Global Dialogues in Brazil - A starting debate on Ethics, Politics and Democracy

From right to left: Rafael Iorio, full professor of Law on Estácio de Sá University - Gabriel Almeida, Ethics Fellow for the Future and undergraduate Law studente on UFF - Devin Stewart, Senior Fellow from Carnegie Council - Fernanda Duarte, Global Ethics Fellow, Federal Judge and full professor of Law on UFF and Estácio - Ronaldo Lucas da Silva, historian and associate editor of the Brazilian Journal of Military History - Michael Ignatieff, Carnegie Council Centennial Chair and Professor on Harvard University. 

Since FIFA Confederation Cup occurred, about a month ago, the world has been closely observing Brazil. The huge events we are hosting in the next years, FIFA World Cup in 2014 an Olympics in 2016, as the ones we are now, like de World Youth Day, bring up vital questions: is Brazil ready to receive those events? How the international agenda is affecting local policies? How the population is reacting to all this?

This year, the Brazil watched the Mensalão Trial, where lots of politicians were condemned for corruption crimes. Corruption is one of the most difficult challenges that we have in Brazil, in order to establish our democracy. However, although we do have specific local issues, we can certainly affirm that corruption is not an exclusive problem of Brazil: every country has to challenge corruption. How do they deal with corruption? What can we learn from them? What can they learn from us?

In order to response those questions, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs promote the Global Ethical Dialogue in which, as said Professor Michael Ignatieff, “Carnegie Council goes around the world looking at ethical problems and understanding what we have in common; the problems we have in common and the language we have in common to solve them.”.

The mission started in Uruguay and Argentina, and then it came to Brazil. During one week, from June 17th to June 21 th, members of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs were in Rio de Janeiro in meetings with teachers, researchers, members of the judiciary, the executive, the legislature and civil society, debating issues on Ethics, Corruption, Public Trust, Environment and Sustainability.

Corruption and Public Trust was the main theme of the first two days of the Global Dialogues in Brazil. In the morning of June 17th, Monday, scholarships and researchers from the INCT-InEAC gathered onCCJF– Federal Justice Cultural Center - to discuss Brazilian law and juridical culture, and how it implies in the matters of ethics. The discussion was mediated by the Global Fellow Fernanda Duarte. For the professor Roberto Kant de Lima, PhD from Harvard and Professor on Federal Fluminense Law School, the first point about the Brazilian system is that "it is related to a dogmatic field of the law, where ideals are associated with the state: “Public” in Portuguese is associated with state; it is “state-owned.” The state therefore ranks higher than society, in a hierarchic way. The state governs society based on its own rules”

In the second day, on Estácio de Sá University, Professor Delton Meirelles, from LAFEP-UFF, mediated the debate between Professor Michael Ignatieff and the public. The direct talk between the public and the Professor made the debate really dynamic, where students could give theirs impressions about the topics in discussion.

In the third day of event, the main theme was Environment and Sustainability. The challenges of protecting the environment and the tensions between protection and development were the main points of the two debates of the day, which had dialogues between researchers, judges, journalists and members of Carnegie Mission.

After three days of instigating meetings and roundtables, Professor Michael Ignatieff gave us awonderful lecture, in which he made some thoughts about what he saw in Brazil.

One unpredictable fact made this beginning of mission more interesting: at the same time that Carnegie came to Brazil to discuss Corruption and Public Trust the Brazilian people came out streets to protest!

Professor Michael and the Senior Fellow Devin Stewart made a real “camp” in Rio de Janeiro’s protests. In the video below, we can see the Professor talking to a young student. When asked what she was protesting for, she said “PEC 37”. This proposal (a project for constitutional amendment) aimed to limit the investigation power of the Public Ministry, institution that in Brazilian Law is accountable for the criminal prosecution. In the week after the event, the controversial proposal (PEC that goes for project for constitutional amendment) came to be rejected by the Congress.

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PEC 37 was not the only reason why people were on streets. We can’t for sure precise what was the agenda: the movement was very diffuse, and different groups were protesting for different reasons. The high costs of living and the bad conditions of the public services, the investments on big events like the World Cup, the Corruption on different levels of public administration, the low investments on education and health – all these points could be seen on papers on streets. 

In this text, Devin Stewart gives his first thoughts about the lessons of the first part of the Global Ethical Dialogues Mission.

This short exposal of the Global Dialogues in Brazil is one idea to bring up questions and debates about Ethics and Law in comparative perspectives. As a proposal for starting a discussion:

  • What can you tell about the protests in Brazil, based of what you heard in your country? 
  • How corruption scandals, like Mensalão in Brazil, are treated in your country?
  • What comments and questions do you have about the Global Ethical Dialogues in Brazil?

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Tags: Brazil, GEF, democracy, ethics, fellows, rights


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Comment by Oumie Sissokho on August 17, 2013 at 4:47pm

Well said Olushola! We hope that our generation of scholars and politicians at least bring a little change in the way governance is conducted in our rising democracies and even those with different political settings. We have a great responsibility and it's only through our moral commitments that we can make the world a little better than it is today!

Comment by Valentine Olushola Oyedipe on August 17, 2013 at 7:57am

Yes! Sissohko, at times like that, vulnerable minority are usually worst hit in demonstrations that are geared towards emancipation in all its ramifications. The implication is that morality in the media is diminishing especially in developing democracies where the media as the fourth estate of the realm of governance-leadership has failed to discharge its statutory functions as a result of moral corruption and in most cases they are puppets of dictatorial and power grunted leaders to sustain their hegemony that grossly violate fundamental human rights.This unethical and immoral acts is plentiful in African democracy like you said. Nevertheless, we must realize that conflict to a degree is imperative, it is the untransformed conflict that is uncalled for which is violence.The Brazilian case a violation of human rights and crime against humanity.

Comment by Oumie Sissokho on August 16, 2013 at 1:18pm

Gabriel, it is unfortunate that the vulnerable/minority are most affected by the crack-downs in demonstrations like this. On the other hand, the media has an unpleasant behavior of faking the demands of such civil activities by not reporting objectively. It's not really different from some African experiences.

Comment by Gabriel G. S. Lima de Almeida on August 16, 2013 at 10:05am

Oumie, this brutal crackdown occurs in Brazil's demonstration, but I think in deferent way. Daily, policial violence is very selective: it affects only the poor ones and victimized groups. But in those protests, the violence has no selection, and it was really shocking: they attacked people on the demonstration with so called "non-lethal weapons" for free.
What is really intersting in Brazilian case is how the big media covers the violence on protests: they simply don't! And when they do, they disguise it saying that "police striked back vandalism and manifestants attacks". 


Comment by Oumie Sissokho on August 15, 2013 at 10:10am

The Brazilian experience (whose success depends on the evaluator!) once again shows that the people especially masses could have a strong influence to task the public sector (state) to better accountable and transparent practices in the governance of society. In some African countries (mine inclusive) have a challenge of endemic corruption but the tendency of brutal crackdown on any civil demonstration for an improvement of the problem is very likely thus moral leadership and ethics in public governance is a major challenge.

Comment by Valentine Olushola Oyedipe on August 1, 2013 at 4:49am

Yes! Gabriel I agree with you that democratic process is a legitimate mechanism in this regard.However, I want us all to realize that democracy is peoples voice.The people needed a small push for their awareness and consciousness on the looming democratic leakage known as corruption.Thereafter  in your language the power on the street cannot but move to real politics as the only instrument for the actualization of their mandate for humanity 

Comment by Gabriel G. S. Lima de Almeida on July 31, 2013 at 1:49pm

Thank you for your comment, Oyedipe!

It is a pleasure to hear from a different perspective about issues we all have, as corruption.
Brazilian protests, and agree with you, came in a very good time, perhaps even a little late. What we have to do now, as society, is to move all this power that we saw on the streets to real politics. The experience of Nigeria (Thank you for de reference, this experience on Nigeria is new for me, and it is really interesting to compare with Brazil!) can really help us to think what kind of institutional changes are possible in Brazilian context, and what are not. But this decision, in a Democracy, has to be made in a democratic process, not only in the streets.

Comment by Valentine Olushola Oyedipe on July 31, 2013 at 9:56am
corruption is a canker worm that has eaten dip into the fabric of the society. The Brazilian experience as regards Mensalao trial is a starting point to combat corruption. However,The protest is a welcome development because it is until the power of public officials are reduced and be checkmated via constitutional review that the fight against corruption could be realized. A good example is the Nigerian case with the establishment of Economic and Financial Crime Commission( E F C C) and anti- graft commission for the trial of public office holders in Nigeria.Albeit,The commission was criticized by some quarters that the then leadership used the commission to witch-hunt political rivals. Nevertheless, the commission achieved some reasonable successes in the fight against corruption.Therefore the steps taken by Prof. Micheal et al., is a pragmatic one an exemplification of moral courage in the face of possible challenges.The Global Ethic Dialogues in Brazil was timing and should be sustained

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