Demonstration in Brasília outside of the National Congress Building against Brazilian government corruption on 15 March 2015. Wikicommons/ José Cruz/Agência Brasil. Some rights reserved.We, professors and researchers from Brazilian universities, hereby address the International Academic Community to report serious breaches in the rule of law currently taking place in Brazil.
After a long history of coups and a violent military dictatorship, our country has enjoyed its longest period of democratic stability since the 1988 Constitution established a number of individual and civil rights.
Despite progress in recent years with respect to social policy, Brazil remains a deeply unequal country with a political system marked by high levels of patronage and corruption. The influence of big business in the electoral process through private campaign financing has led to consecutive corruption scandals involving politicians from all sides.
In recent years, a national outcry against corruption has increasingly dominated public opinion. Public accountability and law enforcement agencies have responded by intensifying anti-corruption efforts, targeting major companies and political elites.
Unfortunately, this laudable process has been used to destabilize a democratically elected government, resulting in an exacerbation of the current economic and political crisis in our country. The same judiciary that should protect the political and legal integrity of our country has become an epicenter of this process.
The main anti-corruption investigation, the “Operação Lava Jato” (Operation Car Wash), is headed by a lower level federal judge, Sérgio Moro, who has systematically utilized procedures that Brazilian legislation clearly defines as exceptional, such as pre-trial detention and coercive transportation of witnesses for depositions. Arbitrary detentions have been openly justified as a method to pressure the accused into accepting plea bargains in which they denounce alleged accomplices. Information about the cases has been regularly and selectively leaked to the media. Indeed, evidence suggests that the press has received prior information about important police operations so as to mobilize public opinion against the accused. Even the nation’s President was targeted by an illegal wiretap. The above-named judge subsequently handed over excerpts of both legal and illegal wiretaps to the press for public disclosure, even when they involved private discussions with no relevance to the investigation. The purpose was clearly to embarrass specific politicians.
Complaints against leaders of political parties in the opposition have been disregarded and silenced by the mainstream press. At the same time, although the “Operação Lava Jato” has yet to accuse President Dilma Roussef, the corruption investigations have been used to support impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Eduardo Cunha, an opposition congressmen. Cunha, however, is accused of corruption and is being investigated by the Ethics Committee of the same House
When the actions of public authorities begin to challenge basic legal rights such as the presumption of innocence, equal protection, and due process, we must exercise caution. When noble ends seem to justify procedural breaches, the danger is enormous.
Sérgio Moro does not have the necessary exemption and impartiality to head the current investigations. The fight against corruption must be conducted within strict legal boundaries that respect the fundamental rights of defendants.
Segments of the judiciary involved in this process have worked in close in alliance with the mainstream media, that has been historically aligned with Brazil’s political oligarchy. In particular, the country’s largest television station, the Globo Television Network, openly supported the military dictatorship (1964-1985).
We fear that the breakdown of the rule of law under way is a threat to Brazilian
democracy that may lead to grave and even violent social polarization. For these reasons, we ask our colleagues
abroad for solidarity and support in the defense of legality and of Brazil’s democratic
The website Brazilian Observatory promotes all the updating of this Open Letter and will continue to accept support from researchers and university professors from Brazil and from the whole international academic community until April 10. The number of subscribers today exceeds 3.500 and can be found in this same website. The International Sociological Association Research Committee on Social Classes and Social Movements (ISA RC47) fully supports this Open Letter.
To become a signatory, send an email to [email protected], with your name and affiliation.