The corruption case that has captivated Brazilians for the past few months is going out with a bang, with Brazilian courts handing politicians some of the toughest jail sentences in the country’s history. Most notably, José Dirceu, who ran the vote-buying scheme in question, received a jail sentence of ten years and ten months, and the former party treasurer and former party president at least eight years.
This case sets a new precedent for Brazil, where politicians have historically escaped punishment for even the most blatant crimes, including murder. Not this time, as the FT reports:
“It was a crime aimed at inflicting grave injury to our democracy, which is characterised by dialogue and differing views among the elected representatives of the people,” Mr Barbosa was quoted by newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo as saying. “It was this dialogue that the defendant wanted to subvert through the payment of hefty sums of cash to party leaders.”
The case is seen as groundbreaking in a country in which politicians and elites are accused of using a dysfunctional court system to act with impunity.
But as we’ve said before, judicial decisions against corruption will have to be accompanied by systemic political change. Brazil won’t become an efficient, accountable democracy overnight. On the other hand, powerful people going to prison when they break the law is one of the most important signs of a well functioning legal system. By this measure, Brazil may now be working better than the United States.