Colombia’s Peace Process and Brazil’s Corruption Battle

This post is also available in: Português 

Senado Federal / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Now that the tactical manuevering of Brazil’s legislature to protect its members against prosecution and jail for corruption and other crimes has broken out into a full-scale rebellion against the the nation’s widely admired judiciary (and its constitution as well), it may be time for Brazilian authorities take a hard look at Colombia’s recent success in settling its half-century war with the FARC guerrilla army (Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). President Juan Manuel Santos will receive the Nobel Peace Prize on December 12 for his leadership of the peace initiative, which took more than four years of slow, frustrating negotiations, and gained final congressional approval only last week. The Colombian experience may offer a path for Brazil to bring a halt ruinous plague of corruption—which may be as costly for Brazil’s economic and political future as was the continuing armed conflict in Colombia.

Following Santos lead, the Michel Temer government would first have to test whether Brazil’s legislative leaders are willing to conduct serious negotiations, and prepared to make concessions that could be effective in curbing the country’s pervasive corruption—or at least offer a better solution than the current case-by-case approach of criminal investigations and trials.

The next step, if negotiations do show promise, would be for Temer to convoke a special commission to conduct the talks on behalf of the government. In turn, two houses of congress would jointly select their negotiators. How exactly the discussions between the two sides might proceed and what a final accord might look like is a matter of conjecture. But many elements of the Colombian negotiations would surely be relevant.

In Colombia, for instance, every guerrilla—from commanders to foot soldiers—is expected to demobilize and turn in their weapons. The parallel for Brazil might be that everyone of the country’s nearly 600 deputy and senator would give up his or her seat in congress. And like the Colombian guerrilla fighters, each of legislators would have to appear before a specially established tribunal to confess to crimes they committed.

Why would the legislators agree to this? They may not, but if they do, it would be for much the same reason that the FARC insurgents agreed. The Brazilian judiciary is waging a full-scale, highly effective battle against corruption, and many deputies and senators are in danger of investigation and prosecution—and seeking desperately to avoid conviction, loss of career, and jail time. Should the Colombia model be followed, the legislators, if they offered full confessions, would face only modest punishment—some restrictions on their “rights and liberties,” repayment of bribes and kickbacks they received, and a ban on holding political office for a period. But they would no longer have to confront a lengthy jail sentence and may avoid extensive public disclosure of all their sordid crimes. Many details, of course, will have to be worked out. As noted, it took the Colombians four years to reach an agreement.

If most of the legislators owned up to their crimes, more than half of Brazil’s senators and deputies would likely lose their seats—including a large share of the parliament’s leadership. This would be a solid blow against corruption in Brazil, and a triumph for transparency, and a stronger, more respected legislature. But one crucial task remains. How to assure that the candidates for the newly opened seats are honest and free of scandal, that the new elections do not simply replace one group of corrupted officials with another. In practice, that will be mainly up to the Brazilian voters. If they can meet this challenge, like Santos, they will deserve a Nobel Prize.

Read the original article in Portuguese in Folha de S. Paulo

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