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Judicial Activism and the Fight Against Institutionalized Corruption

Judicial Activism and the Fight Against Institutionalized Corruption

Dilma Rousseff was impeached last year as the elected President of Brazil. The divide between her supporters and her opponents led to some of the largest political demonstrations in the country’s history. Michel Temer, who replaced President Rousseff, was suspected of being complicit in corrupt practices as well, and has recently been investigated and charged but still holds his position as President. Former popular President Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva who was set to run again for Rousseff’s PT party was convicted recently under a corruption probe, and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Actions against corrupt practices coming out of the Petrobras scandal have placed many of Brazil’s political class under legal review. The judicial activists who had the courage and ability to go after corruption in the country have exposed the structural and institutional infestation of corruption in Brazil. While Brazil is not unique in being mired in corruption, the actions by some in its judiciary and government came from the anger of the people and the desire to end waste that had consistently burdened the citizens of Brazil.

The character of corruption is that once it takes hold, it is almost impossible to get rid of in any meaningful way. Because deep corruption is often embedded in the top tier of an organization, the practices to get ahead and be successful permeates the entire administrative structure from the top down. This makes it impossible to grow as an honest agent in that structure without acquiescing in some way to the new infected culture. Working against those practices often means coming from the outside and pairing with internal agents.

Such individuals often assume a great risk to their career in exposing the problems within their organization, and in most cases those whistle-blowers lose in the greater scheme of repairing or replacing corrupt agents in those organizations. Embedded corruption, often one that came with the creation of an agency is even more of a challenge, as the institutions and structures within are formed around a tradition of corrupt practices. When analyzing the challenge the judicial activists in Brazil had to confront in institutions that were built on generations of corrupt practices, it was shown that issues were present in most established control structures with many politicians and business leaders from many political parties in Brazil being found linked in their investigations.

Brazilians in many ways had no choice but to demand accountability, and it was evident that most of their political leaders were not in the moral position to pursue change. Fighting against corrupt practices was the only way to turn power and just policies back towards helping the average person in Brazil. Voting for political parties that have been tarnished by corrupt practices is the worst approach as it institutionalizes and legitimizes their illegal activity.

With no political betters, the courage and strength of Brazil’s judicial inquirers were placed in the position to investigate and apply legal solutions when most Brazilians likely assumed this possibility did not exist. Beyond abrupt revolutionary movements, removing corrupt practices is almost impossible. Even some of the least corrupt societies have trouble challenging institutionalized corrupt practices.

Brazil may just be fortunate to have a few who are able to change their country by reducing corruption via a positive and legitimate judicial approach, perhaps for the first time in their history.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration