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.