From his 19th-floor newsroom Eurípedes Alcântara enjoys a spectacular view over the “new Brazil”; helicopters flit through the afternoon sky, shiny new cars honk their way across town, tower blocks and luxury shopping centres sprout like turnips from the urban sprawl.
But Alcântara, one of the country’s most powerful journalists, also stares out at the old Brazil; a place of political wheeler-dealing, kick-backs and endemic corruption that costs billions each year and continues to slow the rise of this South American giant. As executive editor of the influential and divisive news weekly Veja, Alcântara believes it is his calling to stop the sleaze. "It is a civilisational clash. What kind of country do we want to be?" he said.
“Majority of people play by the rules, they work from sunrise to sunset and pay their taxes as much as they can. Yet another portion lives dangling off the state apparatus, living off deals with people who have the keys to the safe. We see [uncovering corruption] as our mission.”
2011 will go down in Brazilian history as the year that Dilma Rousseff, its first woman president, came to power. But it may also be remembered as the year in which public frustration over rampant political corruption finally boiled over.
Since Rousseff came to office in January, five ministers have been toppled by ethics or corruption scandals, the latest being Orlando Silva, the sports minister, who resigned on Wednesday after Veja alleged he was involved in a £14m graft racket.
Nationwide protests, while timid compared to those in Chile or the Middle East, have brought thousands to the streets to demand an end to the looting of public money. With the word corruption on everyone’s lips, the Brazilian media has played a lead role in unearthing the wrongdoings of some of the country’s most powerful politicians.
In June Rousseff’s powerful chief-of-staff, Antonio Palocci, was forced to resign after the Folha de São Paulo newspaper revealed his personal fortune had grown 20-fold in a four-year period. Three months later, the same paper helped dethrone the country’s tourism minister, Pedro Novais, 81, who had previously been accused of using public money to bankroll a late-night party inside a sex-motel called The Caribbean. Novais’s bill at the motel — where rooms fitted with swimming pools, saunas and circular beds are rented for £35 for three hours — reportedly came to around £767.
Veja’s reporting has brought down the agriculture minister Wagner Rossi, accused of misusing public money, the transport minister, Alfredo Nascimento, with an expose detailing an alleged bribery scheme within his ministry, and this week the sports minister.
“[The politicians] all say: ‘When I get a call from Veja it’s because my life is about to get worse,” Alcântara chuckled.
“It’s not a campaign… but it is an obsession,” added the 55-year-old editor, whose latest front page carried the headline Ten Reasons to Get Angry About Corruption. The inside story pointed out that with the R$85bn (£30bn) of public money siphoned off each year, the government could eradicate poverty, build 1.5m homes — or purchase 18m designer handbags.
- The Guardian