Bolsonaro corruption scandal “a matter of time,” says disenchanted ally

. May 14, 2020
Bolsonaro corruption scandal "a matter of time," says disenchanted ally Senator Major Olímpio. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr

In today’s Brazil, a knock-on effect of President Jair Bolsonaro moving even further to the far-right inevitably means that anyone ever-so-slightly to his left will be erroneously singled out as a moderate. One of these false moderates is military police major-turned-senator Sérgio Olímpio Gomes, known around Brazil as simply Major Olímpio. 

A staunch advocate for Brazilians’ right to arm themselves to the teeth, for harsh punishments for criminals, and for the denial of treatment to prisoners with Covid-19, Major Olimpio is perhaps as reactionary as they come. Yet, after distancing himself from the Bolsonaro government due to spats with the president and his sons, he is now carefully presenting himself as a hard-line right-winger, while keeping the current administration at arm’s length.

“I have not distanced myself from my proposals, the president did this. When he gets back in line, I’ll support him again. I feel disgusted with how things are being done, but I help in whatever way I can. However, no one will make me indulge crazy people,” says the senator, who received over 9 million votes in the 2018 election.

Major Olímpio gave an exclusive interview to The Brazilian Report this week, the highlights of which you can read below:

</p> <p><strong>Is President Jair Bolsonaro capable of guiding the country through a health crisis — and the ensuing economic crisis?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The healthcare aspect has been adequate, given the circumstances, namely Brazil&#8217;s sheer size and massive population. But the political agenda is a disaster. The president goes to the streets, promotes public gatherings, and undoes all the work in favor of social isolation put forward by his Health Ministry. This behavior confuses the population, and the results are terrible because the best medicine against Covid-19 we have so far is social isolation.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What about economic measures?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The government has tried to present actions, but Congress has been much more agile. An example was the monthly BRL 600 emergency aid, paid to 54 million people — and possibly extendable to another 14 million. There is also a special credit line for micro and small businesses, which Congress has already approved but hasn&#8217;t yet been signed into law.</p><p>The Senate alone has approved 22 bills since the Covid-19 pandemic began, but when these proposals move on to be sanctioned by the president, they enter into some sort of time tunnel, delaying them right up to the constitutional deadline. It took the president more than a month to sanction one particular bill — of which I was the rapporteur — allocating BRL 2 billion to philanthropic hospitals. This is a shameful situation, because people are dying due to a lack of respirators or intensive care beds.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>And what is the reason for the delay?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The federal government is hamstrung by senseless bureaucracy. It takes a long time to sanction bills. For example, of the BRL 40 billion approved by Congress to allow the government to compensate wage cuts for private workers, only 1 percent has been used.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>How would you rate the government&#8217;s relationship with Congress?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It is one of total distance, due to the president&#8217;s demeanor towards Congress. Mr. Bolsonaro is constantly bickering with the House Speaker [Rodrigo Maia] and the Senate President [Davi Alcolumbre]. These fights create a natural distancing. But Congress has not refused to vote on any emergency bill [related to the pandemic].</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Like the president, you were elected on an anti-establishment platform, against what you call &#8220;old politics.&#8221; But Mr. Bolsonaro is now cozying up to these &#8220;old&#8221; parties, offering positions in the Executive in exchange for congressional support. What&#8217;s your view on this?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It could go completely wrong. Part of the population is disappointed, as am I. Mr. Bolsonaro won the presidency thanks to three promises: removing the left from power, fighting corruption, and restoring public security. But it is impossible to fight corruption with those deals, either with the &#8220;<a href="">Big Center</a>&#8221; or with any political party. The so-called &#8220;coalition presidentialism&#8221; was born due to a lack of oversight on horse-trading in politics. It was how scandals such as the <a href="">Mensalão<sup> </sup></a>and Operation Car Wash were born. I have no doubt that it will generate a new scandal.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What impact will the </strong><a href=""><strong>Sergio Moro affair</strong></a><strong> have onthe president?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Mr. Bolsonaro will lose support. People are not dumb. The president said during the campaign that he would not engage in horse-trading. And he didn&#8217;t need any of that. Since the beginning of his term, he has chosen his cabinet without any quid pro quo. And Congress approved landmark bills such as the <a href="">pension reform</a> and the anti-crime bill. We lost some votes but won others. As my grandfather said, if you share a coffin with the devil, you end up going to hell with him.</p><p>Messrs. Moro and Bolsonaro were the most credible public figures in the country, and a <a href="">separation like this</a> is awful for the country. Of the three promises that elected Mr. Bolsonaro, two were linked to Mr. Moro, making him the <a href="">key cabinet minister</a>. When he leaves the government, swinging against the president, it is awful for both of them.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Why for both, if it is the president who finds himself accused of wrongdoing?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>This rupture has united Bolsonaro supporters and the left against Mr. Moro. Both sides do this out of fear, because the Workers&#8217; Party and Mr. Bolsonaro, despite all the madness, have elected each other as their favored opponents in 2022. If Mr. Moro decides to run for president in 2022, he will ruin everyone&#8217;s plan. He can be a phenomenon, because he was the face of Operation Car Wash. In the next presidential election, people may think Mr. Bolsonaro has already fulfilled his role by removing the left from power and that it would then be time for the real fight against corruption. </p><p>Mr. Moro could face either the Workers&#8217; Party or Mr. Bolsonaro in the second round of the next presidential elections.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>In an eventual runoff stage between Jair Bolsonaro and Sergio Moro, who would you support?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>If that&#8217;s the scenario, I will run as a candidate myself.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Do you maintain your support for President Bolsonaro even after Sergio Moro&#8217;s departure and this rapprochement with the Big Center?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I am an ally, but I am not alienated, because I support causes. I voted &#8216;yes&#8217; on all bills sponsored by the government, but nobody is going to convince me to support the &#8220;barbecue of death,&#8221;* to tell journalists to shut up, to say &#8220;so what&#8221; when thousands are dying of Covid-19. I have a political alignment with the government and the president. Still, on a personal side, we have been apart since he and Senator Flávio Bolsonaro asked me not to support a parliamentary hearings committee to investigate corruption in the judiciary.</p><p>Mr. Bolsonaro stood beside his son, and I went along with the rest of the Social Liberal Party<sup> </sup>senators. I owe a lot to the president, because he helped me get elected. But I am disappointed with politics, and I am not going to run for re-election when my term ends. This alignment with the Big Center makes me sick.</p></blockquote> <p><em>* Last week, Mr. Bolsonaro promised to throw a barbecue for his cabinet members, despite Brazil&#8217;s Covid-19 death toll reaching the 10,000 mark. The event, which was canceled, was nicknamed the &#8220;barbecue of death.&#8221;</em></p> <p><strong>Do you consider President Bolsonaro an honest person?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Yes.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Do you think the president has interfered politically in the Federal Police, as Mr. Moro accused him of doing?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>I will not make any judgment, because if an impeachment process is opened, senators will be the &#8220;jurors&#8221; of the trial. As such, I do not want to give my opinion before I have to.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Is Mr. Bolsonaro at risk of impeachment?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>He wasn&#8217;t before the Moro affair. Nobody wanted an impeachment, not even the left. Congress wanted to continue working, despite the president&#8217;s personality. At the same time, the left hoped Mr. Bolsonaro would get himself in trouble, to keep him bleeding until the 2022 election. But this investigation has ignited the pressure.</p><p>All presidents face multiple impeachment requests, but it takes a lot of pressure from the streets for such proceedings to begin. And social isolation makes that impossible. But the investigation, depending on its result, may end in an impeachment process. Perhaps this is the president&#8217;s most significant concern, and why he wants to broaden his coalition.

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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