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Brazil cleans house: now what?

Brazil's President Rousseff has had a good year in cracking down on corruption. Will the momentum last?

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The Supreme Court ruled that the Ficha Limpa law would not count towards the 2010 election, and after ruling on several individual cases, the court allowed at least 6 "ficha suja" congressmen and senators to take office, including notorious Senator Jader Barbalho, who took office in late December. (His son came with him, and proceeded to stick out his tongue and make faces for the press, which antagonized the already dismayed Brazilians opposed to his inauguration). It's unclear if the law will be applied to the 2012 municipal elections.

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Dilma has made it clear that she won't tolerate corruption in her cabinet, and a minister shakeup in the next few weeks should likely bring in new ministers picked by Dilma, rather than carryovers from Lula's administration. But of the six who left office in disgrace, how many are under investigation and will actually be punished? Cases of ministers returning embezzled funds are few and far between; one of the few is that of former Tourism Minister Pedro Novais, who returned the government funds (worth R$2,156) that he used to pay for a sex motel.

Former Sports Minister Orlando Silva is allegedly planning on running for city councilman in São Paulo in 2012. He wouldn't be the first disgraced politician to come back to life; former President Fernando Collor de Mello, who was impeached in 1992, was elected to the Senate in 2006 and 2010. Notorious politician José Sarney, who also served as president, was first elected to the Senate in 1995, and has served three terms as president of the Senate, a position he currently holds. Another notorious politician, Paulo Maluf, who was on Interpol's "red" list, is currently serving his third term as a federal congressman.

After Dilma's sweep, some are hopeful that it could mean change in Brasília. But without holding wrongdoers responsible and punishing them for their crimes, will corrupt public officials simply try harder to hide what they're doing? And if the Ficha Limpa Law isn't implemented, or if the Supreme Court eventually rules it unconstitutional, will corrupt politicians continue to return to office? Worse yet - will everything acabar em pizza?

---Rachel Glickhouse is the author of the blog Riogringa.com.

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