Who is Brazil’s new Prosecutor General?

. Sep 06, 2019
Who is augusto aras Brazil's new Prosecutor General augusto aras Augusto Aras, Brazil's soon-to-be Prosecutor General

President Jair Bolsonaro has finally picked Brazil’s prosecutor general for the next two years: electoral law expert August Aras, who is currently serving as deputy prosecutor general. The appointment had a rare effect, uniting both Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters and his detractors in protest against Mr. Aras, albeit for different reasons.

</p> <p>The president&#8217;s supporters fear he will cater to the political class in an attempt to <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/08/23/abuse-of-office-act-the-end-of-car-wash-or-necessary-oversight/">curb the advances of Operation Car Wash</a>—the massive probe started in 2014 which has now reached all major parties. Left-wing observers, on the other hand, fear that Mr. Aras will act to defend the president&#8217;s interests, even if it is to the detriment of his legal obligations.</p> <p>In recent months, Mr. Aras has bent over backwards in his effort to get the nomination. He began presenting himself as a hardcore conservative, defending that landowners who kill trespassers shouldn&#8217;t be prosecuted, and saying that the Federal Prosecution Office shouldn&#8217;t be an obstacle in the way of economic development.&nbsp;</p> <p>As Jorge Oliveira, Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s secretary-general, explained on Twitter, the strategy worked: &#8220;Mr. Aras presented a program aligned with the sitting government. He intends to untie bureaucratic, environmental, and financial knots which are getting in the way of economic development.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">O presidente <a href="https://twitter.com/jairbolsonaro?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@jairbolsonaro</a> indicou Antônio Augusto Brandão de Aras para exercer o cargo de PGR. O senhor Aras apresentou um programa que se alinha ao governo atual. Ele pretende destravar as atuais amarras ao desenvolvimento econômico, ambientais, burocráticas e financeiras.</p>&mdash; Jorge de Oliveira Francisco (@jorgeofco) <a href="https://twitter.com/jorgeofco/status/1169710816700116993?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 5, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>The prosecutor general is responsible for ensuring the rule of law and defending the “diffuse interests” of Brazilian society (in areas such as the environment, public property, cultural heritage, human rights, and the protection of children, senior citizens, and indigenous communities). Moreover, he is also the only one who can carry out investigations against (and propose the indictment of) the president.</p> <p>As one political columnist says, &#8220;Mr. Aras will start his tenure with an image as someone who crawled to get his job.&#8221; Past experiences show how dangerous the proximity between the prosecutor general and the president can be.&nbsp;</p> <p>Between 1995 and 2003, the job was occupied by Geraldo Brindeiro—cousin of the vice president of the time. He was widely criticized for his inactivity. Of the 642 indictment requests presented to his office during his tenure, Mr. Brindeiro ignores 242 and dismissed another 217. These cases involved 194 representatives, 33 senators, 11 cabinet ministers—and even former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Mr. Brindeiro would become known as the government&#8217;s <em><a href="https://theintercept.com/2019/08/11/familia-bolsonaro-procurador-engavetador-ministerio-publico-pgr/">engavetador</a></em>, or &#8220;shelver”—due to his propensity for shelving investigations into government members.</p> <p>But the proof, of course, will be in the pudding.</p> <h2>National prosecutors react</h2> <p>The National Association of Federal Prosecutors (ANPR) released a statement lashing out at Mr. Aras&#8217; nomination, fearing that he will let the government undermine the autonomy of the Federal Prosecution Service. &#8220;No one knows what [Augusto Aras] discussed in private, away from public scrutiny. Moreover, he has no leadership over the institution.&#8221;</p> <p>The criticism comes essentially because Mr. Bolsonaro, in picking Mr. Aras, broke a 16-year tradition that empowered the ANPR and gave it enormous power over the nomination for prosecutor general.</p> <p>Every two years since 2001, the association has held an internal election for the job—before presenting the president with a list of the three best-voted candidates. During the Workers’ Party era, prosecutor generals were invariably the candidates atop this so-called “three-person list.” Former presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff said this was proof of how they respected the Federal Prosecution Service and its independence from the government.</p> <p>This time around, however, Mr. Aras didn&#8217;t even bother campaigning to his peers. Instead, he counted on the support of former member of Congress Alberto Fraga—a far-right former police colonel—to make a bridge between him and the president.</p> <p>But the three-person list is far from unanimous among legal scholars. Instead of giving independence to prosecutors, it can empower prosecutors which are more concerned about corporativist matters than legal doctrines. Also, “imposing” the list on the president would take away one of the president’s constitutional prerogatives.</p> <p>Regardless of who Mr. Bolsonaro picks, the Senate must confirm the nomination—which will take some political negotiation. Mr. Aras has wasted no time and has already started phoning senators.

Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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