I often hear Brazilians complain that “aqui, ninguem tá responsável para nada” (no-one is responsible for anything), and this concept is clearly deeply rooted in the culture. I also suspect that if Brazil really wants to suck its feet out of the big pile it finds itself in, it needs to reflect on this a bit more deeply.
One of the big issues at present is whether the current President should be impeached. In law, the fact is that she cannot be impeached unless she is found guilty of some crime; and the problem for her detractors (which would be more than 50% of the voting public) is that some judge or other has declared that there is insufficient evidence to investigate her further, let alone charge her. Frankly, I would be concerned about any ruling that forbids looking for evidence, but what is really interesting in this context is the comparison with other – perhaps more responsive – democracies, where there is generally only so much smut the public will take before those responsible for fumbling the ball bow to the pressure and head for an early shower (regardless of any actual or potential legal or investigative processes).
In Dilma’s case, what would long ago have brought her down in any country where the moral compass and public awareness has progressed a few notches up the evolutionary scale, is the fact that she was President or Chairwoman of Petrobras, the company which has been found to have been handing out the candy to all and sundry, at precisely the time it was doling it all out. It happened, conclusively and demonstrably, on her watch, and she even has her signature on a document which expressly and specifically authorises a transaction which later proved to be a massive fraud.
The fact that this seems to bother absolutely no-one, is a little cultural factor that is clearly at the very root of the Brazilian problem – because in a very real sense, there is simply no responsibility or accountability for anyone here, from the President to the brick layer to the schoolboy. Quite simply, at no stage in the life of the average Brazilian is there ever any question of responsibility or accountability, personal or collective. Even where there is a system in place to define such responsibility and specify mechanisms which make it meaningful, it is blithely ignored by one and all. There may well be a contractual document which makes Dilma responsible for her decisions and her signature (it would certainly be unusual if there were not) – but no-one (as far as I am aware) has even hinted at the fact that she may be legally responsible for her actions at Petrobras.
So now we have this bizarre situation where people are actually suggesting that the army should wade in, remove the current President and “let someone else have a go”, when they seem unwilling or unable to even consider simply holding their politicians accountable for their actions. The message this sends out – and it is the same message that so deeply permeates every aspect of Brazilian life – is that far from there being any sort of moral compass to which you might or should refer for guidance, on the contrary there is no requirement for you to consider your fellow man or men even where society expressly stipulates that you must.
This is surely (one of) the most fundamental issues for Brazil and the Brazilians to resolve. On the one hand everyone wants the perceived joys, freedoms and delights of a fully functioning democracy; on the other, no-one is prepared to accept the onerous responsibilities that devolve to the whole of society for making it happen and making it work. That is why they continue to line up quietly to bribe the teacher to give them a pass mark, the police to investigate a crime, the builder to finish his work, the civil servant to issue a chit, the bank manager to give them a loan, the businessman to give them a contract, or the politician to give them a monopoly.
I’m not sure to what degree accountability and responsibility are defining qualities of a great country (there is surely plenty of both in North Korea, for example), but for a great democracy, I’m certain they must be fairly high up the “wants” list. I’m equally sure their absence is one of the main reasons Brazil has finally run full tilt into a great big wall, and why it was clearly predictable (and predictably ignored) for a decade or more.
So it will be interesting to see what happens on 15th March, when millions will take to the streets to demonstrate their frustration with the dysfunctional government they placed there. What will be more interesting still, however, is how much effort they are prepared to put in subsequently to solving their problems democratically and holding to account the whole shower of useless politicians they were so happy to re-elect only a few short months ago.
Is Brazil finally waking up, or is it just twitching a bit before it rolls over again? Let’s see, shall we? 15th March 2015.