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Brazil’s President Is Latest Target in Massive Corruption Scandal

Flickr / Anderson Riedel

Brazil’s president Michel Temer could be the latest politician whose career is toppled by one of the farthest-reaching corruption scandals in the country’s history.  

Earlier this week, the Brazilian newspaper O Globo published a report claiming tape recordings expose Temer’s involvement in the scandal. In the tape, he evidently encourages bribe.

Temer has denied the claims and is calling for an investigation into the allegations.

But more than a third of Temer’s cabinet and dozens of other politicians are already under investigation for related corruption.

If the content of the tapes are true, and Temer took part in a bribe, then he may soon find himself the target of an impeachment campaign not long after he championed the impeachment of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff.

The History of the Scandal

In 2014, a police investigation known as “Operation Car Wash” was revealed to the public.

For years, the partly state-owned company Petrobras had been involved in a kickback scheme that allowed billions of dollars to be skimmed from the government.  

Read More: Millions Are Protesting in Brazil to Fundamentally Change the Country

Essentially, when a construction project was opened up for bidding, contractors — under the guidance of Petrobras executives — colluded to inflate their bids, ensuring that the oil giant would pay more for the project than if the process was conducted impartially. The extra money would then be divvied up among executives and politicians.

Former President Dilma Rousseff had deep ties to Petrobras, having formerly run the company and having had appointed many of its top executives. While she was never connected to the scandal, her reputation was blighted as members of her party were implicated.

She was eventually impeached in August 2016 from another controversy involving mismanaged government funds and Temer assumed full power of the government.

But the Car Wash investigations were far from over.

The highest ranking figure brought down by the scandal was Eduardo Cunha, the former president of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil. He’s now serving 15 years in prison for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

The tapes allegedly showing president Temer’s guilt revolve around Cunha. In the tapes, Temer encourages the bribery of Cunha to keep him from cooperating with law enforcement and divulging incriminating evidence, such as information about Temer himself receiving kickbacks.

Read More: Why Impeaching Dilma Rousseff Hurts Brazil’s Poor

As soon as the report became public earlier this week, calls for Temer’s impeachment or resignation began spreading throughout the country.

Members of Congress filed impeachment requests and called for snap elections; protests erupted in Sao Paolo, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Recife; and political commentators have called the event a “point of no return” for the president.

Temer has been a deeply unpopular president ever since he took office and began enacting an austerity program to reduce the government.

Some of the fiercest opponents of this approach have been students and teachers, who have extensively protested the freezing of educational budget after they had been pegged to rise for years to come.

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But all across the country, people from all walks of life are getting fed up with what they regard as a corrupt government that’s doing little to improve life for the average citizen.

In late April, one of the largest protest in decades swept through 26 states, according to The Guardian. Tens of thousands of workers including teachers, bus drivers, oil technicians, nurses, doctors, and public servants demanded the resignation of Temer and an end to welfare cuts.

The latest chapter of Operation Car Wash will further polarize the country and intensify the demands for Temer’s departure.

For Brazil — a country that has seen five coups throughout its democracy — two impeachments in as many years wouldn’t be the strangest thing in the world.

And it would show that the Brazilian people are committed to one of the chief aims of Global Goal 16 — rooting out all forms of corruption.