Just rewards of Brazil’s anti-corruption triumphs

The prosecution of a huge scandal and popular demands for honest government have finally brought enough reforms to help revive Latin America’s largest economy.

AP Photo
Deltan Dallagnol, lead federal prosecutor in the so-called Car Wash investigation, gives an interview in Curitiba, Brazil Jan. 26. The lead federal prosecutor in the massive corruption investigation roiling Brazil says recent developments could double the size of the case, a staggering possibility given that the probe has ensnared many of the country’s elite, threatens to bring down President Michel Temer and is expanding to other Latin American countries.

Virtue is supposed to be its own reward. Yet for Brazilians, the reward may be more tangible.

Since 2013, millions of people in the world’s fifth most populous country have protested for honest government. Their call was met by an impressive prosecution of corrupt officials and their resulting removal. That in turn has led to recent reforms, such as a new president, a cap on government spending, and big changes at Petrobras, the state-run oil company that was the source of a giant kick-back scheme.

The reward? Latin America’s largest economy, which has been stuck in a deep recession for two years, is showing signs of growth, including a surprising rise in consumer confidence. “Brazilians have had enough of the corruption that is ravaging their country,” said Mercedes de Freitas of Transparency International, a global nonprofit group, at a recent ceremony honoring Brazil’s prosecutors.

Dozens of politicians and businesspeople have been convicted of graft with many more expected to be charged this year. The extent of corruption shocked even the prosecutors. “We were surprised, because one thing is to know that ... corruption is rooted, widespread and systematic in Brazil, and another thing is to look at the monster in the eyes,” federal prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol told AFP.

Mr. Dallagnol has helped lead an effort in the Brazilian Congress to pass laws that would help prevent and detect corruption. Many lawmakers still resist such reforms. That has led Dallagnol, a young Harvard-trained prosecutor, to say that lower-income Brazilians must understand how money siphoned off by corrupt officials only reduces the ability of government to meet the needs of people.

In the past decade, many countries from India to Romania have seen major protests against corruption and their nation’s culture of impunity. Brazil stands out for the persistence of protests and the courage of prosecutors to demand equality before the law. The country still has far to go to clean up its political system. But a little virtue, spread across millions of people, has helped bring some reward.

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