Every week Operation Car Wash brought a new list of arrests, and the country was enraptured. But dividing politicians into heroes and villains leads to bad politicsby Julia Blunck / July 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Corruption occupies the space of an original sin in the Brazilian mind, from which all other ills of Brazilian society stem. If there are children sleeping in the street; if scenes of warfare take place in densely populated neighbourhoods; if hospitals cannot provide vaccines because they were not supplied with needles—it is because of corruption.
The rise of minister and former federal judge Sergio Moro is intrinsically connected to this obsession. When Operation Car Wash was shifting from one of Brazil’s ongoing minor scandals to a behemoth which engulfed the government, Moro became the country’s newest crusader against corruption. With his black suits and apparently unshakeable moral rectitude, there was something fascinating about the way Moro locked up men previously seen as untouchable.
Every week, Operation Car Wash brought a new list of arrests, and the country was enraptured, anticipating the photos of politicians in handcuffs. These were the people responsible for everything that had gone wrong and had always been wrong in Brazil, and there was a public delight in seeing them being humbled, trying to cover their wrists, looking away from the cameras. Car Wash saw media as an integral part of its operation; only with the media by its side could it afford to take on the monster of corruption.
During this phase of Operation Car Wash, to a certain type of Brazilian—namely the upper middle class, right-leaning ones—Moro became not an emissary of justice, but a superhero figure. Moro was the antithesis to the figure of former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva who even in 2015 cast a long shadow over the politics of his successor, Dilma Rousseff.
Moro was discreet where Lula was expansive; he was elegant where Lula was rough. Above all, Moro was a judge, a position of the utmost elite in Brazilian society, whereas Lula still framed himself—and was framed as—a poorly-educated trade unionist who got lucky. For Lula’s allies, Moro used corruption as an excuse to politically prosecute the country’s most important leftist party; for Lula’s enemies, Moro was the chosen one to finally expose the country’s rotten heart, controlled by the Workers Party.
Between 2015 and 2018, the Moro versus Lula clash was a slow-fought war, during which Operation Car Wash…