Cablegate: Political Corruption Sparks Riots in Brazil's

Published: Fri 20 May 2005 06:59 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Violence erupted this week in Porto Velho,
capital of Brazil's western Rondonia state, with revelations
that the state governor and several members of the State
Assembly were locked in a complicated web of corruption. The
worst of the violence subsided without serious injury, and
federal and state investigations are underway. But Brazil's
tradition of impunity for political corruption does not offer
much hope that justice will be done in this case. END
2. (SBU) On May 15, Governor Ivo Cassol (PSDB) of the small
western state of Rondonia (along the Bolivian border) went
public with a videotape showing seven Deputies from the State
Assembly seated in his home soliciting bribes of $R50,000
each (about US$20,000) per month to buy their votes in the
Assembly. One of the Deputies helpfully explains that Cassol
can hide the payoffs by padding the state budget. Cassol
secretly videotaped that 2003 meeting and may have held it
over the Deputies' heads since then. The revelations are
just the latest in a spiraling conflict of corruption and
political feuding in the state. Cassol was prompted to go
public with the video this week in an effort to prevent the
State Assembly from impeaching him for unrelated charges,
including financial improprieties, conspiracy, illegal mining
on indian lands, and taking kickbacks while he was a
small-town mayor in the late 1990s.
3. (SBU) The videotape was shown nationwide, save in
Rondonia, where the Deputies managed to get a friendly judge
to grant an injunction against its being screened, although
still photos and internet versions quickly made it to the
state. The videotape ignited three days of public outrage
in Rondonia's capital of Porto Velho, as groups of university
students attacked first the State Assembly and then the
Governor's office, breaking windows and starting small fires
with Molotov cocktails, demanding the resignation of the
Governor and the seven Deputies. No serious injuries were
reported. On May 18, the other members of the State Assembly
voted unanimously to suspend the seven Deputies for 30 days
while the inquiry unfolds, and this seemed to defuse the
tensions in the streets. Cassol then announced that he has a
total of forty hours of videotapes, dating from August 2003
to as recently as last month, although he did not explain why
he has secretly collected the tapes for nearly two years,
without ever denouncing the Deputies publicly.
4. (SBU) The federal Senate has set up an investigative
committee to look into the Rondonia crisis and the federal
Chamber of Deputies may follow suit. Federal Senator Fatima
Cleide (PT-Rondonia), Cassol's chief rival in the state, is
on the committee and is already calling for Cassol to step
down. The State Assembly and the state prosecutor have also
opened investigations.
5. (SBU) Allegations against Rondonia's Assembly came from
all quarters this week, as the state's Financial Oversight
Tribunal announced that the Assembly had overspent its
payroll budget by some $12 million last year (there are only
24 Deputies) and had refused to comply with the nationwide
computerized financial oversight system. In fact, last year
Governor Cassol became so incensed with the Assembly's
irresponsible spending that he refused to transfer part of
the Assembly's budget that had already been appropriated and
approved. This, in turn, led the Assembly, when it drafted
the impeachment charges against him, to add on the charge of
"altering the state budget without the Assembly's
authorization" -- all part of the bitter exchange leading up
to this week's denouement.
6. (SBU) Meanwhile, despite Governor Cassol's release of the
videotape, an Assembly committee on May 19 voted out the
impeachment charges to the floor. If his impeachment is
approved by a floor vote next week, Cassol will have 20 days
to present his defense.
7. (SBU) COMMENT. Political corruption is a spectator sport
in Brazil, where it seems no bad deed ever gets punished.
The Rondonia scandal is distinguished by the fact that
citizens briefly took to the streets demanding
accountability, but beyond that it is just one of a dozen
major scandals all going on here at the same time --
coincidentally a few weeks before Brazil hosts the Fourth
Global Forum on Fighting Corruption. The press does a good
job of investigating scandals and bringing them to the
public's attention, but it is a rare and unlucky politician
who goes to jail, even for the most egregious excesses.
Despite the videotaped evidence of extortion, the popular
revulsion, and the multiple state and federal investigations,
we are not sanguine that justice will be served in Rondonia.
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