Brazil takes on an centuries-old foe: corruption
Brazil is making strides in purging government corruption – a 500-year-old problem that persists today in Latin America because of cultural acceptance, inequality, and prevalent drug money.
Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro
Since its creation in 2007, the local activist group Rio de Paz, a loose coalition of youths and church members, has focused on one city's most notorious problem: the thousands of murders tallied in Rio de Janeiro each year.Skip to next paragraph
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But when President Dilma Rousseff, who took office in January, began to sack members of her cabinet amid corruption allegations, and the media followed up with aggressive investigations of misconduct at the highest levels, the civil society group began to take up another cause.
"We think that corruption is what kills," says Antônio Carlos Costa, a pastor and executive director of Rio de Paz.
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They took to the streets to protest graft, carrying brooms to support the faxina, or sweeping up, and joining 20,000 protesters who showed up in Brazil's capital, Brasília, in September in the largest of more than 30 anticorruption marches held this fall throughout the country.
Mr. Costa says the small movement is growing as nonprofits and citizens seek to hold corruptive forces accountable.
Many countries in Latin America, such as Brazil and Mexico, are touting strong economies that make them important players on the international stage. But corruption, especially at the state and municipal levels, threatens to undermine their credibility in fighting crime.
Brazil's government is paying attention. Since President Rousseff has taken office, six ministers have resigned amid allegations of corruption, helping to boost her approval rating. Brazil also passed a freedom of information law this fall after years of debate, and formally launched, with the United States, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multicountry body that aims for transparency and the empowerment of citizens.
Latin America's corruption problems go back 500 years to the colonial era and persist today because of cultural acceptance, inequality – for example, low-paid police officers in Mexico often extract bribes to make ends meet – and the influx of drug money that can corrupt entire institutions.
Efforts toward greater accountability for wrongdoing run the gamut in Latin America. But most of the countries in the region sit somewhere in the middle, and they are pushing forward to help reverse the status quo – with Brazil paving the way, experts say.
"Brazilian society is passing through a new stage of democratic advances," says Fabiano Angelico, a São Paulo-based independent consultant on transparency.
Caught off guard?
The resignations in Rousseff's cabinet have helped spur an incipient movement. The latest to resign was Labor Minister Carlos Lupi, accused of taking money from nonprofits in return for ministry funding. He denied the charges but stepped down this month – preceded by the ministers of sports, tourism, agriculture, and transportation, as well as Rousseff's chief of staff.