Demonstration in Brasília outside of the National Congress Building against Brazilian government corruption on 15 March 2015. Wikicommons/ José Cruz/Agência Brasil. Some rights reserved.We, professors and researchers from Brazilian
universities, hereby address the International Academic Community to report
serious breaches in the rule of law currently taking place in Brazil.
After a long history of coups and a violent military dictatorship, our
country has enjoyed its longest period of democratic stability since the 1988
Constitution established a number of individual and civil rights.
Despite progress in recent years with respect to social policy, Brazil
remains a deeply unequal country with a political system marked by high levels
of patronage and corruption. The influence of big business in the electoral
process through private campaign financing has led to consecutive corruption
scandals involving politicians from all sides.
In recent years, a national outcry against corruption has increasingly
dominated public opinion. Public accountability and law enforcement agencies
have responded by intensifying anti-corruption efforts, targeting major
companies and political elites.
Unfortunately, this laudable process has been used to destabilize a
democratically elected government, resulting in an exacerbation of the current
economic and political crisis in our country. The same judiciary that should protect the political
and legal integrity of our country has become an epicenter of this process.
The main anti-corruption investigation, the “Operação Lava Jato”
(Operation Car Wash), is headed by a lower level federal judge, Sérgio Moro,
who has systematically utilized procedures that Brazilian legislation clearly defines
as exceptional, such as pre-trial detention and coercive transportation of
witnesses for depositions. Arbitrary detentions have been openly justified as a
method to pressure the accused into accepting plea bargains in which they
denounce alleged accomplices. Information about the cases has been regularly
and selectively leaked to the media. Indeed, evidence suggests that the press
has received prior information about important police operations so as to mobilize
public opinion against the accused. Even the nation’s President was targeted by
an illegal wiretap. The above-named judge subsequently handed over excerpts of both
legal and illegal wiretaps to the press for public disclosure, even when they involved
private discussions with no relevance to the investigation. The purpose was
clearly to embarrass specific politicians.
Complaints against leaders of political parties in the opposition have
been disregarded and silenced by the mainstream press. At the same time,
although the “Operação Lava Jato” has yet to accuse President Dilma Roussef,
the corruption investigations have been used to support impeachment proceedings
in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Eduardo Cunha, an opposition
congressmen. Cunha, however, is accused of corruption and is being investigated
by the Ethics Committee of the same House
When the actions of public authorities begin to challenge basic legal
rights such as the presumption of innocence, equal protection, and due process,
we must exercise caution. When noble ends seem to justify procedural breaches,
the danger is enormous.
Sérgio Moro does not have the necessary
exemption and impartiality to head the current investigations. The fight
against corruption must be conducted within strict legal boundaries that
respect the fundamental rights of defendants.
Segments of the judiciary involved in this process have worked in close
in alliance with the mainstream media, that has been historically aligned with
Brazil’s political oligarchy. In particular, the country’s largest television
station, the Globo Television Network, openly supported the military
We fear that the breakdown of the rule of law under way is a threat to Brazilian
democracy that may lead to grave and even violent social polarization. For these reasons, we ask our colleagues
abroad for solidarity and support in the defense of legality and of Brazil’s democratic
The website Brazilian Observatory promotes all the updating of this Open Letter and
will continue to accept support from researchers and university professors from
Brazil and from the whole international academic community until April 10. The
number of subscribers today exceeds 3.500 and can be found in this same
website. The International Sociological Association Research Committee on
Social Classes and Social Movements (ISA RC47) fully supports this Open Letter.
To become a signatory, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with your name and affiliation.