Just when it seemed that Brazilians were going to exchange a long-term national political nightmare of near-universal corruption for something perhaps dangerously new, and different, comes a headline story that suggests the new president may be just another version of that “same old-same old” bad dream.
One of the key elements in Jair Bolsonaro’s successful campaign to become President of Brazil was that in nearly 30 years as an obscure right-wing back-bencher in the national legislature, no one ever accused him of corruption.
Some cynics said, it was because Bolsonaro’s politics were so far-right-wing, and his influence was so small, he simply wasn’t worth bribing. Maybe. But, while all around him a flat majority of his fellow lawmakers, presidents and their top associates, private sector chief executives with their capos and consiglieres were being accused, indicted, convicted, sentenced and jailed for corruption, Jair Bolsonaro’s reputation was unblemished.
Until, just days before his inauguration, news broke of an inquiry by the federal financial regulator into a busy bank account kept in the name of Jair Bolsonaro’s son’s driver and “advisor.”
Flavio Bolsonaro is, like his dad, a right-wing politician, a former legislator in Rio de Janiero state and now a senator. The federal investigation showed more than $300,000 flowed through Flavio Bolosonaro’s driver’s bank account in 2016 and 2017. A lot of the money came from people who were on Flavio’s public payroll and lot of their inputs came on the same day they got their public paychecks. At least some of the money went directly to President Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle.
Jair Bolsonaro says the money that went to his wife was repayment of a loan to his son’s driver, who says, the bank account has to do with his “other job” selling cars.
But, the financial flow-chart smells bad to Brazil’s biggest newspaper Folha de S.Paulo which blasted in an editorial, “a spectacle of evasions and unconvincing explanations on the part of the Bolsonaros … (about) an episode with relevant implications for national politics.”
Bolsonaro ran, not only on his reputation as the one politician who was not a crook, but his promise to be the one politician who would take on not just corruption in Brazilian politics and big business, but the violent criminal gangs which have undermined voters’ sense of their personal safety and security.
Even as he took office, there was a direct challenge on that front, too – from crime gangs in Ceara’ State in northeastern Brazil. They’ve been on a rampage of murders and attacks on government offices and even blowing a hole in an important bridge in the state capital Fortaleza. Bolsonaro’s minister of justice, the famous judge-prosecutor of the anti-corruption CarWash investigation Sergio Mora, immediately dispatched hundreds of federal police to Ceara’.
In a way, both the mysterious bank account and the criminal uprising in Fortaleza are distractions from the real story. In President Jair Bolsonaro’s first few days in office he has issued a series of decrees and proposals to enact some of his most radical campaign promises.
In 14 years at the AP, Peter Prengaman has been a reporter, video journalist and editor on many big stories, including the uprising that ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, the Arab Spring in Egypt and most recently, the Zika virus spreading across Latin America.
He joined the cooperative in 2002 in Portland, Oregon, and later served as Caribbean correspondent based in the Dominican Republic, immigration beat reporter and supervisor in Los Angeles and the interactive and graphics editor for the Southern United States, based in Atlanta.
Prengaman was part of teams that received the Polk Award and Grantham Prize for environmental reporting during the Gulf oil spill and the APME Multimedia Award for a major economic interactive project called the AP Economic Stress Index. He received an Edward R. Murrow award for video stories on unemployed people suffering through the worst economic crisis in the United States in decades. He also received the Atlanta Press Club Award of Excellence for video and print stories during the Haiti earthquake and trapped miners in Chile in 2010.