Brazil: “The Absolution of the Sex Senator Is a Defeat for the News Media!”

“Straight-razor to the quick: the thread (edge, blade) of [the anticorruption operation against Gautama] has already [chopped off the head] of [the owner of Gautama] and [the minister of Mines and Energy] and now is nearing the neck of the President of the Senate.” The anonymously-sourced exposé that started it all! The article does not accuse the Senator of any relationship to Gautama, however. It accuses him of accepting money from another big construction firm, Mendes Junior. Ecce Veja.

Transcribing the daily radio broadcast by Brazil’s Observatório da Imprensa, Luciano Martins evaluates the aftermath of yesterday’s impeachment of the President of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, who was absolved by a vote of 40-35, with 6 abstentions.

It’s a decent wrap-up of opinions on the subject, if a little disorganized. I will translate some material later on how international press coverage of the incident was received in Brazil.

I tend, for what it’s worth, to agree with the general drift of the analysis here: The news media — Mr. Martins excepts the Estado de S. Paulo in this regard — behaved like gabbling maniacs, handing the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone over to gabbling hysterical virgins.

But the spectacle of an impeachment vote in secret session, by secret ballot, does not inspire confidence in the state of Brazilian democracy, either, you have to concede.

Some Senators did, however, come out and revealed how they voted, most notably Suplicy and Mercadante of São Paulo. Who actually made quite bit of sense. It always seemed very strange to me as well — as a Martian anthropologist and armchair de Toqueville of the Brazilian scene — that Brazilians were being asked to support the borking of the man over acts that no one seemed able to positively prove.

They wanted public opinion to lynch the guy for failing to provide an airtight alibi. It’s like the old joke: “Are you still beating your wife? Answer yes or no.”

For a contrary view, however, see

The two sides of that debate actually seem to agree on one thing: if the sex Senator had funky dealings, responsible adults ought to find out exactly what those were. Which is hard to disagree with.

The dispute has more to do with definition of responsible adulthood — FENAJ’s newly revised code of ethics is an interesting place to start reading up on the subject, in fact. But all I can really say with conviction at this point is that Veja magazine is the wilful antithesis of it.

A imprensa perdeu

The news media lost

Absolvido no primeiro julgamento por falta de decoro parlamentar, Renan Calheiros se torna o inimigo número um da imprensa.

Absolved in his first trial for “conduct unbecoming a legislator,” Renan Calheiros became the Brazilian news media’s public enemy No. 1.

Seu grande crime: impedir o acesso à informação.

His crime: preventing access to information.

I guess that is by way of being a subhed or teaser.


Alberto Dines:

– Foram duas as agressões: a primeira, escancarada, foi a absolvição do presidente do Congresso, Renan Calheiros que segundo a Polícia Federal cometeu vários ilícitos. A segunda agressão, mais grave, aterradora, pode ser chamada de “apagão” institucional. O Senado da República foi convertido desde a terça feira num verdadeiro porão — fechado, lacrado, blindado ao escrutínio da sociedade, ilha autoritária em plena Praça dos Três Poderes. A varredura eletrônica do plenário, a proibição do uso de computadores pelos senadores, a recomendação para que os celulares fossem desligados e finalmente o pugilato entre os leões-de-chácara e os deputados que foram autorizados pelo STF a assistir ao julgamento desvendam a razão do secretismo da sessão: – impedir a presença da mídia. Renan Calheiros e os cangaceiros de todo o país que o apóiam sabiam que a presença da imprensa seria a única força capaz de impedir a absolvição. Apostaram todas as fichas no sigilo. Não se importavam em agredir a sociedade, só não queriam testemunhas. Os malfeitores trabalharam no escuro, eles têm prática, ganharam o primeiro round. Nos próximos, será diferente — terão que ser travados às claras.

“There were two outrages here. The first, out in the open for everyone to see, was the absolution of the Senate president, who according to the Federal Police committed various illegal acts.”

None of which were in play in the proceedings in question, is my understanding. Am I misinformed?

The second, more serious outrage — a terrifying development — is what we might call the institutional “blackout.” The Brazilian Senate became a veritable torture dungeon — closed, sealed, shielded from public scrutiny, an authoritarian island in the middle of the Plaza of the Three Powers. The electronic sweeps of the chambers, the prohibition on the use of computers by the Senators, the recommendation that cell phones be turned off, and finally the pushing and shoving between the house bouncers and the federal deputies whom the Supreme Court had permitted to attend reveal the reason for all the secrecy: To prevent the presence of the media.

It was suggested that cell phones be turned off, but the suggestion was not enforced? (The Folha reported it had listened in on someone’s cell phone, for example.)


Calheiros and the [guns for hire] from all over Brazil that supported him knew the presence of the press was the only thing preventing him from being absolved. They bet all their chips on secrecy. They did not carry if they were violating society’s right to know, only that they did not want any witnesses.

Doesn’t the Senate keep transcripts of such proceedings? Can’t I get a copy and analyze it?

Cangaceiros [“guns for hire,” “bandits”] are legendary rural paramilitary bands, most famously the band of merry pillaging bandidos headed by Lampião. So this is an extremely loaded characterization.

The severed head of Lampião wound up arranged on a grisly altar staged for the front pages of all the newspapers. We saw the exhibit at a São Paulo museum in the Jardins Europa recently.

One of the most godawful things you will ever see.


Made of human heads.

Human heads.

“The horror! The horror!”

The evildoers did their dirty deeds in the dark, they have practice at it, they won the first round. The next rounds will be different — they will have to be fought in the light of day.

Mauro Malin recently quit the Observatório, citing the nasty partisan slant he said it had acquired. I think he might have been referring to Dines, who throws a violent fit of the screaming memes here.

I gather that the rest of the commentary is Martins disagreeing with Dines — who lost a lot of my respect recently by emitting similar shrieks of hysterical virginity when O Globo transcribed the contents of the computer screens of Supreme Court justices using telephoto lenses.

Vitória do Senado

A victory for the Senate [over the news media]

O Senado Federal disse claramente à sociedade que não considera haver provas suficientes para cassar o mandato do seu presidente por falta de decoro parlamentar.

The Federal Senate sent a clear message to society that it does not consider there was sufficient evidence to impeach the Senate President for “conduct unbecoming.”

Tecnicamente, o julgamento foi perfeito.

Technically, the proceedings were flawless.

Again, I assume that these are Mr. Martins’ views, in counterpoint to Dines’, that we are getting now.

Segundo o senador Francisco Dornelles, do PP do Rio, ex-secretário da Receita Federal, não há provas nem mesmo de crime tributário contra Renan Calheiros no caso do pagamento de pensão à sua ex-namorada, Mônica Veloso.

According to Senator Dornelles of Rio de Janeiro, former secretary of the federal revenue service, there is no evidence against Calheiros, not even of tax evasion, in the case of payments made to his former lover, Mônica Veloso.

Dornelles não escondeu seu voto. Pelo contrário: mandou sua assessoria distribuir um comunicado relatando sua intervenção em defesa de Renan durante a sessão secreta.

Dornelles did not keep his vote a secret. On the contrary, he had his press office distribute a release relating his speech in defense of Calheiros during the secret session.

O argumento do ex-secretário da Receita Federal pesou no julgamento, dando aos indecisos um argumento técnico para a abstenção ou para o voto na presunção de inocência.

That argument carried some weight in the impeachment proceedings, providing undecided Senators with a technical argument for abstaining or voting on the basis of the presumption of innocence.

Mas apenas o Estado de S.Paulo deu atenção ao detalhe, que poderia mudar as opiniões sobre a decisão do Senado.

But only the Estado de S. Paulo noted this detail, which could change many minds about the Senate’s decision.

Ao escolher a decisão técnica, contra a pressão absoluta da imprensa, o Senado sai vencedor.

In opting for the technical decision, against the overwhelming pressure from the media, the Senate emerges a winner.

Derrota do Senado

Defeat for the Senate

A Folha de S.Paulo publica entrevista do senador petista Aloizio Mercadante, na qual ele cita o parecer de Dornelles para justificar sua abstenção.

The Folha de S. Paulo carried an interview with Sen. Mercadante in which he cites the opinion of Dornelles to justify his absention.

Mercadante afirma que, ao se dar conta de que tecnicamente não havia como condenar Renan, apresentou requerimento para adiar a sessão, mas foi derrotado no encaminhamento.

Mercadante says that when he saw there were no technical grounds for finding Calheiros guilty, he made a motion to delay the session, but was voted down.

Segundo Mercadante, até mesmo o senador Eduardo Suplicy se convenceu, com a explicação do ex-secretário da Receita, de que Renan não havia atentado contra o decoro parlamentar no caso específico em que estava sendo acusado.

According to Mercadante, even Suplicy was convinced by the former head of the tax authority that Calheiros had not engaged in conduct unbecoming on this specific count being voted on.

Mas o julgamento de Renan Calheiros também é político.

But the Calheiros trial was also political in nature.

A considerar a reação unânime da imprensa, o Senado foi condenado ao absolver seu presidente.

Judging from the unanimous response from the news media, the Senate was found guilty when it absolved its president.

O umbigo da imprensa

The media gazes at its navel

Os jornais de hoje estampam o conflito que se estabeleceu entre o poder legislativo da República e o informal, mas concreto, poder da mídia.

Today’s newspapers focused on the conflict between the federal legislature and the informal, but very real, power of the media.

O Senado ignorou a pressão unânime da imprensa.

The Senate ignored unanimous pressure by the press.

Resta à imprensa explicar aos seus leitores o que realmente aconteceu.

Now the press needs to explain to readers what actually took place.

Mas esse serviço não é prestado nas edições de hoje.

It’s not a service that today’s editions provide, however.

Aposta errada

Betting on the wrong horse.

Não basta, como faz a Folha de S.Paulo, dizer que alguns senadores mentiram ao anunciar que votariam pela cassação e optando depois pelo voto a favor de Renan ou pela abstenção.

It is not enough to say, as the Folha de S. Paulo does today, that some Senators lied when they announced they would vote to convict Calheiros, then decided to vote to absolve him, or abstained.

Com base nas declarações de intenção de voto, a Folha havia apostado na cassação por 41 a 37.

Based on the stated intentions of lawmakers, the Folha had predicted he would be impeached by a vote of 41-37.

Failed prognostication followed by blaming unforeseeable factors for the failure.

You do see a lot of this around here. See, for example

A renowned local Nostradamus explained why some of his predictions failed.

Two of Jucelino’s predictions failed to come true: An attack on Pope Benedict XVI in March 2006 and the victory of Geraldo Alckmin in the last presidential elections. Regarding Alckmin, he explains that premonitions have margins of error, and that the election was marred by electronic voting fraud.

Soothsayers for Geraldo “Harvard-educated” Alckmin!

O imenso umbigo do jornal o impede de admitir que os senadores possam simplesmente ter mudado de idéia, diante do argumento de um especialista de que não havia provas para tirar o mandato de Renan Calheiros.

The Folha‘s immense self-involvement prevents it from admitting that the Senators may simply have changed their minds given the argument of an expert that there was insufficient evidence to strip Calheiros of his office.

O Globo chama os senadores de covardes. Um de seus colunistas chega a afirmar que o Senado Federal acaba de cometer suicídio coletivo.

O Globo calls the Senators cowards. One of its columnists even says the federal Senate has committed collective suicide.

I bet you that would be Miriam Leitão. O Globo gabbles.

Considerando-se que os parlamentares precisam da opinião pública a seu favor, pode-se imaginar o contrário, ou seja, que os senadores foram corajosos ao afrontar a vontade unânime da mídia, correndo o risco de serem execrados na póxima eleição.

Taking into account the fact that lawmakers need favorable public opinion, one might imagine the contrary. That is, the the Senators acted courageously in resisting what the media wanted them to do, running the risk of being vilified in the next election.

Hora de investigar

Time to investigate

Renan ainda terá de responder a pelo menos duas outras acusações.

Calheiros still has to answer at least two other accusations.

Wasting an enormous amount of time and energy.

Antes disso, certamente o Senado terá mudado as regras, impedindo que se repita a sessão secreta que produziu cenas de luta-livre na porta do plenário, entre seguranças e deputados.

Given that, the Senate will certainly have to change its rules, preventing a repetition of the secret session that produce scenes reminiscent of professional wrestling at the door of the Senate chamber between security guards and members of the lower House.

Está mais do que na hora de a imprensa retomar seu verdadeiro papel, o de informar a opinião pública.

The time is more than ripe for the news media to return to its proper role, which is to inform public opinion.

É preciso investigar a vida de Renan Calheiros.

Calheiros should be investigated.

Mas também seria útil conhecer melhor os senadores que ele ameaçou ontem durante os debates.

But it would also be useful to learn more about the Senators that he threatened yesterday during the debate.

A sociedade precisa saber, afinal, o que esses parlamentares têm a esconder.

Society needs to know, after all, what these lawmakers have to hide.

Algumas dúvidas

A few remaining questions.

A absolvição de Renan Calheiros, no julgamento específico sobre a origem do dinheiro que paga a pensão da ex-namorada e sua filha, cria um momento único para a análise da imprensa.

The absolution of the [sex Senator] in a Senate trial on the specific count relating to the origin of money he paid to [his baby and baby-mom] created a unique moment for analyzing the Brazilian press.

A imprensa não pode descartar a hipótese de que o Senado tenha votado conscientemente contra a cassação, por não haver provas de que ele tenha usado dinheiro da empreiteira para cobrir as despesas.

The press cannot discard the theory that the Senate may have voted its conscience against impeachment, because there was no proof he used money from the Mendes Junior construction firm to cover his expenses.

Também não é absoluta a afirmação de que a votação tenha sido resultado apenas de manobras do governo. Afinal, segundo o Globo, pelo menos cinco senadores do Partido Democratas e três do PSDB teriam votado a favor de Renan.

It can also not affirm with complete confidence that the vote was merely the result of a government maneuver. After all, according to O Globo, at least five senators from the Democrats [ex-PFL] and three from the PSDB reportedly voted to absolve Calheiros.

E não consta que esses dois partidos tenham qualquer afinidade com os interesses do governo.

Neither party has any affinity with the interests of the government, as far as we know.

Além disso, a julgar pelo clima de guerra que se estabeleceu após o julgamento, com a oposição decidida a bloquear a votação da CPMF, o Exefutivo pode sair perdendo com a absolvição de Renan.

Furthermore, judging from the climate of war that settled in after the proceedings, with the opposition swearing to block the vote on continuing [a certain tax], the Executive could wind up losing from this decision.

Não basta fazer afirmações para que a verdade apareça.

Mere talk is not going the make the truth emerge.

O clamor público

Public outcry

A Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil distribuiu nota à imprensa para protestar contra o resultado do julgamento.

The Order of Brazilian Attorneys issued a press release to protest the result.

O presidente da OAB, Cezar Britto, disse à Folha de S.Paulo que o resultado da votação, na contramão do clamor público, distancia ainda mais o Senado da sociedade.

OAB president Britto told the Folha that the result, contradicting public sentiment, distances the Senate even more from mainstream society.

O jornal não lhe perguntou se, em qualquer caso de clamor público, os advogados deveriam ser dispensados da defesa, já que a condenação, no seu entender, seria automática.

The Folha did not ask him where, in each and every case of public outcry, attorneys out to be relieved of the duty of presenting a defense, given that convictions would, in his view, be automatic.

O Senado ignorou o clamor público. Cada senador votou conforme sua vontade, entre as pressões da imprensa e do governo.

The Senate ignored the public outcry. Each Senator voted as they wished to, despite pressures from government and the press.

O Estadão lembra que Renan Calheiros ainda vai ser julgado pelo Supremo Tribunal Federal.

The Estadão reminded us that Calheiros still has to be tried by the Supreme Court.

Ele é alvo do inquérito policial número 2.593, acusado de corrupção, uso de notas frias e enriquecimento ilícito.

He is the target of police investigation No. 2,593, accused of corruption, the use of forged invoices and illicit self-enrichment.

Mais uma oportunidade para uma justiça que satisfaça a imprensa e o clamor público.

One more opportunity for the courts to satisfy the press and public sentiment.

The professional association of Brazilian judges thinks politicians should just be tried like everybody else.

Like we gringos do.

You can kind of see why.

The weirdness of the Supreme Court serving as court of first instance is illustrated by a recent threat by a defendant in another case to appeal a Supreme Court decision on admitting a piece of evidence to the Supreme Court.

All in all, an exercise, I think, in using the folklore of corruption to overwhelm public patience with due process of law.

As to whether the guy ought not step down as presiding officer of the Senate, well, I will leave that to the locals, and maybe advise them to consider the Tom de Lay case back in Gringoland.

It does seem like a waste of time and taxpayer money to have somebody busy with personal legal troubles trying to do the Work of the People.

Then again, there really are people out there trying to prevent the Work of the People from getting done by making phony corruption charges against the people elected to do it.

And olha só a grande confusão.


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