“Bolsonaro’s government encourages radicalism”: Brazilian Bar Association president

. Jan 16, 2020
moro felipe santa cruz oab bolsonaro Felipe Santa Cruz.

Felipe Santa Cruz was thrust into politics while he was still in diapers. His father, Fernando Santa Cruz—a student and activist of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Action—was accused by the military dictatorship of integrating left-wing armed struggle and was disappeared by the regime when Felipe was just two years old. The charges against Mr. Santa Cruz were never proven. Now the president of the Brazilian Bar Association, Felipe Santa Cruz worked in the field of labor legislation before branching into class politics. In December, he made headlines after the Solicitor General’s Office accused him of defamation, after he called Justice Minister Sergio Moro a “gang leader” in a statement.

The accusation was made after Mr. Moro had accessed information from an inquiry into the hacking of Brazilian authorities—among which the Justice Minister was one. The practice is illegal, and Mr. Moro said he personally called some of the other public figures who had the cell phones hacked.

According to the Federal Police, these were the hackers behind the leak of instant messaging conversations indicating collusion between Mr. Moro—at the time the federal judge responsible for Operation Car Wash—and prosecutors who handled investigations and complaints filed against high-ranking politicians and businessmen, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Marcelo Odebrecht, the ex-CEO of construction giant Odebrecht.

At the time, Mr. Santa Cruz told newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that the cabinet minister “uses his office, annihilates the independence of the Federal Police and even acts as a gang leader by saying that he knows about the conversations of authorities who are not under investigation.”

Amid all the controversy, Mr. Santa Cruz scores the first year of Mr. Moro’s administration at the head of the Ministry of Justice as a “five out of ten” and says Brazil is learning to deal with a new kind of government that incites radicalism. “It’s a government of mostly insecure people who want to assert their position affirmatively and with little thought,” he says.

Felipe Santa Cruz sat down with The Brazilian Report for an exclusive interview, the highlights of which are as follows:

</p> <p><strong>How do you analyze the current relationship between the branches of government in Brazil?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It is a relationship of tension and lack of trust between the institutional actors. A very prolonged crisis, which led to the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, culminated in a very tense government [of former President Michel Temer] and continued with the election of a candidate who does not follow the conventional standards of institutional dialogue.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Will Congress and the Executive be able to approve tax and administrative reforms or will organized lobbies dilute these plans?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>In 2019, Congress showed its leading role, but that does not mean that it will always get it right or be immune to pressure. These are very difficult reforms. Tax reform has been discussed for decades, and to date no agreement has been reached on differences between the federal and state taxes, between states themselves, and between sectors of the economy.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Justice Minister Sergio Moro claims that you are a partisan politician, is that the only reason you are not on good terms? What kind of party politics was he referring to?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I don&#8217;t do party politics. I am not close to any specific party, but I have a dialogue with everyone, including the president’s party. The minister&#8217;s statement is a mistake. This is a government that deals very poorly with criticism, with debate, even when it is elegant, as I am not a radical. It is a government of mostly insecure people who want to assert their position affirmatively and without reflection. It is not a government characterized by dialogue. I am just another person considered an enemy, an adversary [of the sitting administration].</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What is your assessment of Sergio Moro&#8217;s first year at the head of the Justice Ministry?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>He put forward a weak <a href="">anti-crime bill</a>, which encourages more incarceration of the poor, without a modern view of the real problems of the country, without confronting the way gangs and criminal factions are structured in Brazil, which is from within prisons. The Brazilian prison situation is desperate, with almost 900,000 prisoners. And in public security, in organizing the police, in supplying equipment, he has done very little.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What are your prospects for 2020?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I hope Congress will continue to capitalize on mature discussions, as it did in 2019. This is where the debate should take place. There is the prospect of improvement in the economy. With this improvement, perhaps the environment of social dialogue will also improve and tension will decrease a little.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Did the release of President Lula from jail raise spirits and increase polarization?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I have not seen that so far. The country was already polarized, being in a unique situation in which radicalization comes from the government, not from society. It is a very radical government in its ways. This polarization has been encouraged. This is unprecedented, because governments often rule for the majority and seek to avoid a crisis, but this government works with crisis. And we are learning to live with this reality.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>After two years, what is your assessment of the 2017 labor reform?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It did not create jobs and it was rushed. But we must be careful, because our country has a huge concentration of wealth. Instead of being liberal or discussing a more efficient economy, we are weakening the situation of the poor. I do not think that the modernization of the economy involves the withdrawal of rights, instead it requires the modernization of the state and the efficiency of public administration. There is another way to do it.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Has the government erred in its order of reforms?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The first one should have been political reform, then tax, and then the others. Today, the major problem of the country is this breakdown of social relations that arises from a lack of political representation. The Brazilian political model has not changed since 2013, and this [breakdown of social relations] was the major diagnosis of that year&#8217;s protests. From this, arose this movement of polarization.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Some issues of the labor reform are being discussed in the courts. Will the judiciary end up &#8220;reforming the reform?&#8221;</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Yes, it is still open to debate; there are many subjects to be discussed. I wouldn&#8217;t say that the legislation cannot be modernized, however, the problem in Brazil is that many people earn very little. And when we loosened labor protections to prevent access to justice for the poorest workers, we created a model of social weakening.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What was your opinion on the end of mandatory trade union dues?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I have always advocated for the end of the mandatory contribution, but the current government has created even more obstacles for trade unions. What we must do is give the unions full capacity for negotiation, allowing it to receive dues from its members. Destroying the trade unions model is not a breakthrough. And these changes only happened with workers&#8217; unions, employers&#8217; unions remained untouched. This creates a disparity between employees and employers.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Why did only workers&#8217; unions suffer these cuts?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Because the reform was not properly discussed, experts were not consulted, the labor courts—which always played a role of social pacification—were not consulted. And I am very worried about exploitation through apps—which is massive in Brazil—and complete informality. We will have, in 20 or 30 years, an absurd social security cost for society.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>But without these apps unemployment would be higher. Don&#8217;t they have their positive side?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Of course, modernization, when it generates work, is positive. The problem is that the state must discuss the consequences of this. [The U.S. state of] California, for example, is discussing the effects of these new forms of labor on its workforce. We will all grow old and need the pension system. And that check will come.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Should employment relationships between workers and apps be enforced?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>We should create contributions or guarantees for each person&#8217;s social security situation. Apps also must not create unfair competition. I cannot demand a transportation company to pay labor tax while an app provides a similar service without paying these taxes.

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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