Brazil tries to contain yellow fever outbreak

This story was published in Arab News on Feb. 2, 2017:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Special to Arab News

BRASILIA: Brazil is trying to contain an outbreak of yellow fever that has already claimed 46 lives, by vaccinating inhabitants of high-risk areas.

There have been 568 suspected cases of yellow fever so far this year, with 430 still being investigated, 107 confirmed cases and 31 discarded ones, according to the Health Ministry.
The outbreak is centered in rural areas of southeast Minas Gerais state, and the bordering areas of the states of Bahia and Espirito Santo.

“Apparently the state governments involved were rather slow in vaccinating everyone, but as soon as the outbreak happened they started to quickly vaccinate the population at risk,” Dirceu Bartolomeu Greco, an infection specialist and professor at the School of Medicine of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, told Arab News.

“I think we may have reached the peak of the current outbreak. This serves as a very important reminder that the preventive part of this is perhaps the most important. I think this outbreak will be controlled.”

There is no known cure for yellow fever, so getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent contracting the disease.

It is a viral infection that causes fever, headache, chills, back pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting. In advanced stages it attacks the liver, causing the victim’s skin to turn yellow.

Brazil has been battling the disease since the mid-1800s. It originated in Africa and was brought to South America by slaves.

The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) in Rio de Janeiro has been leading the fight against yellow fever in Brazil since its establishment in 1900, and today produces millions of doses of yellow fever vaccine for Brazil and various countries in Africa.

The Health Ministry reinforced its strategic stock of vaccine with an additional 11.5 million doses. It has already sent out an extra 5.4 million doses to five states: 2.9 million to Minas Gerais, 1.05 million to Espirito Santo, 400,000 to Bahia, 350,000 to Rio de Janeiro and 700,000 to Sao Paulo.

The problem is that many people living in urban areas have rushed to public health posts to be vaccinated for free, causing temporary shortages of the vaccine in some cities.
In Luziania, Goias, just 57 kilometers from the capital Brasilia, a suspected yellow fever death led to a rush on vaccination centers, causing a 30 percent increase in the number of people seeking vaccination, O Globo newspaper reported.

The federal government sent an extra 100,000 doses to Goias. The state government of Goias said 94 percent of its population is already vaccinated against the disease. The strain of yellow fever prevalent in Brazil is spread by mosquitoes living in rural areas, where monkeys are the common carriers of the virus.

The government recommends that Brazilians living in 19 states, mostly in the mid-west and north of the country, take the vaccine.

New scientific studies have shown that a single yellow fever vaccination could possibly protect a person their whole life.

“The advantage of the vaccine is that studies are showing that you’ll probably only need one dose to protect yourself for life,” said Greco.

Studies have shown that a single vaccination has protected some patients for up to 30 years. Current practice recommends that people living in or traveling to high-risk areas be vaccinated every 10 years.

Rapid expansion of the population into rural areas has added to the severity of yellow fever outbreaks, said Greco: “Brazil hasn’t had an urban outbreak of yellow fever since 1942, but we need to keep an eye on this push into rural areas and keep up our prevention campaigns.”

The virus is transmitted in Brazil by mosquitoes in rural, heavily wooded areas, not by the Aedes aegypti mosquitos of urban areas that have already spread dengue fever and the Zika virus. This year’s outbreak of yellow fever has been the largest in Brazil’s history, Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.

In 2000 there were 85 cases and 40 deaths, in 2008 there were 46 cases and 27 deaths, and in 2009 there were 47 cases and 17 deaths.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1047666/world

Brazil arrests: Is Daesh spreading its tentacles?

Some of the suspected terrorists arrested across Brazil.

Some of the suspected terrorists arrested across Brazil.

This column was printed in Arab News on July 24, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The 10 Brazilian supporters of the terror group Daesh, who were arrested on Thursday across Brazil, didn’t seem to be prepared to launch attacks in the country. According to intercepted WhatsApp and Telegram messages sent to each other, the members were planning to take martial arts and shooting classes. One of them inquired online about buying an AK-47 rifle from a shop in Paraguay.

All those arrested appear to be Muslim converts, ranging in age from 20 to 50 years. A few of them knew each other personally, but most of them knew each other only through the Internet. A few of them ran their own blogs online where they praised Daesh and the various terrorist attacks the group claimed responsibility for such as the Orlando and Nice massacres. One of them, Ahmed Andrade Santos Junior, 34, from Joao Pessoa in the state of Paraiba, learned about Islam online and radicalized himself by regularly visiting extremist forums online.

O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper characterized him as a former Christian who was not at all religious and who used to box. His expounding of extremists ideas got him banned from a local mussala by the imam. He visited Egypt and was photographed there posing next to the flag of Daesh. When he returned to Brazil he openly defended Daesh and its dastardly acts.

Another suspect that was arrested was Vitor Barbosa Magalhaes, 23, of Guarulhos in greater Sao Paulo. He taught himself Arabic online and then got a scholarship to learn Arabic in Cairo for six months in 2009. It is there that he learned more about Islam and converted. His wife said in an interview that she believes him to be innocent and that he is non-violent.

Brazilian authorities are on full security alert ahead of the Rio Olympic Games, which open on Aug. 5. Already 6,000 National Force military troops have been deployed in Rio de Janeiro to ensure the safety of the expected 500,000 athletes and visitors. But many Brazilian commentators have noted that visitors to Rio have more to fear from being robbed or killed by local criminals, rather than be caught in a terror attack.

Brazilian Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes gave several interviews to the press on Thursday stressing the amateurism of the 10 suspects that were arrested, noting that two more suspects were still at large. He added that the deportation last week of the Franco-Algerian physicist Adlene Hicheur, who had been teaching at a university in Rio, but had been previously been sentenced to three years in prison in France in 2009 for allegedly planning terror attacks in France with Al-Qaeda operatives, was part of Brazil’s actions against possible terror threats before the Rio Olympics. The Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann also downplayed the threat of the arrested suspects, saying that they were “bat-crazy.”

President Michel Temer was reportedly unhappy with the comments of his two ministers. It is clear that Brazil, which has never endured terror attacks before, is being pressured by the United States and France to beef up its security for the Olympics, and to show it is doing something by rounding up Muslim suspects that support Daesh.

“Brazil is being pressured greatly by countries that are really targets and are demanding security guarantees. Brazil does not have expertise, but it’s making an effort. It has done an important monitoring of online chatter on social media,” said Paulo Velasco, a professor and researcher at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in an interview with Estado de Sao Paulo.

But some in the Muslim community here feel that the government is overreacting to please foreign governments and adding fuel to the fire of Islamophobia in Brazil, a largely Catholic nation. “The Muslim community supports the actions of the federal police as long as they are done with transparency and proof,” said Jihad Hammadeh, the president of the National Union of Islamic Entities in Sao Paulo.

“There is a growing Islamophobia, principally on the part of entities that should bring security to society,” warned Hammadeh, who is also an imam. “The National Union of Islamic Entities manifests its profound preoccupation with the recent events and reports that Brazilian citizens are associated with terrorism in Brazil. At the same time, we vehemently support the actions of the federal police for the investigation of these facts, but with concrete evidence and much transparency so that no injustice and persecution occurs against any citizen or group,” he stressed in a statement.

Hammadeh warned that the sensational fashion in which the arrests of the 10 suspects was being reported by some media outlets in Brazil is bringing terror to the population at large and discrimination to Muslims. Unfortunately this is true. Even the big media here treats the whole issue in a sensational way.

The 10 suspects are being held initially for a 30-day period. If authorities are unable to prove any of the more serious terror charges against them, they will be released and could be made to wear electronic bracelets to monitor their movements and banned from approaching certain public sites such as sensitive government buildings, military installations and stadiums.

I understand the worry of the Brazilian government to nip any potential terror threat in the bud before any attacks take place. Despite the comments of the two ministers stressing how amateurish the 10 suspects had been, one can never be too safe, as we have seen from the Orlando and Nice attacks that were undertaken by lone wolves that had slid below the radar.

The problem is that the Brazilian population at large still does not know enough about the real Islam, and therefore ends up believing that all Muslims are bloodthirsty terrorists. This is some of the real damage that Daesh is doing to the image and reputation of Muslims worldwide — damage that will take a long time to repair.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/958671/columns

Beware of the scaremongers

The beach at Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro.

The beach at Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro.

This column apppeared in Arab News on June 05, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Brazil is constantly being criticized by outsiders who love poking holes in the reputation of the country. With record unemployment, two digit annual inflation, the worst performing economy in the first semester of 2016, the ongoing impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, and ongoing outbreaks of dengue and Zika viruses, there are plenty of negative things to criticize in the country.

But it is when exaggeration gets the best of people’s criticism that one cannot stand still and not rectify their wildly inaccurate utterances. Two recent pronouncements come to mind: One was a petition that was signed by 150 prominent doctors and scientists warning that the Rio Olympics in August had to be canceled or moved elsewhere because of the risk of the Zika virus being picked up by participants in the sporting event and then spreading the disease around the world. The other pronouncement was that the violence in Rio de Janeiro was so acute that foreigners should just stay away from the Olympics if they wanted to remain alive.

The signatories of the petition said that the Zika epidemic was very severe in Rio de Janeiro; that the disease was recently found to be more dangerous than previously thought, and that Rio’s public health infrastructure was already overwhelmed and would not be able to deal with the larger number of cases during the Olympics.

The World Health Organization did not agree with the dire warnings, saying, “Canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus.” It noted that Brazil was among 60 countries where the virus was present, and that there was no public health justification for postponing or canceling the games.

The worried doctors and scientists claim that the 500,000 foreign tourists expected at the Rio Olympics will be perfect carriers of the virus back to their home countries. But a Cambridge University professor disagreed in a BBC interview, saying that August is the coolest month in Rio due to it being winter in the Southern Hemisphere, which will consequently cause a decrease in the reproduction of the mosquitoes that transmit the virus.

While Rio de Janeiro has an unfortunate reputation of being violent and crime-ridden, the security situation has greatly improved over the past 10 years, with heavy police patrols in the tourist areas such as Copacabana. Even so, the International Business Times ran a scare-mongering story this week claiming that 41,000 deaths a year in Brazil are due to firearms, and that 21 cities out of a recent study of the 50 most violent cities in the world are in Brazil. These figures may be true, but it is also true that most of this violence is being done by poor people against other poor people.

To beef up security in Rio during the Olympics, the Brazilian government will be deploying 38,000 military personnel to patrol the most dangerous parts of the cities and an additional 47,000 security forces from the civil, military and federal police as well as Civil Defense and National Force members.

Brazil is not a paradise of non-violence and vibrant health, but it is not the hellhole that many foreign observers make it out to be. It would be a shame if their negative scaremongering manages to scare away tourists that are thinking of visiting Brazil during the Olympics or afterward. It is a beautiful and friendly country that deserves to be visited by as many foreigners as possible.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/934806/columns

Melancholic transition in Brasilia

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

With less than two days to go before the Brazilian Senate committee is expected to vote to accept the impeachment complaint filed against President Dilma Rousseff, her aides and ministers are getting ready for life after the Dilma presidency.

Her chief of staff Jaques Wagner is thinking of going back to his home state of Bahia to perhaps work in the state government as head of a department. The minister of social communication, Edinho Silva, is thinking of returning to his hometown of Araraquara, Sao Paulo, and running for mayor in the October municipal elections. He was the mayor of the town from 2001 to 2008.

Although she will be allowed to stay in the presidential palace for the maximum 180 days that the whole Senate has to vote on the impeachment complaint, the atmosphere among her aides is one of defeat and departure. According to the O Globo daily, Dilma is thinking of mounting a small group of her closest advisors who would stay and work with her during her period of exile from the presidency.

But no one seems to know how the transition from a Dilma presidency to that of Michel Temer, who is currently the vice-president, is going to unfold. One minister, according to O Globo, in a fit of anger threatened to delete all of his important files to make life difficult for the new government. Other ministries are preparing transition documents which highlight each ministry’s ongoing contracts and obligations. One minister supposedly suggested at a recent meeting with President Dilma that a formal transition process be started, but he was immediately shut down.

President Dilma has vowed to go down fighting the impeachment charges against her to the very last moment. She will not be alone in her fight. Former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, the Workers Party and a wide leftist alliance called the Sole Leftist Front have vowed to rally around her by holding nationwide protests against what they call a coup attempt against her presidency.

She has already started attacking the coming government of Temer, claiming that he will cut social service programs, such as the “Bolsa Familia” program which gives cash payments to the very poor every month. O Globo denied this in a front-page story on Sunday, pointing out that Dilma’s administration itself had already cut social services by 87 percent this year alone because of the severe recession that Brazil is going through.  According to the paper, spending on crèches had shrunk by R$3.7 billion (around US$1 billion), and the low-cost housing project of the federal government has suffered a loss of R$20 billion (US$5.7 billion) in funding.

The camp of Temer has been extremely busy, holding whirlwind meetings with politicians and technocrats, in preparation for the new administration. The vice-president said he wanted to cut the number of ministries from the current 32 to a much trimmer 26. Most of this would be accomplished by merging ministries, such as those of education and culture. But he has run into the reality that he will have to give out ministerial posts as rewards to the various smaller parties who have switched their support from Dilma to him.

According to Veja magazine, the Temer camp is frantically studying ways of cutting the government’s spending while at the same looking for measures that would help jump start the ailing economy. Among the measures being studied are the partial privatization of the Post Office, Infraero (the federal operator of airports), and Eletrosul. They also want to cut spending in this year’s budget by 68 percent, fire 4,000  appointed federal government workers, and fix 65-years of age as the minimum retirement age.

Temer is also thinking of appointing Sen. Jose Serra as his foreign minister, a move that will be heartily welcomed by many of the career diplomats at Itamaraty. President Dilma has repeatedly cut the Foreign Service budget, and is known to dislike the diplomats working there. According to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, diplomats feel that having a high-profile politician heading the service will be advantageous for the prestige it will bring and the fact that Serra will have direct access to President Temer.  Serra, of the opposition PSDB party, has run several times for the presidency and never won. He also served as health minister in a previous administration, and was elected mayor of the city of Sao Paulo.

The polarization of Brazilian politics continues, with supporters of Dilma protesting in especially shocking ways. Last week in Sao Paulo outside of the MAM Museum a group of leftist activists spat on pictures of the right-wing congressman Jair Bolsonaro. A few days later a public school teacher was filmed urinating and defecating on a picture of the congressman. Bolsonaro caused such violent reactions when he praised a few weeks ago the memory of the late Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a colonel in the Brazilian Army who was in charge of torturing leftist guerillas during the military dictatorship in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and is accused of having personally tortured hundreds of guerillas.

Temer has vowed to extend the hand of cooperation to the Workers Party once he becomes the interim president on May 11. But it is unlikely that he will get any cooperation from the Dilma camp and its battalion of leftist supporters. Unions and other groups have promised to launch nationwide protests and strikes in protest. Keeping the political atmosphere on an even keel might be more difficult than improving the economy that does not seem able to sink lower than it already has.

 

 

 

Braces aren’t just for teenagers

IMG_2373

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

For years many people neglected taking care of their teeth, which of course resulted in decay, cavities, and the inevitable extractions that would leave the person toothless and having to use a denture to fill in the gaps of the missing teeth.

It is said that Queen Elizabeth’s teeth turned black in the 1600s from decay because of her predilection for Moroccan sugar, since they probably did not realize that excessive consumption of sugar and lack of dental hygiene meant that their teeth were doomed. Of course things are now rather different. Widespread fluoridation of drinking water begun in the 1960s, as well as the use of fluoride toothpaste, have helped dramatically decrease tooth decay in both children and adults.

But our continued collective sweet tooth, with our love of fizzy drinks, candy and cookies, all loaded with tons of sugar, means that we will not put dentists out of business any time soon!

I have had reasonably good teeth for most of my life, albeit with my share of cavities and later on root canals on teeth that could not be saved by a simple filling. Until I reached my 40s I did not go see a dentist regularly once a year, or even every six months, as recommended by dental professionals. Like most people, I brushed my teeth twice a day, and rinsed my mouth after eating or drinking something particularly sweet. But then the problems started in my mid-40s. I started to need more and more root canals, and now in my 50s my teeth seem to be breaking more easily than ever.

In an attempt to save the remaining real teeth that I still possess, I now brush my teeth after each meal and floss once a day. Even so, I have been forced to get three implants after my dentist told me that the infection in the root was too far gone to save the tooth.

On one of my recent visits to my dentist I asked about the possibility of getting braces, as one of my front teeth was being pushed out, and my bottom front teeth were slightly crooked. It seems that as we get older our teeth start moving, and become crooked.

“Yes, of course you can have braces. I think you’d only need to wear them for nine months,” he told me.

I thought a lot about the possibility of having braces and researched online the experiences of other adults who had done the same. The results were positive, so I decided to take the plunge. This week I went in to my orthodontist and he and his assistant placed the braces on my teeth.

“Your teeth are going to start hurting in about four hours from now, so take a pain killer,” my orthodontist warned me at the end of the procedure. But my teeth did not hurt that night, thank goodness.

Having braces is not easy. You must watch carefully what you eat, not biting into anything hard such as apples and nuts. Anything that can get caught in the metal of the brackets should be avoided such as popcorn, caramels and other chewy candy and chewing gum. The other problem is that after eating a meal, some food remains trapped in one’s braces, which means a careful brushing afterwards, not just washing your moth out with water, is needed to get rid of the debris.

In the US there has been a recent boom in adults wearing braces. According to a Wall Street Journal article, 1.2 million American adults received orthodontic treatment in 2012 according to the American Association of Orthodontists, up 39 percent from 1996. The article even mentions an 87 year old man who recently had his braces removed at the end of his treatment.

It does feel a bit strange having all of those small metal brackets stuck on my teeth. My braces have given me a slight lisp, but nothing I can easily correct when talking. Now all I have to do is endure the jokes thrown at me by relatives and friends. My American cousin Tom called me “metal mouth” when he saw a picture of my braces that I posted online. A friend quipped “sweet 16!” Of course I protested and said that I had never needed braces when I was teenager, but need them now in my middle age. Braces nowadays, I told him, are for adults too.

 

 

Dilma in hot water

Brazilian congressmen celebrate on April 17, 2016, as they reach the required number of "Yes" votes to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. (Agencia Brasil photo)

Brazilian congressmen celebrate on April 17, 2016, as they reach the required number of “Yes” votes to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. (Agencia Brasil photo)

UPDATE: The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, voted 367-137 to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Sunday, April 18, 2016.

The impeachment motion now goes to the Senate, which should decide whether to accept or not by May 10. If they do, President Dilma will be immediately suspended as president for a maximum of 180 days. The Senate will then have to vote on the measure.

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Brazilians are experiencing unprecedented political tension as the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff moves swiftly ahead. On Thursday, the Supreme Court met in a special session for eight hours to hear the government’s petition to have the impeachment stopped. The court in the end voted 8-2 to allow the process to go forward.

Speeches for and against the impeachment started being given in the lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, on Friday morning. They are scheduled to run in a marathon session until Sunday morning, with only a few breaks late at night to give the 513 congressmen a chance to sleep. On Sunday, the deputies will start voting on the impeachment. If Dilma is impeached by the lower house, she will be suspended as president for 180 days, during which the Senate will have to debate and vote on the motion. Vice-president Michel Temer, who is the son of Lebanese immigrants, will immediately assume the presidency as soon as the lower house votes in favor of the impeachment. If he does make it, he will be Brazil’s first ever president of Arab descent.

According to polls taken by all the major newspapers, Dilma will lose the vote in the House of Deputies and in the Senate too. She seems to realize that she is on the way out, but in interviews this past week has vowed to fight to the last minute. The Folha de Sao Paulo counted 338 votes in favor of her impeachment in the lower house, with 123 votes against the motion, and 52 lawmakers still undecided. For the motion to pass they would need 342 votes. In the Senate, out of a total of 81 senators, the paper counts 44 senators in favor of impeachment, 19 against and 18 undecided. For the motion to pass only 41 votes are needed.

The whole impeachment process has sharply divided Brazilians along ideological lines. Poorer Brazilians and leftist intellectuals have remained strong supporters of President Dilma and her Workers’ Party, though most will not deny that she has not handled the economy well at all. Middle class and wealthier Brazilians have been leading the massive protests against the president and her party, calling on her to be impeached or for her resignation.

Both pro- and anti-impeachment groups have called for huge rallies on Sunday across the nation. Fearing that violence may break out between the opposing groups, the governor of the Federal District ordered that a 2-meter high metal be installed in the Esplanade of the Ministries, a grassy mall that runs from the central bus station to Congress in the center of Brasilia, with all of the ministries ranged on either side of the mall.

The wall is one-kilometer long and has already been dubbed the “Berlin Wall” and the “Wall of Shame” of Brasilia by locals upset at seeing their public space so sharply divided. The federal minister of justice called it a “crazy idea” in a television interview. Some observers have said they fear that violence may break out between the Movimento dos Sem Terra (Movement for the Landless) activists and the pro-impeachment crowd. The MST members are known for using violent tactics in their protests, burning tires and throwing dangerous objects at riot police.

The polarization of Brazilian society caused by this political debate has become so severe that even a Brazilian doctor recently announced she could no longer the treat the child of a Workers’ Party activist because she could not stand the ruling party. The local doctors union defended the doctor’s decision, saying she should be proud of what she did, pointing out that no doctor is obliged to provide medical treatment to someone they did not like unless it is an emergency or they were the only doctor in the area.

In the meantime, Vice President Temer has been busy having meetings with groups of politicians, all eager to get an appointment in the new government they see coming soon. President Dilma has been decimated by the departure of the PMDB party from her ruling coalition, as well as that of a slew of smaller parties, and is trying to put on a brave face by visiting the camps of her ardent supporters who have traveled to Brasilia to protest for her on Sunday.

She has been looking very tired and run down in her public appearances. A major newsweekly magazine ran a particularly unflattering cover story claiming that the president was losing her mind because of all of the stress she has been under. Her defenders slammed the publication, claiming the article was sexist and mean-spirited. But the president has long had a reputation for being a tough woman who does suffer fools easily, and who regularly blows up and shouts at her ministers and staff members during meetings.

Supporters of the government call this impeachment a “coup attempt,” and many observers have pointed out that some of the congressmen voting for the impeachment have committed worse crimes than the president has. President Dilma has been accused of mismanaging government spending accounts by using creative accounting methods to hide the growing deficit.

We will have to wait and see if Temer as president will be able to turn around the Brazilian economy, which is going through one of its worst recessions in 100 years.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/911446

Questioning of Lula is sign of Brazilian maturity

Anti-Lula protesters shout at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo on March 04, 2016, where the former president was taken for questioning by the federal police.

Anti-Lula protesters shout at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo on March 04, 2016, where the former president was taken for questioning by the federal police. (AFP photo)

This column was printed in Arab News on March 6, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Brazilians awoke on Friday morning to the breaking news that the Federal Police and tax inspectors were parked outside the home of former President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a suburb of Sao Paulo. This was the beginning of the 24th phase in the months-long “Car Wash” investigation into massive corruption at the state oil giant Petrobras. Lula was being taken into custody for questioning whether he wanted to go or not.

Soon supporters and critics of the former president had gathered outside his home, arguing and pushing each other. The police were quickly called in to take control of the situation, as Lula was questioned for nearly four hours at an office of the Federal Police at Congonhas Airport.

Lula took three lawyers with him and a federal congressman of his Workers’ Party. When it was over, he went to the headquarters of his party and gave an angry speech, railing against the excessive use of police intimidation and devolving into his usual accusations of the rich not being able to accept that a once poor man such as himself had made it to the presidency of the nation. It was the classic leftist class struggle spiel of the rich versus the poor.

Lula ruled Brazil for two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, and now the current President Dilma Rousseff, his protégée, has ruled Brazil from 2011 until now. While no one denies that the Workers’ Party helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty and gave them many new rights, the corruption of the politicians from this party has been so all-encompassing that practically no aspect of Brazilian life seems to have escaped its taint.
The “Car Wash” investigation, which is being led by the federal judge Sergio Moro, has found that top Petrobras officials were involved in a massive corruption, kickback and overpricing scheme that has involved a handful of the country’s major construction and engineering firms. These firms have been accused of funneling money gained from Petrobras to a host of politicians in illegal payments, including Lula. Even President Dilma’s 2010 election campaign fund has been linked to dirty money from construction companies.

Moro has been handing down reduced sentences, called “delacoes premiadas” in Portuguese, to get prime suspects to cooperate with investigators and spill the beans about all they know. The latest person to do so was Sen. Delcidio Amaral, the former head of the ruling party in the Senate. He was arrested late last year and just released a few weeks ago after he agreed to squeal on his co-conspirators.

Joao Santana, Lula and Dilma’s main election campaign strategist, and his wife were recently arrested after it was discovered that $7.5 million in tainted money had been paid to him by construction companies.

To top all of this off, Brazil is going through a severe economic recession. Its GDP shrank 3.8 percent in 2015, its worst performance since 1990, inflation is at 10.67 percent and unemployment is around 8 percent.

All of this has deeply polarized the Brazilian electorate, with most of the poorer Brazilians still supporting the Worker’s Party, while more educated and well-off Brazilians are fed-up with a never-ending stream of corruption scandals.

Having been one of the most popular presidents that Brazil has seen in modern times, Lula for a long time believed he was untouchable. The relentless investigation by Moro and the Federal Police has shown otherwise.

So far the independence of the investigators has been maintained despite alleged attempts by various ministers to get some of the accused off the hook. Hopefully the investigations will continue. This shows that Brazil has become a mature democracy where no one is above the law.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/890911

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