Fighting corruption with mass protests in Brasil

One politician was elected to Brazil’s Congress while under investigation for murder after having an adversary killed with a chain saw. Another is wanted by Interpol after being found guilty of diverting more than $10 million from a public road project to offshore bank accounts. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/world/americas/public-rage-catching-up-with-brazils-congress.html?hp&_r=0  a special ire has been reserved for Congress and its penchant for sheltering dozens of generously paid legislators who have been charged — and sometimes even convicted — of crimes like money laundering, bribery, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder. “Congress is without a doubt the most despised institution in Brazil. A good deal of this hatred is related to the fact that Congress has a tradition of preventing its own members convicted of crimes from ever going to jail.”
Almost 200 legislators, or a third of Brazil’s Congress, are facing charges in trials overseen by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, according to documents compiled by Congresso em Foco, a prominent watchdog group.
The charges range from siphoning off public funds to far more serious claims of employing slave labor on a cattle estate or ordering the kidnapping of three Roman Catholic priests as part of a land dispute in the Amazon.
Scholars of Brazil’s judicial system say legislators in corruption scandals often avoid jail, in part because of the special judicial standing enjoyed by about 700 senior political figures in the country, including all 594 members of Congress and senior cabinet members.
As longstanding frustrations with corruption boil over on Brazil’s streets this month, protesters have clashed with security forces in front of Congress, with some dancing on the roof in a brazen repudiation that stunned the nation.
Congress is now scrambling to cobble together a response. This week, legislators approved a bill to use oil royalties for education and health care. The Senate, the upper house of Congress, gave its nod to stiffer penalties for corruption, and the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, shot down an attempt to rein in corruption investigators.
Also, a powerful congressional committee approved a measure to lift the veil of secrecy when lawmakers vote on whether to strip fellow members of Congress of their seats.
“These wolves, that trash over there, they rob the people, they feast on the meat of the people by stealing public money destined to do things for us,”
Beyond the criminal charges, voters have expressed disdain for the benefits enjoyed by congressmen, including salaries of more than $175,000 a year; generous stipends equaling almost that amount for items like housing, gasoline and electoral research; and budgets allowing them to hire as many as 25 aides each.
“Congress thinks they are the owners of the country,” said Laila Oliveira, 30, a high school teacher who lives near Brasília. “And they are not.”

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