Sergio Moro: “I don’t think Brazilians have a tragic choice between Lula and Bolsonaro”
RIO DE JANEIRO.- Sergio Moro remains optimistic. The former Lava Jato judge, launched to the presidency in October, appears in the polls as the strongest option of the so-called “third way” in the race for the Planalto Palace. He is far from Jair Bolsonaro and former President Lula da Silva, but he believes that it is possible to break the polarization between the “two extremes”.
The former Minister of Justice does not regret having entered the Bolsonaro government and, having become a candidate, harshly criticizes the two adversaries. “I don’t think Brazilians have a tragic choice between Lula and Bolsonaro,” he says in an interview with LA NACION.
-When you were a judge and they asked you about the possibility of entering politics, you answered that it was a non-existent “risk”. Why did you decide to run for president?
-When I said that the circumstances were quite different. The country is going through a very delicate moment today. (After leaving the Ministry of Justice in 2020) I was working in the private sector, and I waited in 2021 for the emergence of a candidacy that could break the polarization between the extremes, represented by Bolsonaro and Lula. Unfortunately it didn’t happen, and I ended up facing a mission. I think it is important for the country to break that polarization.
-And what is your strategy to break it?
-Brazilians are dissatisfied with the current government, which brought about a dismantling of the fight against corruption and a rather negative economic picture. This dissatisfaction also appears with the Workers’ Party (PT) because they were governments based on models of corruption and that left the great recession of 2014-2016 as a legacy. There is a lot of room for another proposal that, in addition to breaking with that polarization, talks about the future, about how we have to improve our economy and not obscure the debate with the logic of treating people as friends or enemies.
-You arrive at the election with a good part of your work as a judge questioned by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and several convictions annulled. Is it one more challenge to make your candidacy viable?
-Everyone in Brazil knows what the Lava Jato operation was, praised internationally, including in Argentina. It meant a break with the impunity of great corruption. We saw corruption scandals repeating themselves and nothing happened, and for the first time powerful people, big contractors, politicians in high positions were tried, convicted and served time in prison. That really represented the primacy of the rule of law, which is fundamental to that democracy. Unfortunately, there was a political reaction against these advances and the desire of many to return to the status quo.
-The STF was decisive in reviewing its decisions.
-I have great respect for the STF, there are excellent ministers, but those decisions that weakened the fight against corruption –such as the annulment of the convictions of former President Lula– were for formal reasons, not because he is innocent. To me, those decisions, with all due respect, were huge miscarriages of justice. And they do not dialogue with the aspirations of the Brazilian population. The STF was unfortunately wrong, but that is also the responsibility of the country’s leader. The president could have assumed a more relevant role in hindering these setbacks and chose not to do so.
-In the case of the Guarujá triplex, beyond the formal reasons, you were declared biased. Do you recognize that there were procedural excesses, such as the exchange of messages with the prosecutors of the operation, which left the door open for annulments?
-I am very proud of the operation and the work done. There was no illegality and the story of the persecution is a fantasy and a big mistake of the STF. The ministers who lost in the vote made it clear that there was no persecution and, in reference to these alleged messages, no illegality. What exists in the background in Brazil, and in other Latin American countries, is the logic that if you are powerful enough you can be above the law. Even in the case of the alleged persecution, at no time did the STF say that the Petrobras robbery did not happen or that Lula would be innocent.
-In December, Lula was honored in Buenos Aires by Argentine President Alberto Fernández for his fight against “abuses of power.” What does he think about that?
-There is a phrase by President Theodore Roosevelt from the beginning of the last century: “The exposure of the fight against corruption is a source of pride for a country, it is a source of shame to hide it.” I would also add that the celebration of corruption is reprehensible.
-You have affirmed that the Brazilian president sabotaged the fight against corruption. Why did he do it? Who did he want to protect?
-He himself publicly declared the reason for the sabotage, because he did not agree to protect him or his family from investigations by the police, the Treasury or the money laundering body.
-Bolsonaro said that the Lava Jato operation ended because there is no more corruption in the government
-(Laughs). That is an illusion. When no one is looking, no one investigating, and no one acting, these scandals are covered up. The president, in addition to cases reported in the press involving relatives and close to him, embraced many politicians who were involved in corruption in the past and were also allies of Lula.
-In addition to stopping the fight against corruption, you have pointed out that the current government helped to weaken the institutions. Do you recognize that it was a mistake to have accepted the position of minister?
-There was a negative history of Bolsonaro, but the president had moderated those statements during the elections. There was a hope that he could behave like a statesman and that he would delegate both to me and to the Minister of Economy the main functions of the government. When the president invites you to change the country for the better, it’s hard to say no. And there was a chance. When I perceived that the purpose was not true, I left the government.
-Are you optimistic that Brazil can resume an anti-corruption agenda?
-The challenges today are different, and they mainly involve resuming economic growth. Brazil is stagnant, it has high inflation and that led to an increase in interest rates that ends up inhibiting investment. That is the main slogan of 2022. But a lesson for Brazil is that there is no lasting economic growth that reduces inequalities in a dishonest environment. Growth depends mainly on trust, on credibility. One of the causes of our economic backwardness is explained by the fact that governments, under the pretext of governability, make ethical transgressions, or are involved in bribes.
-And what is your plan to recover growth?
-I believe in growth from the free market, innovation, creativity, mainly from the private sector. The State has an extremely relevant regulatory role. In a country like Brazil, with great social inequalities, we cannot neglect the importance of large social programs, quality public education, health for all and specific policies to eradicate poverty. It is possible to reconcile a liberal view of the economy with social responsibility. Mix fiscal responsibility with social responsibility.
-What would Lula’s return to the presidency mean?
-I don’t count on Bolsonaro’s continuity or on Lula’s return. The first represents a government that did not work and the second, a government from the past that has already been tried and did not work either. This time it would not be different, the tendency is that the experience is worse. But I don’t think that Brazilians have to work between a tragic choice between Lula and Bolsonaro, I don’t see that as an alternative. The market, the workers, the people in general have an aspiration to escape the polarization that infantilises public debate. There is plenty of room until the general election in October, and our project is likely to burst that polarization.
-Do you see Bolsonaro willing to carry out the threat of not accepting an eventual defeat?
-It is a delirium and an improper threat to the democratic regime. There is currently no such risk in the country. That kind of threat is unacceptable.