Talk to a Brazilian lately and there is not much reason for him or her to be cheerful—other than the good shape of their national football team. The country is still reeling from the worst economic crisis in a century. On top of that, the entire political class is mired in what has been called “one of the most symbolic corruption cases in history.” The popularity of president Michel Temer, who is personally implicated in the corruption scandal, is in the low single digits.
Yet Brazilians should be proud of the way their legal system is fighting corruption. In fact, the constitutional and policy reforms that Brazil has implemented in the last two decades affecting its judicial system and prosecutorial bodies are an example to other countries, particularly in Latin America, as Geanluca Lorenzon explains in a Cato Policy Analysis published today. Among these reforms is the introduction of plea-bargaining, which has proven crucial in unearthing a vast web of corruption in the Lava Jato scandal. Other changes include giving more autonomy to the federal police and prosecutors, as well as implementing a merit-based selection system to choose judges and prosecutors, allowing individuals with no political connections to reach these positions.
Indeed, if you talk about corruption and abuse of power to people from most Latin American countries, it is very likely that they will express admiration—and a high degree of envy—about the sight of powerful politicians and business people being brought to justice in Brazil.
This is not to say that Brazil is out of the woods. On two occasions, the lower house of Congress voted against sending Temer to trial in the Supreme Court on corruption charges. In another case, the Supreme Court relented on its power to remove a lawmaker implicated in the Lava Jato scandal from office (senator and former presidential candidate Aecio Neves), basically granting Congress the power to shield its members from prosecution. The political class is fighting back hard for its privileges.
However, just as institutions have changed in Brazil, attitudes have changed as well. Brazilians show less tolerance towards corruption and abuse of power. The media is more assertive in exposing powerful politicians and business people. And judges and prosecutors are actively prosecuting and sentencing the corrupt. This bodes well for Brazil in the long run.