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