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What does the future hold for Sergio Moro?

. Apr 27, 2020
Sergio Moro Bolsonaro Sergio Moro (left) and Jair Bolsonaro: friends no more. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

The now-former Justice Minister Sergio Moro was perhaps the most influential figure in Brazilian politics in the 2010s. His actions helped impeach President Dilma Rousseff, imprison ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and shield a third former head of state — Fernando Henrique Cardoso — from investigation. 

Now, after resigning from Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet on Friday, accusing his boss of meddling in the Federal Police, he may trigger the downfall of yet another president.

Without Mr. Moro’s help in imprisoning Lula — who was leading the polls at the time — it is likely that Mr. Bolsonaro would have never been elected. And without the political clout provided by Mr. Moro’s presence in his cabinet, President Bolsonaro might not have survived his chaotic first year in office.

</p> <p>Mr. Moro rose to international anticorruption superstardom as a federal judge overseeing the most prominent cases of the Operation Car Wash investigation. In fact, as <em>The Intercept</em> revealed, he may have been <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2019/06/12/intercept-car-wash-leaks-moro/">surreptitiously quarterbacking the entire investigation</a> that threw Brazilian politics into chaos, paving the way first for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and later the election of Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p>Sergio Moro then embraced president-elect Bolsonaro, abandoning the bench and <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/11/02/sergio-moro-brilliant-stupid/">becoming the new Justice Minister</a>, helping to convince many who were otherwise wary of the extreme-right former Army captain to throw their political support behind his government.</p> <p>With one eye on his own future political prospects — perhaps even as a candidate in the 2022 presidential election — Sergio Moro abandoned the Bolsonaro ship as it began to take on water.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1269271"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/1269271-64-you-can-t-spell-car-wash-without-leaks.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-1269271&amp;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The end of Bolsonaro?&nbsp;</h2> <p><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/04/24/sergio-moro-resigns-justice-minister-and-goes-out-swinging/">Sergio Moro’s exit</a> may mark the beginning of the end for the embattled president who is fighting wars on multiple fronts. Mr. Bolsonaro is simultaneously conducting assaults of varying intensity against Brazil&#8217;s state governors and their attempts to contain the coronavirus, as well as an increasingly hostile siege on Congress and the Supreme Court. He has become the international poster boy for <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/17/brazil-coronavirus-deniers-positions-power/">Covid-19 denialism</a> and has been the target of nightly pot-banging protests for over a month.</p> <p>Mr. Moro’s exit has profound implications for the future of the Bolsonaro government. As one senior military advisor told newspaper <em>Folha de S. Paulo</em>, Mr. Moro’s departure marked “the end of many illusions, including ours.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="926" height="617" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/business-elites-bolsonaro.jpg" alt="business elites bolsonaro" class="wp-image-10775" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/business-elites-bolsonaro.jpg 926w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/business-elites-bolsonaro-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/business-elites-bolsonaro-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/business-elites-bolsonaro-610x406.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 926px) 100vw, 926px" /><figcaption>Supporters far-right Jair Bolsonaro celebrate his electoral win in Rio de Janeiro, in October 2018. Photo: The Conversation</figcaption></figure> <p>But what exactly were these <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/10/31/business-elites-jair-bolsonaro/">illusions</a>? For many in the lead up to the 2018 election, Jair Bolsonaro was the lesser of two evils, the &#8220;difficult choice&#8221; that had to be made to keep the center-left Workers&#8217; Party from regaining power just two years after Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s impeachment. With Mr. Moro on board, the anti-Workers&#8217; Party portion of the electorate could at least claim that Mr. Bolsonaro had a strong stance on anti-corruption.</p> <p>Ironically, during his resignation speech, Mr. Moro admitted that the Workers&#8217; Party respected and defended the independence of the Brazilian judiciary and police, unlike Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro is a career politician who never hid his <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/10/22/bolsonaro-worried/">fundamental hostility to democratic institutions</a> during his near 30 years as a congressional backbencher. Those who paid close attention to his career were under no illusions that his &#8220;clan&#8221; — read, his family and close friends — has always been more important to him than any political alliance. As one editorial from newspaper <em>O Globo</em> remarked, “the country is not governed by a president, but by a father.” It remains the case that Mr. Moro provided a necessary layer of political respectability to Jair Bolsonaro, which was crucial for him to weather the storm that was his first year in office.</p> <p>Mr. Moro’s own actions as Justice Minister arguably further damaged Brazilian democracy. He used his power to <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/07/05/greenwald-harassment-worrying-press-freedoms/">intimidate journalists</a> who called him and his Car Wash colleagues on their numerous abuses of power. He attempted to push through an <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/02/04/brazil-anti-crime-plan-explained/">anti-crime bill</a> that would have rendered police officers immune from prosecution if they killed on duty. His record in the Bolsonaro government was described by one <em>Folha de S. Paulo</em> columnist as “the most important center of <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/07/27/sergio-moro-doctrine-hard-line-immigrants/">support for authoritarianism</a> in government.&#8221;</p> <h2>What&#8217;s next for Moro?</h2> <p>With his resignation from the cabinet, it is likely that Sergio Moro has now begun his campaign for the 2022 election. Polling indicates that he remains one of the most popular public figures in Brazil and he has the support of a large part of the media — particularly broadcasting giants <em>TV Globo</em>. With his image as an &#8220;anti-corruption crusader&#8221; and his move into opposition to Mr. Bolsonaro, he could well be a strong candidate in the next election.</p> <p>However, the foundations of his support might be weaker than the polling suggests. While he has left what seems to be a sinking ship, his involvement was necessary for the disastrous Bolsonaro government to leave port in the first place. It might not prove to be so easy to clean the stain of his record in government. He can no longer credibly claim to be a bipartisan figure or a defender of democratic institutions when he was a member of perhaps the most extremist government ever elected in a major democracy.</p> <p>Furthermore, his core base remains concentrated among the upper-middle class. The majority of Brazilians like the <em>idea</em> of Mr. Moro more than the man himself; the image of the crusading anti-corruption superstar that was propagated by the media. Mr. Moro himself doesn’t have the charisma nor popular touch. It also remains to be seen whether ‘anti-corruption’ can even be a credible political platform during an unprecedented economic crisis and global pandemic — going after misapplied campaign funds or overcharged public contracts won’t put food on people’s tables or lighten the load on the country&#8217;s hospitals.</p> <p>Moreover, if he wants to become a figurehead of the &#8220;respectable&#8221; center-right opposition, Sergio Moro will be forced to do battle with other prominent candidates, such as <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2020/04/06/sao-paulo-doria-makes-broad-opposition-bolsonaro-brazil-reality/">São Paulo Governor João Doria</a> and TV presenter <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/02/16/election-huck-competitive-candidates/">Luciano Huck</a>. I suspect that his future will not be as president or even as a Supreme Court Justice — his other purported ambition. Instead, Mr. Moro will continue playing the same role he did during the Bolsonaro government, serving as an anti-corruption totem to provide a certain layer of respectability to any given administration. In other words, part of the political establishment, the <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/07/31/brazil-big-center-2018-president/">old horse-trading politics</a> and influence peddling that he himself claimed to have purged from Brazil.

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Benjamin Fogel

Benjamin Fogel is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American History at New York University and a Contributing Editor to Jacobin Magazine.

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