Sep. 20, 2016

The Most Powerful -- And Corrupt -- Politician in Brazil Finally Has Mandate Ended

President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha at the National Congress in Brasilia, April 18, 2016. A Brazilian Supreme Court justice suspended Lower House speaker Eduardo Cunha on May 5, 2016 amid allegations against him in the corruption scandal surrounding oil giant Petrobras.

 

Story by Shannon Sims

Brazilians concerned with rampant corruption in their political system have reason to rejoice today: the man who many consider the most corrupt politician in Brazil – a title for which there is much competition, and who had been removed from office in May – finally had his mandate ended.

In May, a Brazilian Supreme Court justice determined that Eduardo Cunha, the former President of the Chamber of Deputies, a position equivalent to the Speaker of the House in the U.S., should have his term suspended.

Tonight, in a session that was at times nasty and personal and that lasted through the night, the Chamber voted to end Cunha’s mandate. Cunha was most recently caught lying about having offshore (Swiss) bank accounts. (He argued, among other things, that the accounts were his wife’s.)

At the end, 450 Congressmembers voted to end his mandate. Only 10 voted in favor of him. 10, a dramatically low number for the man who used to run Brazil’s politics. It’s a comment on how quickly the tides can turn in Brazil. And it might also signal a new era in Brazil’s attempts to fight corruption.

Interestingly, Cunha’s few supporters claimed that he was being judged not on the law but on public opinion. That is the same argument supporters of the impeached Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff have made.

In May, the justice explained the decision by citing the numerous and varied corruption proceedings that Cunha is currently caught up in. Some of those proceedings are related to graft charges in the massive Car Wash corruption investigation into Petrobras contacts that has washed over top-tier politicians of all political parties, including former president Luiz Ignacio da Silva. Some of those investigations are related to the good old-fashioned pay-to-play-politics that seem to dominate Brazilian governance.

The justice, Teori Zavascki, noted that Cunha’s mandate as leader of the lower house, ”is not an empty title authorizing expectations of power that are unlimited, irresponsible and meaningless.” He noted that there was evidence that Cunha set up a “network of obstruction” to shield himself from anti-corruption investigations.

“I think this is a great sign,” argued Rodrigo Fernandes, a São Paulo venture capitalist. “It’s a sign that we are not going to tolerate corruption, no matter the [political] party.”

While the arrival of Cunha in the crosshairs of Brazil’s anti-corruption crusade is a watershed moment for the country, it is one that was not at all inevitable.

For decades – yes, decades – Eduardo Cunha has escaped prosecution on corruption charges, despite being implicated in case after case. For many Brazilians, he is the symbol of political malevolence, a bad guy who outsmarts the Brazilian public again and again.

Related: He also happens to be one of the most powerful politician in Brazil.

It is Cunha who ran the impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff before he was removed in May, which resulted in her impeachment by the lower house that he governs. During those proceedings he was the target of leftists’ ire, as they pointed their fingers at him and called him a “scoundrel” and his proceeding a “coup”. He was even called a “gangster” to his face by one Congressman. (Catch the word “gangster” in the beginning of the video below).

A full recap of the most outrageous moments from that proceeding can be found here.

Despite the hate aimed his way by his political enemies during the impeachment proceeding, Cunha found a way to grin as his political supporters approached the microphone that Sunday and voted to impeach the President.

The grin is likely gone tonight. Brazilian social media is currently exploding with reactions to the news that Brazil’s most invincible politician is politically dead. Many Brazilians are adjusting the anti-Rousseff chant of “Tchau, querida” (Bye, sweetheart) into the masculine form to create an anti-Cunha mantra: “Tchau, querido.” Others are taking liberties with the fact that Cunha’s name begins with the letters for a vulgar Brazilian word for a certain body part.

“It would be very hard to find somebody that would be against the removal of Cunha at this point,” notes Natalia Ribeiro, a graduate student in political science in Brasília. “Maybe there is, but I doubt someone would argue publicly against it.”

Fernandes, like many Brazilians, was in favor of the impeachment of Rousseff. But that doesn’t mean he is a Cunha supporter. ”The fact that he helped pushed the impeachment forward is not going to give him a free pass, despite what he might have thought.”

But, at the same time, Brazilians will have a hard time counting him out. Cunha, an evangelical Christian radio announcer, is Brazil’s rubberman, a man who wriggles his way out of any net. Tonight, the net seems to have finally closed.