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Opinion

Opinion: SOS Brazil

A coup or a tragedy? In the battle against corruption, Brazil's political class is dismantling itself. Lula da Silva's days as the president's chief of staff are numbered, DW's Astrid Prange writes.

The world stares in amazement at a country that no longer recognizes itself. Sun, samba and soybeans? Now, strange elements have been added to the triad of Brazil's survival skit. And Brazil's soccer magic is no longer cause for celebration.

For four years, the country has been undergoing a painful cleansing process. The large-scale cleaning began in 2012, with investigations into the "mensalao," the monthly money transfers to members of parliament. The payments ensured the approval of draft laws proposed by the ruling Workers' Party (PT).

Mensalao represents a turning point. For the first time in Brazilian history, senior government officials were handcuffed in full public view, led away and later given prison sentences.

In 2013, the man who accomplished this feat, Joaquim Barbosa, former president of the Supreme Court of Brazil, was named to the magazine Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people.

Mudslinging in the carwash

The current corruption investigation, known under the name "Lava Jato" (in English, "car wash"), involves the state-owned oil company Petrobras, and it also targets the PT. Investigators charge that 3 percent of every company contract was diverted. The money was allegedly "laundered" and then indirectly passed on to "benevolent" politicians.

Astrid Prange de Oliveira Astrid

DW's Astrid Prange

Recent investigations show, however, what has long been clear: Corruption is not exclusive to the PT. Apparently, other government parties have cashed in on the scheme, as well. A great number of politicians and businesses once lined up in front of the "car wash."

So, what is to be done when it is clear that not only the government, but also the opposition is involved in the scandal?

What if more and more comes to light as to how deeply corruption is rooted in society? What if every official is suspected of being corrupt? Who can then run the country?

Justice teaching politicians the meaning of fear

One thing is certain: President Dilma Rousseff will not be able to hold out much longer. Her political support is waning drastically, even though she has just made ex-President Lula her chief of staff. She, too, is under investigation for corruption. This move would mainly help Lula because he would be protected by the extensive immunity enjoyed by members of the government.

As important and as just as the fight against corruption may be, it has also turned into a political war in Brazil. Everybody is fighting against everyone else and everyone is fighting for their own survival. This is all the more tragic right when the country is descending into a political and economic standstill.

All of this is not helpful. Politicians must interrupt the mudslinging in the car wash and negotiate a way out of the crisis - whether through early elections or a government reshuffling that would grant other parties power and be based on national consensus. The Brazilian justice system can indeed condemn corrupt officials, but it cannot rule the country.

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