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Sometimes — in fact quite often — the most telling news reports in Brazil are the ones that cover the United States. The local press's absolute obsession with the off-the-cuff moment in London when Obama called Lula "the man" continues to reverberate, revealing this country's ultra-sensitivity to foreign praise (and criticism).
But today on Bom Dia Brasil, a popular morning news show, there was a more telling illustration. Cue the somber-faced anchor (after an ad for Hotels.com):
"An example to be followed: In the United States, corrupt politicians go to jail."
He then turned it over to their reporter in New York, who went through a series of examples of American pols who have done time or may soon: former Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, former Ohio Congressman James Traficant, New York state senate leader Joseph Bruno, etc.
"Cases of politicians accused of corruption are common here in the United States," says the reporter, Jorge Pontual, from New York. "When there is evidence, they are tried. If convicted, they do their time in prison."
That's it. That was the report. Outside observers might joke that Pontual's next dispatch would be breaking news from Central Park: The grass is green! But Brazilians got it: Here, politicians accused of corruption virtually never end up in jail. In fact, it's far, far more likely they'll make a comeback, like disgraced former president Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned in the face of sure impeachment in 1992. You can now find him in the Senate.
Presumably, Bom Dia Brasil aired the story because yet another corruption scandal broke here last week: The governor of the Federal District (a.k.a. Brasilia) and his allies have been accused of taking off-the-books campaign donations from businesses that were later rewarded with lucrative no-bid contracts, and paying off the members of the district legislature to vote their way.
The predictable denials and condemnations and outrage and impeachment processes and bureaucratic obstacles and counter-attacking PR campaigns have begun. At the end, someone may lose their job. But no one will go to jail. Because no one ever goes to jail.