Why has support for Operation Car Wash reached an all-time low?

. Sep 05, 2018
Why has support for Operation Car Wash reached an all-time low? Demonstration in support for Operation Car Wash

With 52 phases, 2,476 criminal proceedings, 175 plea bargain agreements, 204 convictions, BRL 38.1 billion in restitution requests and a Netflix series, Operation Car Wash is the biggest corruption investigation in the history of Brazil, Latin America, and quite possibly the world.

In the four years since its inception, Operation Car Wash has gathered significant support from the Brazilian public, symbolized by right-wing groups organizing huge street protests in defense of the investigations and head Car Wash judge Sérgio Moro. However, a series of opinion polls have shown that this overwhelming approval is dwindling. Public support for Operation Car Wash is the lowest it has ever been, with growing suspicions that Judge Moro’s task force is not playing fair.

Since January 2016, market research firm Ipsos has been carrying out semi-regular surveys which attempt to map the Brazilian population’s feelings towards Operation Car Wash. In its most recent poll, it showed that the percentage of the public who believe the investigations should continue at all costs has fallen to 86 percent – the lowest it has ever been. Likewise, the percentages of people who regard Operation Car Wash as more important than political or economic stability have also dropped to new lows. 

operation car wash popularity moro lula

While the support for Operation Car Wash continues to be very high – roughly 5 out of 6 Brazilians believe investigations should continue – this downward trend is notable, particularly when we consider when it began. In accordance with Ipsos data, the percentage of people in favor of Operation Car Wash has been gradually decreasing since July 2017 – the same month Judge Sérgio Moro convicted former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the first instance, for crimes of passive corruption and money laundering. &#8220;If I had to sum up this trend in one word,” says Mauricio Santoro, political scientist, and columnist of </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">, &#8220;it would be &#8216;Lula.'&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Operation Car Wash v. Lula</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The view of Lula&#8217;s Workers’ Party and the wider Brazilian left is that Operation Car Wash is not impartial. This opinion is partly justified by the speed at which former President Lula&#8217;s trial has gone through the courts. In a bloated and sluggish legal system such as Brazil&#8217;s, for an ex-president to be charged, convicted, have his conviction upheld by an appeals court then the Supreme Court and, ultimately, imprisoned, all in the space of 18 months, is virtually unheard of. This growing sentiment is reflected in the Ipsos figures, with only 46 percent of people agreeing that Operation Car Wash is impartial – once again, the lowest it has ever been.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-8312" src="" alt="operation car wash popularity moro lula" width="1024" height="517" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These figures took a big drop since March, which could also be partly attributed to Lula. Between the two surveys, the former president was formally imprisoned, and on July 8 he was at the center of a legal quibble which, for much of the population, exposed Operation Car Wash’s bias. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">An appeals court judge issued a habeas corpus to order Lula&#8217;s release from prison, but the Federal Police did not execute the decision, after pressure from Car Wash judges.</span></p> <p><iframe src=";color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=true&amp;show_comments=false&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Santoro believes this legal mess was partly responsible for eroding the public opinion of Operation Car Wash. &#8220;It gave the impression that the judiciary was strongly motivated by party political issues, and not by the prospect of an impartial and objective trial,&#8221; he says. This suspicion is backed up by the approval ratings of Judge Sérgio Moro, seen in the graph below.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-8313" src="" alt="operation car wash popularity moro lula" width="1024" height="683" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <h2>The Supreme Court&#8217;s slow pace</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another common gripe about Operation Car Wash does not necessarily concern the treatment of former president Lula &#8211; charged, convicted and imprisoned in record time &#8211; instead the apparent absence of this zeal when it comes to taking down prominent figures from other political parties. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The electorate is aware that there are other politicians who are accused of corruption schemes more severe than Lula&#8217;s, and who haven’t been jailed or even removed from their posts,&#8221; explains Mr. Santoro. “The cases of [Social Democracy Party senator] Aécio Neves and [presidential candidate for the Social Democracy Party] Geraldo Alckmin are particularly strong in voters’ minds.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Aécio Neves, the defeated presidential candidate in the 2014 election, has been cited in the testimonies of four different plea bargain agreements as having been involved in corruption schemes. He was also heard in a 30-minute audio recording, submitted to the courts as evidence, requesting BRL 2 million from meat-packing company JBS in exchange for political favors. His case is still pending and he is allowed to campaign freely for re-election to the Congress.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Celso Rocha de Barros, a sociologist who writes a weekly column at major Brazilian newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Folha de S.Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, believes the issue of impartiality lies less with Judge Sérgio Moro and the rest of the Car Wash task force, and more with Brazil&#8217;s </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Supreme Court</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. &#8220;It is clear that the Car Wash investigators are not Workers&#8217; Party voters, but there are also no signs that they have been systematically biased against the left,&#8221; he told </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">, in an email. &#8220;Where there is a large power difference between the left and right is the Supreme Court.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Barros uses the example of Justice Gilmar Mendes, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by the Social Democracy Party. &#8220;When the Workers&#8217; Party were in government, Justice Mendes enthusiastically supported Operation Car Wash. The day after the government fell, he became the biggest critic of the investigations.&#8221; </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Benjamin Fogel, contributing <a href="">editor</a> at Jacobin Magazine and currently completing a Ph.D. on Brazilian corruption politics, believes that the people are beginning to realize Operation Car Wash will not magically solve their problems as they once thought it would.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Operation Car Wash was supposed to purge Brazil of its endemic corruption and bring forth a new political era, it was supposed to break with Brazil’s pattern of systemic accountability and impunity for the elite. Instead, despite taking down some big names, it seems to have been a complete failure. The next Congress will have more incumbents than ever before and will be full of the most corrupt sections of Brazilian politics,&#8221; Mr. Fogel told </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Barros also points towards Congress as a crucial part in this feeling of bias, picked up by the Brazilian electorate. &#8220;When [impeached former President] Dilma Rousseff was judged by Congress, she was found guilty. When President Michel Temer was judged by Congress, for much more serious accusations, he was found innocent.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;These mechanisms to preserve the right are complex. Therefore, the population sees the difference in treatment between figures of the Workers&#8217; Party and those from the Social Democracy Party, and they attribute this bias to the Car Wash investigators,&#8221; Mr. Barros concludes.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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