Brazilian House of Cards

By: Laura Gontijo de Vasconcellos

Last May, just before releasing its new season, the House of Cards Twitter posted “Tá Difícil Competir”, which means “it has been hard to compete” in Portuguese. It is true. Since the launch of Operation Car Wash, one of the largest bribery cases investigations ever carried out, in March of 2014, the Brazilian political scene has been on the news with shocking episodes more often than ever. Meanwhile, the country is suffering one of its worst recessions.

The political scandal, regarded as bigger than Watergate in the USA or Mani Pulite in Italy, started when police found evidence that a former top executive at Petrobras, a government-controlled oil company and one of the largest Brazilian companies, had accepted a bribe in return for awarding contracts to construction firms at inflated prices. From there, a huge bribery scheme was unveiled, involving the most senior executives of biggest construction companies in Brazil and politicians from different parties.


Operation Car Wash has been a turning point to on Brazil’s culture of impunity, which has made Sergio Moro, the judge who handles investigations and trials related to the Operation, a national hero. So far, 109 people have been convicted of 170 crimes and sentenced to a total of 1,680 years of prison. Among the names of people that are allegedly involved are: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a popular former president, Eduardo Cunha, the former PMDB (political party of current president) speaker of the lower house of congress, and Marcelo Odebrecht, at the time of the accusation the CEO of Brazil’s biggest construction firm.

Most recently, current president Michel Temer has been accused of leading a “mega-gang” made up of politicians from his Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), the left-wing Worker’s Party (PT) (Lula’s and Dilma’s party) and others. It is accused of having extracted bribes worth at least BRL 587M (USD 188M) from companies in return for public contracts and favors. Even though those are grave allegations, the case doesn’t look strong enough and Mr. Temer should remain in the office until the end of his term in December 2018.

With presidential elections coming up in 2018, leadership crisis in the country is evident, as there isn’t a clear vision on whether the current government will survive until then and the potential candidates are all currently under investigation. Under recent polls, former president Lula (accused of corruption and money laundering) has 36% of intention of votes, with the second candidate having only 16%.

Uncertainty is the word of the moment. The next chapter can be even more revealing than the previous ones. Brazilians are left with the hope that the investigation keeps progressing and those who are guilty go to jail.