Brazil’s Last Political Legend Goes to Trial

Lula and Obama cuddling in better times.

Lula, Lula, Lula, where oh where did you go wrong? Oh that’s right, that whole crony capitalism/socialism thing. Oh yeah. Good job Comrade.

(From Bloomberg)

The quarrel in Curitiba is about more than just carping partisans. What’s immediately at stake in the Lula trial is whether even sainted leaders can be made to bow to the law. The larger and far more vexing question is whether Brazil can shake the grip of a political elite that has dominated public office and helped itself to the spoils for most of the past four decades. In that sense, the Carwash case has been nothing if not ecumenical; hardly a political kingpin or party (there are 28 in Congress) has been left unscathed as prosecutors have chased the trail of dirty money from corporate boardrooms across the ideological fantail of Brazil’s political system.

In that, maybe there’s little surprise. For most of Brazil’s modern history, the country has been managed by competing oligarchies. What’s jolting is that Brazil’s most disciplined political force, the Workers Party, or PT in Brazilian shorthand, and its biggest political celebrity have become part of the cliché. After all, the onetime union organizer took the blue-collar party from rabble-rousing ignominy under the dictatorship to democratic glory through four straight elections — two for Lula, and two more for Rousseff — and then back to ignominy, as the Carwash investigators caught up with the crooked companheiros. “If once the PT stood for building something new and cleansing in politics, now it’s become more of the same, just part of the traditional furniture of Brazilian politics,” political analyst Octavio Amorim Neto, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, told me.

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