MAY 23, 2017
As Brazil’s continuing political crisis of the last decades, if not the last centuries, has become intolerable, the level of public frustration and outcry has come to a boiling point and demands for impeachment proceedings against President Michel Temer, as well as criminal proceedings against former presidents Lula and Dilma Roussef, and seating senators and congressmen, are being demanded by the population.
Just this past Sunday, “60 Minutes”, for almost 50 years one of the most watched documentary programs in the United States, gave us a glimpse of the Brazilian crisis. Calling it a “crisis of leadership”, Anderson Cooper, a famous CNN reporter, tells how over a third of the Brazilian Congress has or is being indicted in what has been known as “Operation Car Wash”, a political, across party lines, corruption scheme that has defrauded tax payers by billions of dollars and plunged the country into a severe recession.
Described by the U.S. Department of Justice as “the largest bribery case in history”, “Operation Car Wash” unveiled a public/private enterprise complex, made up by political parties, politicians and the executives of Brazil’s largest corporations that, through overcharged projects, inflated cost overruns, kickbacks, and money laundering, were able to divert funds from taxpayers into the pockets of politicians and judges at all levels of government, up and including the presidency.
Paraphrasing a recent article by a journalist from Rede Globo, José Padilha a “Mechanism of exploitation”, acting as a veritable political and private enterprise machine, mafia style, operates in Brazil and includes all political parties, regardless of ideology, as well as all centers of power (legislative, executive, and judiciary) in all levels of government (local, state, and federal). In other words, corruption is ingrained in the Brazilian political system. The article explains how the monies flow from the corporations to the politicians with the connivance and participation of the judicial system, which has proven, time and again, to accept the systemic corruption that has permeated Brazil for decades. Padilha goes on to list twenty-seven ways by which the “mechanism of exploitation” has been inserted and functions in the Brazilian political and economic systems (see the link to the article, above).
A cursory look at his article and one comes away with the impression that Brazil is doomed, especially since the “mechanism of exploitation” is so wide spread and so difficult to extirpate given that it is the corrupt politicians who legislate in their own behalf, and the higher court judges and justices tend to look the other way since they are appointed by the corrupt executive branch and approved by the corrupt legislators. It’s a vicious cycle that is very hard to break.
But not all is lost. Public pressure has been mounting and a group of young, civic minded prosecutors are changing things, as “Operation Car Wash” is showing. In the past five years, hundreds of politicians and company executives have been sent to jail and, through plea bargaining, these same politicians and company executives have agreed to talk. The accusations of bribery, money laundering, and all kinds of corrupt practices have gone against all levels of government and party officials.
As the accusations have been leveled at those who had previously won the public trust and were elected into office, the Brazilian population is confused and frustrated. As much as it wants the corrupt politicians to leave office and go to jail, one thing has become a problem: who are the honest politicians that are going to replace the corrupt ones? Lacking a prepared political cadre of well trained, honest, and qualified politicians to replace a heretofore cadre of “hereditarily” established, corrupt politicians, Brazil is in a quandary: most of the Brazilian youth does not look kindly to becoming future politicians. In their eyes, politics is a dirty word. But, in order to break the “hereditary” aspect of Brazilian politics where, usually, certain family members are always elected into public office, young Brazilians need to change their perceptions and see political careers and public service as noble professions. And that’s not an easy task.
To solve the leadership crisis that permeates all levels of government, Brazil needs to urgently prepare professionals to fill the public offices, elected and non-elected, that, with high moral principles, can right the ship. This is a challenge that will not be solved overnight. It will take one or two generations of committed, well-educated and competent visionary leaders and public servants to change things around. Furthermore, honest politicians alone will not be able to function well without an engaged citizenry. The lure of high office, and the powers that come with it, is also fertile ground for corrupting even the most honest person. Checks and balances are needed to prevent good-willing rulers from going astray. In a democracy, it is up to an enlightened, engage citizenry to keep constant vigilance on their representatives.
Combined, an engaged citizenry, an honest and competent cadre of politicians, an objective and moral justice system, and a society that values the rule of law are the best ways to protect and guarantee a viable democratic political system. It’s in this context that schools, from kindergarten to post graduate, have to take the mantle of responsibility.
According to Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution, formal education’s primary objectives are to ensure the: 1. Full development of each individual; 2. His/her preparation for the exercise of citizenship; and 3. Hs/her qualification for work
At this precise juncture in the Brazilian crisis that it has become obvious that Brazil has failed spectacularly when it comes to preparing the great majority of individuals for their exercise of citizenship, in both counts: 1. as conscientious and vigilant participants in making sure that the right people are elected to office and, once elected, making sure that their representatives are acting according to what is expected of them; and 2. as professionally prepared leaders and/or public servants, either for elected or non-elected public offices.
The Brazilian Basic National Common Curriculum (BNCC), in the process of being concluded by the Ministry of Education for the middle-school, is not addressing the constitutional mandate of preparing the individuals for the exercise of citizenship in any direct manner. Now is the time to do so. Now is the time to follow the constitutional mandates and ensure that the young minds become aware of their rights, duties, and responsibilities as citizens and of all the opportunities they have available to actively participate, either as civilians, as elected officials, and/or as public servants. This is the moment, when young minds are still in their formative, developing stages, to show them how noble, necessary and valuable public service can be for themselves, for their families, and for society.
But it is not just for schools alone that the task of citizenship preparation should be allocated. Other initiatives can and should be undertaken. In the U.S., for instance, the Civics Education Initiative is “a coalition of grassroots activists working with state and local leaders to ensure each new generation has the critical knowledge they need to become informed, engaged citizens”. The objective is “to ensure all students are taught basic civics about how our government works, and who we are as a nation”.
Another initiative worth mentioning is the iCivics project created by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnor. The initiative was recently awarded the McArthur Foundations Prize for Creative and Effective Institutions. According to the project:
“The success of any democratic system depends on the active participation of its citizens. iCivics gives students the necessary tools to learn about and participate in civic life, and teachers the materials and support to achieve this goal. Our free resources include print-and-go lesson plans, interactive digital tools, and award-winning games.
iCivics teaches students how government works by having them experience it directly. Through our games, the player steps into any role – a judge, a member of Congress, a community activist fighting for local change, even the President of the United States – and does the job they do. Educational video games allow for concepts to happen to us. They convey information while teaching skills for effective civic engagement… Our mission is to ensure every student receives a high-quality civic education, and becomes engaged in – and beyond – the classroom.”
Whether it’s elementary, middle-school, high-school and or college, Brazilian schools and Brazilian concerned and creative institutions have an excellent opportunity to develop ways of educating and transforming the youth of the country and prepare them to fill future leadership posts, and/or to become the conscientious citizenry the nation so sorely needs.
I believe this to be a critical moment for the development of educational projects, formal and informal, that can put Brazil on its way to solving the grave moral and ethical problems that permeate the Brazilian political systems, from the lowest to the highest levels.
We need to incentivize, motivate, and capacitate the youth to become active citizens as well as competent political leaders. Courses/themes in civics, morality, civility, and government should be mandatory parts of Brazilian formal education, at all levels (elementary, middle-school, college, and graduate school). At the very least, each Brazilian should be aware of how the system is structured, what are the functions of each branch of government, what his/her constitutional rights, duties, and obligations are and what are the moral principles that should guide his/her behavior. And, in a democracy where the rule of law, basic freedoms, respect for differences of opinion, and individual and human rights reign, what his/her responsibilities are as active, principled, civilized citizens.