'Operation Car Wash' has Brazil's political class getting a wash
Not long ago, I couldn't get a Brazilian to talk about corruption, unless it was in the context of FIFA making a decision that impacted the cherished national "fútbol" team.
Well, that was then, and this is now! Brazilians are at war with their political class, and there is no light at the end of this tunnel.
They call it "Operation Car Wash" in Brazil. It's their version of "drain the swamp" and washing quite a few dirty cars, to say the least.
Brazilians are angry with what they've learned about their politicians, as we see in this article from Marina Lopes:
The messy business of governing Brazil, a country with 35 active political parties, has long taken place far from the symmetrical towers and domes of Congress that dominate the capital's skyline.
Instead, backroom deals have been the norm, with the country's most powerful politicians and business leaders deciding the affairs of government over boozy lunches, steak dinners or drinks in dimly lit hotel bars. The daily scheming and bribing would kick off early, one participant told investigators, often at breakfast in the Golden Tulip Hotel on the city's outskirts.
But three years into the sweeping corruption probe known as Operation Car Wash, an initiative now targeting more than 100 members of Brazil's political elite, the dining room at the Golden Tulip is silent. The investigation has upended politics-as-usual in Brasilia and opened up a path for outsiders to have a say in government for the first time in generations.
The Car Wash probe uncovered a complex kickback scheme in which, among other things, Brazil's largest construction companies paid lawmakers in return for lucrative contracts and favorable legislation. The investigation has been propelled by a string of plea-bargain agreements, leaving longtime friends and allies pitted against one another as more defendants turn state's witness.
Adding to the mess, the economy stinks: Brazil's worst recession: 8 consecutive quarters of contraction. Here are some of the details:
Brazil's economy shrank 3.6% in 2016.
Unemployment hit 12.6% in January. A year ago it was 9.5%.
By comparison, at the height of the U.S. recession in 2009, unemployment peaked at 10%.
Nearly 13 million Brazilians are out of work.
So the politicians are falling like flies. The last president was removed from office, and the current one has a huge cloud over his head.
My Brazilian friend told me that they are all "ladrões" and "criminosos" – thieves and criminals.
Brazilians are fed up with corruption, and that may be good news for the future of Latin America's largest economy and country.