Monthly Archives: September 2017

Corrupt prosecutors behind Brazil’s 2016 right-wing coup selected as finalists for UBC’s $100,000 Allard Prize

The Car Wash Task Force

The winner of the 2017 Allard Prize for International Integrity, based out of UBC’s law school, will be announced this Thursday September 28 in the Old Auditorium. Among the three finalists is Brazil’s “Car Wash Task Force”, a team of prosecutors famous for spearheading a wide-ranging corruption case that led to the criminal conviction of former President Lula da Silva and the impeachment of his co-partisan and presidential successor, Dilma Rousseff.

The Collective Advocates and Advocates for Democracy (CAAD), a group of progressive lawyers and activists that formed during the outbreak of Brazil’s ongoing political crisis, recently sent a letter to the Allard Prize asking that the Car Wash Task Force (known in Brazil as “Lava Jato”) be removed from the list of finalists.

In this letter, they explained that the Task Force has been widely condemned by the Brazilian legal community:

“Having brought together renowned lawyers from all over Brazil as part of our collective, we found numerous abuses, arbitrariness and legal violations committed by the so-called ‘Car Wash Task Force’. […] The outrage of the decision condemning former President Lula without evidence was so great that it provoked an unprecedented reaction of more than a hundred lawyers, of all ideological shades, who denounced in a joint work the illegalities and problems of the decision that condemned former President Lula.”1

The letter refers to the Lava Jato People’s Court, which was convened by CAAD to assess the legality of the Car Wash Task Force’s proceedings.2 It was composed of two juries, one popular and one professional. After seven hours of public debate, the People’s Court issued a judgement condemning the illegalities and constitutional violations committed by the Car Wash Task Force.3

UBC sides with the right-wing oligarchy against the Brazilian people

According to its website, the Allard Prize is “awarded biennially to an individual, movement, or organization that has demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in combating corruption or protecting human rights, especially through promoting transparency, accountability, and the Rule of Law”.4 Its organizers claim that by bringing corruption charges against prominent politicians like Lula and Rousseff, “the Car Wash Task Force has brought about a new era of integrity and accountability in Brazil.”5

This favourable view is shared by Brazil’s largest corporate media outlets, most of which supported the 1964 military coup that established a brutal rightwing dictatorship for two decades.6 In keeping with this legacy, congressman Jair Bolsonaro cast his vote for Rousseff’s impeachment “in honour of a human-rights-abusing colonel in Brazil’s military dictatorship who was personally responsible for Rousseff’s torture”.7

By contrast, much of Brazilian civil society and grassroots political movements view the Car Wash Task Force as a tool of an oligarchic elite, represented by the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMBD), that sought power by “judicial” means after having lost the 2014 election to Rousseff’s Worker’s Party (PT).8 Protests opposing the Task force number in the hundreds of thousands9, while an attempted rally in its defense only attracted a little more than half a dozen people.10 Brazilians reject the hypocrisy of the Task Force’s ‘crusade against corruption’, which played a key role in undemocratically installing the notoriously corrupt Michel Temer as President. As David Miranda writes in The Guardian, “It is impossible to convincingly march behind a banner of ‘anti-corruption’ and ‘democracy’ when simultaneously working to install the country’s most corruption-tainted and widely disliked political figures.”11

Much of the Brazilian legal community is also highly critical of the Task Force. Vera Karam de Chueiri, director of the Faculty of Law of the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), claims that the Task Force has harmed the country’s democratic principles. “Lava Jato […] is not annihilating corruption. This is because it assumes exceptionality as a rule. It cut into the heart of our constitutional democracy.”12

In a 2004 magazine article, Sergio Moro, the leader of the Task Force, praised “authoritarian subversion of juridical order to reach specific targets.”13 Moro is well known among Brazilian lawyers and jurists for his aggressive tactics and disregard for the rights of accused persons.14 Alberto Toron, a professor of criminal law at the University of São Paulo, noted that Moro has long ignored correct legal procedure. “Judges should not trample the rights of the accused, but Moro’s attitude does not surprise me.”15

The Task Force’s illegal conduct extends beyond its treatment of the accused. New revelations have shown that the prosecution evidence used by the Task Force was deliberately falsified.16

In light of the clear arbitrariness and bias displayed by the Task Force, the Deputy Attorney General of Brazil, Aurea Lustosa Pierre, issued an opinion defending Lula and ordering the Superior Court of Justice to scrutinize Moro’s judgement of the former president.17 She noted that Moro made several political statements critical of Lula and appeared in photos smiling with Lula’s political opponents, casting serious doubt on his neutrality.18

The right-wing coup and the twilight of Brazilian democracy

There is no separating the Task Force’s activities, which began in 2014, with the subsequent parliamentary coup that put Temer in power. As Brazilian journalist Fernando Morais put it, “The coup and Lava Jato are Siamese brothers”.19 In response to the political crisis engendered by the Task Force’s proceedings, over 100 Brazilian diplomats have signed a letter expressing concern that the “significant achievements” of democracy in Brazil are under threat.20

The American Association of Jurists, a legal organization with consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council, issued a declaration on the eve of Rousseff’s impeachment:

“This process is part of an imperialist plan […] to destroy the regional integration process […] in which Brazil plays a fundamental role. For that colonialist plan, recourse to the traditional coup d’état carried out by the armed forces is no longer possible. Therefore, new methodologies are employed, using parliamentary bodies and the judicial powers [like the Car Wash Task Force] to execute so-called ‘soft coups’, such as those executed with success in Honduras and Paraguay, and those frustrated in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador.”21

Michel Temer’s rise to power – the result of the Car Wash Task Force’s relentless and unsubstantiated attacks on his opponents Lula and Rousseff – has been devastating. His deeply unpopular 20-year freeze on all social spending was condemned by the UN as an attack on the poor that places Brazil in “a socially retrogressive category all of its own”.22 Temer’s labour reforms have eliminated fundamental rights enjoyed by Brazilians for over seven decades.23 Survival International, a global indigenous rights organization, has accused Temer’s government of “setting indigenous rights in Brazil back decades”, and said it bore “heavy responsibility” for a recent “genocidal” slaughter of uncontacted tribes in the country’s Amazon Basin.24 Conversion therapy – psychological treatment aimed at “curing” people of homosexuality – has been re-legalized.25

Under the banner of “anti-corruption” and “human rights”, the Car Wash Task Force has promoted the most regressive, authoritarian, and corrupt forces within Brazilian society. If UBC and the Allard Prize are truly committed to democracy, equality, and progressive values, they will remove the Car Wash Task Force from the list of finalists and rescind their invitation to Vancouver.

Trump-style politics at UBC: Why you should proobbbbabbly vote in the upcoming AMS By-election this week

Aah free speech. Two deliciously click-baity words that roll in and out of your mouth like Warheads candy the morning after Halloween. If only “free speech” as is commonly used nowadays by libertarians, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the “alt-right” actually refers to the legal definition of freedom of expression. Otherwise members of these groups would not be sending death threats and hate-mail to Black Lives Matter activists, to Indigenous people, to women, to LGBTQ+ people, to Muslim people and to other marginalized groups when they speak up about, what, their own right to life, safety, and free expression as marginalized people? #notalllibertarians

Give me a break. After the events at Charlottesville, Virginia, it’s become more obvious that white supremacists are emboldened to use activist tools to promote their causes. They’re no longer afraid (if they were ever!) to gather collectively to chant in unison in support of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, whiteness, homophobia, transphobia and the status quo. Nor do they care that a woman is killed in the process, so long as they are not themselves found culpable.

In this light, it makes perfect sense that Franz Kurtzke in his campaign in the upcoming AMS by-election for VP Academic would refer to his invasive pamphlet distribution on campus as ‘activism’ and ‘social justice reform.’ Using this language is Kurtzke’s strategy to replicate ‘alt right’ strategies to gain traction and media attention: to “troll” his way into the limelight using polarizing, click-bait rhetoric and appropriate social justice language to make the same tired points. I blame Canada’s mainstream legacy media for giving the likes of Kurtzke a platform that would retroactively allow him to call himself an activist. Does being kicked out of UBC free speech club make him more relevant, somehow? Does getting talked to by the RCMP without the risk of getting shot or assaulted make him a philosophy ‘activist’ hero?

Make no mistake, I am not flattening the differences between white supremacists in Charlottesville and bow-tie wearing “philosophy dweebs” at UBC. Canada has its own rich history of vitriolic status quo enforcers, misogynists, and white supremacists with which to compare Kurtzke to. However, his participation in the AMS by-elections after his campaign of a gigantic waste of paper and ink reflects the influence of Trump-style politics that has come to power in the U.S. As the Ubyssey’s report of the VP academic debate shows, he is not prepared or genuinely interested in campus politics. He is cynically banking on the attention he has received and general campus apathy to gain power. Why? Because he can. Because the rest of us are busy with work, with our readings, with our papers, with our daily struggles. Maybe we are even getting married, or having and raising children. Might we be busy with advancing philosophical debates within our respective scholarly fields? Gasp! But alas, if we are angry about Trump, then we should—perhaps reluctantly—be paying attention to the likes of Kurtzke in our own backyard, too.

I wish I had the time and energy to unpack everything that is wrong and disturbing about Kurtzke’s campaign. I wish I could give you a nuanced take on Canadian white supremacy and setter colonialism, the suppression of marginalized people’s speech (including at UBC!), and why someone like Kurtzke would feel threatened by anti-rape culture education on campus and the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice.

But I am tired. I have no time for the fragility of white men, who invoke psychiatry, neurodivergence, and mental illness only when it is convenient. Boo-fucking-hoo. I am tired of ahistorical defenses of Western colonialism written by professors concerned about “viewpoint diversity.” I am tired of professors denying trans, non-binary people’s identities. I am tired of the banality of everyday rape culture, white supremacy, and all other forms of injustice and oppression committed by students, police, professors, friends, and family. I’m tired of how both legacy and social media exploits marginalized people’s stories and labour, both institutions only interested in clicks and dollars.

I value my own fragility and my own mental health. I’ll be sure to vote in the upcoming AMS by-election from September 18th-22nd, and, hopefully, never visiting r/UBC ever again.

To Franz Kurtzke, if you’re reading this: have you gotten better at playing the piano any time soon? To Max Holmes: tell us why we should all vote for you, instead.

Jane Shi was a founding editor at The Talon. She studies English and Asian Canadian and Asian Migration minor at UBC. She thanks Amber Louie for gifting her with the concept of attending to our own fragility as marginalized people.