Few men embody the depths and ambiguities of Brazilian politics better than former Congressman Roberto Jefferson. He entered public life in 1971 and has lived through a military dictatorship, a new constitution, seven democratically-elected presidents (or vice presidents), and two impeachments. Mr. Jefferson himself has faced many scandals, almost bringing down a popular administration and spending time in jail for corruption. Still, he continues to be one of the kingpins of Brazil’s “lower clergy” of politicians, the vast swathes of back-benchers who rarely manage to get close to power but fight for scraps handed down by presidents in exchange for support.
Mr. Jefferson, who controls the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), represents the antithesis of the famous anarchist boast “si hay gobierno, soy contra.” For Mr. Jefferson, if there is a government, he is in favor of it. With ease, Mr. Jefferson went from being the leader of former President Fernando Collor’s anti-impeachment troops in 1992 to becoming an ally of the center-left, once Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva reached the presidency ten years later. He later exposed a votes-for-cash scheme within the Workers’ Party which sent many top dogs in Brasília — himself included — to jail.
Now, Mr. Jefferson’s new best friend is President Jair Bolsonaro. And, with the fervor of a recent convert, the party leader is talking photos with machine guns and openly calling for a military coup. He spoke to The Brazilian Report this week in an exclusive interview: