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Brazil: Setbacks in the Legal and Institutional Anti-Corruption Frameworks

Corruption remains one of the biggest impediments to economic development in Brazil. It threatens recent strides made towards equality and social justice, and it has exposed the fragility of Brazil’s 30-year-old democracy.

Over the last few years, Operation Carwash (Operação Lava Jato, in Portuguese) has uncovered one of the largest corruption schemes in history, involving billions of dollars, as well as politicians and businesses from several countries. The mega-operation is the direct result of Brazil’s legal and institutional development, and its success has spurred anti-corruption efforts across Latin America. However, the difficulties in advancing wide-ranging reforms of the country’s political system and a recent wave of legal and institutional setbacks pose serious threats to this transformation. There are now risks that the progress might be short-lived and that impunity might experience renewed growth in the country and the region.

The setbacks include a Supreme Court injunction that virtually paralysed Brazil’s anti-money laundering system; an illegal inquiry, also conducted by the Supreme Court, that is secretly investigating law-enforcement agents; and growing political interference by the president in anti-corruption institutions. Brazil’s anti-corruption legal framework is also being weakened by the approval, in Congress, of legislation detrimental to the independence of law-enforcement agents and the accountability of political parties, among others.