Conspiracy and corruption between the US and Brazil: a likely hypothesis

The only thing that bothers Brazilian officials right now is the fact that their "conspiracy" has become public, and that everyone has understood who the real power behind it is. Español

José Luís Fiori William Nozaki
8 August 2019, 12.01am
Donald Trump attends a joint press conference with Jair Bolsonaro at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on March 19, 2019.
Ting Shen/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved

It is common to speak of “conspiracy theory” whenever someone reveals or denounces “irregular” practices or political maneuvers, hidden from the general public, and known only to insiders, or to the most knowledgeable people. And almost always when this expression is used, it is for the purpose of disqualifying the denunciation that has been made, or the very person who made public what was meant to be hidden, in the shadow of the story. But, in fact, there are not "conspiracy theories", but rather "theories of power", and "conspiracy" is just one of the most common and necessary practices of those who participate in the daily political struggle for power.

This conceptual distinction is very important for anyone who proposes to analyse the national or international political conjuncture, without fear of being accused of being a conspiratorialist. And it is a fundamental starting point for the research we are proposing to do into the real role of the US government in the 2015/2016 coup d'état in Brazil, and the subsequent election of Jair Bolsonaro, in 2018; it is necessary to follow the trail of conspiracy, which culminated in institutional rupture and change of government.

Our preliminary hypothesis is that this conspiracy began in the first decade of the 21st century, during the mandarinate of American vice-president Dick Cheney, although it intensified following Donald Trump’s inauguration, and the formulation of his “national security strategy” in December 2017.

At first there was surprise, but today many people have understood that this new strategy represents a break with the old ideological and moral parameters of US foreign policy, the defense of democracy, human rights and economic development. It sets out US government plans to expand its military empire, with the fragmentation and multiplication of conflicts, and the use of various forms of external intervention – whether through the manipulation of voter preferences and the provocation of political unrest; through constitutional coups; through increasingly expansive economic sanctions to destroy national economies.

From this viewpoint, it is interesting to follow the evolution of statements of US strategic intent. In the 2010, US Special Forces Unconventional Warfare Training Manual, published by the Pentagon, explicitly stated that “The intent of U.S. UW efforts is to exploit a hostile power’s political, military, economic, and psychological vulnerabilities by developing and sustaining resistance forces to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives”. With the recognition that, "for the foreseeable future, U.S. forces will predominantly engage in irregular warfare (IW) operations".

When did Brazil become a particular concern for US defence and security?

This was made even clearer in Trump’s security strategy of 2017: the "fight against corruption" must be central to the destabilisation of governments of countries that are "competitors" or "enemies" of the United States.[1]

Another document on US National Defence Strategy, published in 2018, sets out that “States are the principal actors on the global stage, but non-state actors also threaten the security environment with increasingly sophisticated capabilities. Terrorists, trans-national criminal organizations, cyber hackers and other malicious non-state actors have transformed global affairs with increased capabilities of mass disruption. There is a positive side to this as well, as our partners in sustaining security are also more than just nation-states: multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, corporations, and strategic influencers provide opportunities for collaboration and partnership”.

A new modality of unarmed conflict has been increasingly present on the international scene with the use of predatory economic practices, social rebellions, cyber-attacks, fake news, anti-corruption methods. These documents leave no doubt that new forms of “unconventional warfare” are to be used against states and companies that challenge or threaten US strategic objectives.

When did Brazil become a particular concern for US defence and security? It is worth considering, first of all, the change in posture of the Brazilian government in 2003, with the adoption of a more assertive and sovereign foreign policy, the pursuit of leadership in processes of South American integration, and participation in the BRICS economic bloc, led by China.

There is no doubt, however, that the discovery of pre-salt oil reserves in 2006 was the turning point. Just read the Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, published in 2011 by the Barack Obama administration, to see that at that time Brazil was already considered relevant to 3 of 7 strategic priorities for US energy policy: (i) as a source of expertise on biofuel production; (ii) as a key partner for deepwater oil exploration and production; (iii) as a strategic territory for South Atlantic prospecting

From that point on, it is not difficult to track and connect some events, especially since, in 2003, the Brazilian government introduced a new policy to protect domestic producers of extraction equipment from former foreign suppliers of the national oil company Petrobras.

One such supplier is the US company Halliburton, the world's largest oilfield services company, and one of the major international suppliers of offshore rigs and oil platforms, which between 1995 and 2000, was run by Dick Cheney.

Odebrecht, OAS and other large Brazilian companies enter this story in 2003, substituting major foreign suppliers. It should be remembered that the beginning of the complex negotiation between Halliburton and Petrobras over the purchase and delivery of P-43 and P-48 platforms, at a cost of US$ 2.5 billion, began during Cheney's management and lasted until 2003/2004, with the participation of Petrobras Service Manager at the time, Pedro José Barusco, who would later become the first known whistleblower of the Lava Jato anti-corruption operation.

It is always worth remembering the famous thesis of Fernand Braudel, the greatest economic historian of the twentieth century, that “capitalism is the antimarket”, that is, an economic system that accumulates wealth through the conquest and preservation of monopolies, using any means within its reach.

Or, explaining Braudel's argument: capitalism is neither an ethical nor a religious organisation, and it has no commitment to any kind of private or public morality other than the multiplication of profits and the continuous expansion of its markets. And this can be seen, more than anywhere else, in the wild environment of the world oil industry, since the beginning of its commercial exploration, with the discovery of the first well by E. L. Drake, in Pennsylvania, in 1859.

Cheney, who came from the world of oil and became George W. Bush’s vice-president, played a central role in the conception of the so-called “global war on terror”, obtaining the consent of the American Congress to start new wars, even without prior parliamentary approval.

More importantly, for our argument here, he was able to approve the right of access to all financial operations in the world banking system, virtually unrestricted, including the old secret Swiss banking system and the European payment system, SWIFT.

The Brazilian president, ministers of state, and senior Petrobras officials had long been targeted by telephone taps and espionage.

So it is not unreasonable to think that, following this move, the US Department of Justice took financial information that was then passed on to local authorities in countries that the United States set out to destabilize with selective campaigns “against corruption".

In the Brazilian case, at least, it was after these events that Petrobras' assault and theft of strategic and confidential geological information occurred, in 2008, exactly two years after the discovery of the Brazilian pre-salt oil reserves, in the same year the US reactivated its Fourth Fleet in the South Atlantic. And it was the following year, in 2009, that the exchange between the US Department of Justice and members of the Brazilian Judiciary, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Federal Police, began to address money laundering issues and the “fight against corruption”, in a meeting that resulted in the initiative called the Bridge Project, in which then judge Sérgio Moro participated.

Later, in 2010, Chevron quietly negotiated, with one of the candidates for the Brazilian presidential election, changes in the pre-salt regulatory framework. A bill was presented to and approved by the Brazilian Senate. The “conspiracy” was exposed by Wikileaks. Three years later, in 2013, it came to light that the Brazilian president, ministers of state, and senior Petrobras officials had long been targeted by telephone taps and espionage.

That same year, the US ambassador to Paraguay during the country's parliamentary coup against President Fernando Lugo, was moved to the embassy in Brazil. The Lava Jato Operation then began, in 2014, investigating fees paid to the directors of Petrobras, exactly from 2003, therefore leaving out the former international suppliers.

After five years of the Lava Jato Operation, leaks published by The Intercept Brazil have exposed the bias of Sergio Moro, the main judge in the operation, who is now Bolsonaro’s justice minister. They have also exposed his consorting with public prosecutors, in particular the main prosecutor in the case against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Deltan Dallagnol.

It should come as no surprise that, in the weeks after the leaks, Moro, unprepared to deal with public criticism, twice travelled to the United States, where he previously studied. To many Brazilians, it was clear that he had gone to seek advice from a government responsible for the conspiracy in Brazil – a conspiracy endorsed by Brazil’s Armed Forces, media networks, and economic elites.

The only thing that bothers them right now is the fact that their "conspiracy" has become public

If our hypothesis is correct, there is no chance that the people involved in this scandal will be judged impartially, because everyone members of the judiciary have always been aware and have endorsed the illegal practices of the former judge and his “assistant prosecutor”- practices that were decisive in the installation of Bolsonaro as president.

The only thing that bothers them right now is the fact that their "conspiracy" has become public, and that everyone has understood who the real power behind it is.

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