The upcoming presidential election in Brazil, which pits right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro against former President Lula–leader of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT)–puts voters who care primarily about government integrity in a tough spot. Some of the leading figures in Brazil’s so-called “Car Wash” anticorruption operation have publicly embraced President Bolsonaro, pointing (explicitly or implicitly) to the corruption scandals under Lula and the PT. Others, including Victoria on this blog, have argued that between the two, Bolsonaro would be worse for the fight against corruption than would Lula.
Recently, a group of 59 Brazilian scholars who research and teach on anticorruption and related topics weighed in on this issue with an open letter, originally published in Portuguese. This is an important contribution to the discussion, of interest not only to Brazilians but to the international community that cares about this issue. With the permission of the letter’s organizers, their English translation of the letter is below, with the list of signatories:
You cannot fight corruption without democracy
In a few days, Brazilians will go back to the polls to vote for president and, once again, corruption takes center stage in the public debate. In light of the damaging incidents uncovered in the past, several of which were exposed by Operation Carwash, there are many who are reluctant to trust former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with their vote, fearing that his victory would represent a backward step in the fight against corruption.
We are researchers and educators who have dedicated our academic and professional careers to studying corruption, ethics, integrity and transparency. We have conducted our studies and research in Brazil and in countries around the world. We have backgrounds in various fields of knowledge such as law, economics, management, history, political science, and several others. What we all have in common is the fact that we produce knowledge that helps understand the serious social issue that is corruption.
Taking into account just how large of a role the study of corruption plays in our lives, we understand that for many it might come as a shock to know that, on October 30, we will be voting for Lula. Although we have all made the same decision, each of us has taken a different path before reaching it. However, we are united in the certainty that there is no contradiction whatsoever between our vote and our commitment to the anticorruption agenda. On the contrary, they both reflect the same conviction: you cannot fight corruption without democracy.
In recent decades, successive investigations have uncovered extensive evidence on the extensive collusion between certain business and political leaders to the detriment of the public interest, which has led many Brazilians to deeply distrust the country’s political system. However, it is necessary to acknowledge that these vicious practices only came to light thanks to certain institutional and regulatory advancements that have developed since the advent of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, many of which were designed, implemented, and improved under intense pressure from – and interaction with – the opposition, organized civil society, the professional media, and the international community – something that can only happen in a democracy.
Thus, it is impossible to separate this strengthening of anticorruption efforts from the democratic gains achieved over the past decades. Though it may not have played out in an entirely unswerving manner, this strengthening process can be observed in each of Brazil’s federal administrations since re-democratization up to the launch of Operation Carwash – including that of the Workers’ Party, to which Lula belongs, during which the country made significant strides toward developing a legal and institutional framework to combat corruption.
This process has been interrupted by the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Although he was elected with promises of taking the country to a new level of integrity and rejecting these much-reviled practices found in Brazilian politics, the following four years were marred by successive corruption scandals, alliances with the most deeply clientelist sectors of Brazil’s political landscape, political interference in key investigation organs, the dismantling of the nation’s legal and institutional corruption-fighting apparatus, and the undermining of public transparency and social oversight over the government’s affairs.
All these setbacks, which have been widely documented in academic publications, civil society statements, and even by international organizations, point to the same unavoidable conclusion: Bolsonaro’s alleged commitment to the fight against corruption is merely rhetorical. The anticorruption cause only interests him as far as it can be used as a cudgel to get the Brazilian people to vote against his rivals.
Even more serious than Bolsonaro’s lack of commitment to the anticorruption agenda is his lack of commitment to democratic values and the rule of law. The fight against corruption is not an end in itself. Above all, what inspires this fight is the recognition that corruption is one of the greatest barriers to the State’s capacity to address various existing inequalities and serve its citizens adequately, thus ensuring fundamental rights for all. The fight against corruption is, therefore, a means to a greater end, that of guaranteeing the rights of the people. It follows, then, that the anticorruption agenda is not advanced at the expense of democratic institutions and the rule of law, but rather must be steered by them.
Throughout his political career and his time as President, Bolsonaro has shown time and time again that he does not share the democratic values that guide the 1988 Constitution. From his declared admiration for Brazil’s military dictatorship and its torturers through his several attempts to sow distrust in the integrity of the country’s electoral process, including his constant attacks on the constituted powers, it has become clear that Bolsonaro represents a real and imminent threat to Brazilian democracy. This is why so many of Lula’s historical rivals have set aside their differences and rallied around his presidential bid – because he represents the only current alternative to a project that seeks to dismantle our republic.
Voting for a certain candidate does not mean endorsing their policies: at times, all we are given is the choice of which administration to oppose. Many of us, signed below, will certainly choose to oppose the winning candidate, whether we voted for them or not. However, when faced with the choice of being in the opposition to a democratic government or an authoritarian one, we will always opt for the democratic government.
Therefore, voting for Lula does not, in any way, dim or extinguish the critical faculties that each citizen must cultivate in a democracy as pluralistic as Brazil’s; on the contrary, it is precisely these critical faculties that have led us to acknowledge the exceptional nature of the choice now presented to the Brazilian people.
To vote for Lula is to express the conviction that the fight against corruption will not advance by means of bravado or political catchphrases; it means expressing the conviction that the fight against corruption must not come at the expense of the democratic order; on the contrary, it is the conviction that progress in this area can only be sustainable when it is accompanied by the strengthening of democratic values and institutions; in short, it is the conviction that you cannot fight corruption without democracy.
Andreia Reis do Carmo
Bárbara Alencar Ferreira Lessa
Beatriz Silva da Costa
Bruno Pinheiro Wanderley Reis
Bruno Wilhelm Speck
Caio César de Medeiros Costa
Conrado Hubner Mendes
Eduardo Saad Diniz
Fabio de Sa e Silva
Frederico Lustosa da Costa
Graziela Dias Teixeira
Guilherme Siqueira de Carvalho
Isabel Cristina Veloso de Oliveira
Jamile Camargos de Oliveira
João Mendes Rocha Neto
José Álvaro Moisés
José Sérgio da Silva Cristóvam
Juliane Sant’Ana Bento
Letícia Meniconi Barbabela
Ligia Mori Madeira
Luciano Da Ros
Luiz Fernando Vasconcellos de Miranda
Marco Antonio Carvalho Teixeira
Marcos Fernandes Gonçalves da Silva
Maria Eugênia Trombini
Mariana Mota Prado
Marta Rodriguez de Assis Machado
Michael Freitas Mohallem
Miguel Reale Júnior
Paula Chies Schommer
Paulo Roberto Neves Costa
Rafael Cláudio Simões
Raquel de Mattos Pimenta
Rodrigo Rossi Horochovski
Suylan de Almeida Midlej e Silva
Thiago José Tavares Ávila
Vanessa Elias de Oliveira
Wagner Pralon Mancuso