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  • Gurpreet Dhaliwal

Inside Operation Car Wash: The corruption scandal that changed Brazil

After Brazil’s first female President, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in August 2016 on the charge of taking loans from state banks without asking congress for approval, public trust in Brazilian governance has severely deteriorated. With Dilma’s successor, Michel Temer, edging forward on a measly approval rating of just 6%, it is clear Brazilians have lost faith in their nation’s representatives – with 96% supporting an investigation into corruption among the Brazilian political elite. The investigation – codenamed ‘Operation Lavo Jato’ or ‘Car Wash’– has uncovered one of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandals; with almost one third of Temer’s cabinet currently under investigation.

At the heart of the corruption scandal lie two companies: state-run oil business Petrobras and Latin America’s largest construction giant Odebrecht, whose former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht is now serving a 19 year jail sentence. The corporations are accused of participating in a collusion programme that saw services being overcharged to give a pool of dirty money that was then laundered and used to bribe politicians and fund political campaigns in an attempt to influence government policy. Leading the powerful inquiry that has investigated 238 people thus far is Judge Sérgio Moro, who has been nicknamed ‘Super Moro.’ Moro’s assembly of a team of young Brazilian prosecutors to support him in his aim to deconstruct a corrupted Brazil has attracted mixed opinions: with supporters hailing his bravery in attacking a broken, untrustworthy system but critics suggesting he has unfairly targeted Brazil’s left-wing Worker’s Party.

President Temer is, therefore, under incredible pressure after being charged with bribery, for which he was not prosecuted by congress, as well as a dangerous environmental agenda that abolished an Amazonian reserve so that it could be used for mining. Temer must attempt to regain public trust under the cloud of the ongoing investigations. Operation Car Wash has, however, empowered Brazilians to dismantle decades-long corruption in a radical purging of the Brazilian parliament.

But with an upcoming election in 2019, Brazil’s future is still unclear. At present, almost 14 million Brazilians are unemployed after the country’s recent re-emergence from its longest and worst recession in history. Despite Operation Car Wash marking a revolutionary turning point in the history of the Brazilian political establishment, everyday Brazilians are still struggling to make ends meet after a financially unstable few years. This multi-layered reality is leading to suggestions of a completely unpredictable election; it seems, that only after the culmination of this important investigation, will Brazilians be able to rebuild their political establishment.

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