Brazil Institute, 07/01/2013

As protests continued in Brazilian streets, three fourths of a sample of 4,717 voters interviewed last week by Datafolha in 196 cities said they want the prison sentences to take effect immediately against twelve people convicted last year of crimes of corruption in the so-called mensalão scandal to take effect immediately.

The case refers to a scheme set up by the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) to buy votes in Congress by paying representatives a monthly stipend. After a lengthy national televised trial of the 37 people indicted, Brazil’s Supreme Court returned guilty verdicts against twenty five. Twelve of those received prison sentences – a novelty in Brazil, which is famous for the impunity its political and judicial systems have historically ensured to people in high places through a lengthy appeal process. Among the sentenced to jail terms are José Dirceu de Oliveira, Lula’s first chief of staff and policy coordinator, a former president of his Workers Party (PT) and a former Speaker of the House.

Political corruption was one of the targets of an unprecedented wave of protests that has swept Brazil for the past two and a half weeks and is likely to continue. Significantly, the support for executing the prison sentences returned in the mensalão scandal was uniformly high among voters of all stripes, including those who identified themselves as members or sympathizers of Lula’s Workers Party.

Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center