Book Review of Brazillionaires by Alex Cuadros

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Genre: Development & Growth Economics
Author: Alex Cuadros
Title: Brazillionaires (Buy the Book)

Summary

Brazilian saying: “He steals but he gets things done.”

Alex Cuadros, a renowned reporter for Bloomberg, quit his job to weave a tale of “wealth, power, decadence, and hope in an American country”. Breaking the book into two parts, he shapes a narrative of a fast-paced, growing nation on the brink of holding a bright future.

Cuadros follows the lives of prominent billionaires in Brazil and their role in shaping Brazil’s economy and politics. The second part of Brazillionaires digs deep into the story of Eike Batista, owner of a conglomerate of businesses within Brazil. These businesses range from oil to mining to logistics. Once the richest of all Brazilians, Eike’s companies began to crumble beneath him.

With the fall of Eike’s businesses, Brazil fell prey to a similar scenario. The economy dropped substantially and reached a crisis of unprecedented proportion leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games.

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The elite mentioned in this book include Eike Batista, Jorge Lemann, Sebastiao Camargo, Marcelo Odebrecht, Roberto Marinho and Edir Macedo. Collectively, these businessmen have controlled and changed the political and economic scene in Brazil.

TV oligopoly owners Marinho and Macedo have the power to shape the media presence in Brazil. Their ability to display their personal beliefs creates a system absent of checks and balances. The amount of political donations, or bribes, that occur within Brazil causes the nation to rely too much on these business magnates.

Corruption runs rampant in Brazil and hope for change is scarce. Scandals like that of Carwash, a scheme that enabled their construction firms to have the best bids on oil contracts, will take years to settle in court. Cuadros officially began his investigative journey in 2011, interviewing billionaires.

By 2015, when Brazil was getting ready for the Olympic games, little had changed. Odebrecht, a prominent construction giant, contracted the area plotted to host the Olympic contestants and the firm received low- interest loans from the government to fund the project. Before construction started, this area had been home to some of the poor in Brazil.

Instead of investing in these areas to build them up like the mayor had promised, he allowed the destruction of that area so this project could be implemented instead. Odebrecht was even given the option to sell property from the Olympic Village in the open market.

Profits were guaranteed to these firms even though the economy was falling into a recession. Government officials feared that losing one of these businesses would create a catalyst and cause the economy to get even worse. They also were afraid of losing the money and support that kept them in office.

Stories like this are common in Brazil and shape the storyline of Brazillionaires. Political leaders believe that creating projects and using Brazilian businesses will improve the economy, but progress is seldom made. Because contracts were also bought by bribes, only the wealthy benefited.

The hope is that Brazilian government will turn around and actually repudiate the corrupt who are poisoning the system. Recently, the Supreme Court banned corporate campaign donations, which might prevent the wealthy business tycoons from holding so much power over those in politics. However, there is understandable doubt regarding whether this will stop “under-the-table” payments.

Cuadros believes that “stricter regulation on the way stocks are promoted would help–another small step toward a different set of national priorities.” But Cuadros claims that is not an option right now. If Brazil sets a precedent that the corrupt will actually be punished and lead to a conviction, the culture of impunity may be able to change. Unfortunately, this is not something Cuadros can control and does not project that outcome.

My Views

The Olympic Games are always exciting to watch. I remember being glued to the TV for the 2016 games last summer, and hearing all the drama surrounding Brazil. This included the health issues with Zika and the water supply, and the president being booed during the opening ceremony. It was not until reading Brazillionaires that I realized how badly the country was faring. The political unrest and corruption that surrounded the culture of Brazil was both enlightening and horrifying.

I was astonished by how promising the Brazilian economy once looked, and the recession and fall that happened immediately afterwards. The stories Cuadros used to explain the falling nation made the book truly dramatic. He presented the themes in a way that captivated the audience. Overall though, I was just frustrated with the Brazilian system.

The billionaires were fascinating men, but were extremely selfish. They focused on their own power and money. They did work illegally to influence politics to benefit their business and themselves, claiming it was for the good of the community. To me, it was a huge lie that Brazil was forced to buy into.

I do not believe the most important aspect of this book to be Cuadros’ detailed storytelling, but it is the fact that Brazil has learned to accept the corruption. The people almost respected it, and even if they did not, then they passively let it happen. The government was taking so many bribes that they would not punish this corruption.

Inevitably, this set a precedent that the only way to thrive in Brazil was to cheat the system. The questions Cuadros asks in this book are extremely important if Brazil hopes to stimulate its economy again. Unfortunately, we cannot foresee the future and be able to know how Brazil will respond. However, the first step is to begin changing the mindset they hold.

By the end of the book, Cuadros explains that the Carwash investigation did not show signs of slowing down. If this scandal can create a system of checks and balances and actually punish the elite, there will be hope for Brazil. It might take many steps, but “enforcement and public engagement are both key here.” Brazil needs to recreate its priorities and not let the elite control politics.

One extreme objective may be to even break up the oligopolies that have so much power within Brazil, like TV Globo or TV Record. Just like with Standard Oil, created by Rockefeller, when it was broken into thirty-four smaller companies in the early 1900s.

Segregating the media into smaller segments of news, TV shows, sports, and more may dilute the power each billionaire holds. Whether this solution is viable may not be determinable, but the question remains whether Brazil will enact change, and if the people will support it.

INTRODUCTION

From his first trip to Brazil in 2005, to conversations and interviews with people living there from 2010 to 2016, Cuadros brought the life of Brazil’s economy, politics, wealth, and rise and fall of this exciting nation right into our hands. The stories, facts, and details of this book came from press reports, books, firsthand reporting, interviews, academic papers, and official histories.

Billionaires like businessmen Eike Batista and Jorge Lemann; construction giants like Sebastiao Camargo and Marcelo Odebrecht; and TV network owners like Roberto Marinho and Edir Macedo, all played a role in the corruption and destruction of Brazil. Political leaders such as Dilma Rousseff, Lula, Fernando Collor de Mello, Joao Goulart, and Getulio Vargas contributed to the rise and fall of Brazil as well.

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Alex Cuadros asks questions about these men and their role in the economy such as: “Did the ultra-rich take a society forward or hold it back?” and “Could billionaires create progress at all, or did progress simply create billionaires?” At the end of the book, when events occurred that may allude to progress, Cuadros’ asks: “Is the relationship between money and political power in Brazil finally changing?” and “Can the corruption…be pinned on one person, rather than a larger system of ideology and influence?”

These questions paint the theme of this book, maybe the combination of these factors caused the problems, or maybe the unstableness of Brazil was inevitable. In Brazillionaires, Alex Cuadros dives into the personal stories of multiple billionaires, and how their contributions have paved the economic and political landscape of Brazil.

POLITICAL OVERVIEW

The political scene in Brazil has had multiple ups and downs. Ranging from a monarchy, to a military regime, to a democracy, it is always changing, and many times due to political unrest and coups. Whoever is in office seems to continuously have backing from the prominent, wealthy families in Brazil, even if the political leaders contradict or have different views; campaign donations, bribery, and money change hands either way.

Multiple billionaires have helped bring an individual into power with monetary donations and bribes, and a few years later have been the cause of the removal of that political figure. The power of wealth and poor checks and balances contribute to this corrupt system within Brazil. And many times, the people of Brazil ignore the issue and accept the flawed system as the norm.

In the late 1800s, the Portuguese monarchy was overthrown and Brazil finally had a republican government.

Then, in the 1930s, a military revolt ensued to take over the corrupt politics of the republic and Getulio Vargas took power. Getulio took advantage of his new role and led the country under a dictatorship rule. Later, Lula said of Getulio, “he took a whole nation up from a state of semi-slavery and turned us into citizens with rights.”

Instead of importing products, which was the norm in Brazil, Getulio created a manufacturing nation. Next, the country began crying out for free elections, and in 1951, Getulio won the election through popular vote. Those that helped bring him to power soon despised him though, and the country demanded his resignation; instead, Getulio shot himself in the heart.

A few more presidents took over after that, one of which was Joao Goulart.

Like Getulio, those that brought him to power helped overthrow him in the end. In 1964, Goulart, and the government, was taken over by a military coup. The military set up the governmental system until 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello took office in the first free presidential election in thirty years.

With promise to modernize Brazil, Collor did the exact opposite, angering the businessmen that put him into power. Any excuse to impeach Collor was encouraged and when a bribery scheme came to light, Collor stepped down as president.

The next major change occurred in 2002 when Lula da Silva was elected. Lula shared the same dream as some wealthy individuals, wanting “to bring the nation not so much into the twenty-first century, with tech and high finance, but into the twentieth, with ports, dams, and big, basic Brazilian companies.” At the beginning of the 21st century, Brazil had high hopes for its nation.

To help stimulate this growth, Brazil enacted a requirement for businesses with oil concessions to only use Brazilian manufactured products. After Lula, Dilma Rousseff took office. Two problems faced her from the beginning: an overheating economy with rising inflation, and commodity prices falling overseas. Under Dilma, interest rates increased initially, and then went down immediately after.

Tax cuts were given to manufacturers but budget cuts were made across the board.

Her solutions were contradictory and Brazil’s debt rose, while the economy failed to rebound. With the support from the wealthy, she was able to stay in office. Like Lula, Dilma shared the Brazilian nationalist view for her country. Their desire for goods and services to be produced within Brazil to spur economic growth created a bond with the wealthy.

It gave men like Eike business for their firms and created a pride within Brazil. Although this “buy Brazilian” mentality created hope for the nation, it was not sustainable. Most of the contracts with Eike were never completed and the nationalist approach hurt more than it helped Brazil. Putting too much power in Brazilian businesses backfired and the corruption tainted the economic system.

The pride in Brazil created an attitude where people thought they could get away with anything. Therefore, the economy was counterproductive because contracts with firms would only go to specific people. The nation did not benefit, just the select few businesses receiving the contracts and their senior management.

POWER OF WEALTH

Wealth in Brazil holds weight beyond measure. Wherever the money is, power is right around the corner. The power follows in business deals, in politics, and in criminal cases. Dilma once claimed that indicting the firms of corruption would take away jobs, halt public works, and create an outlet for foreign nations to control Brazil.

Politicians literally feared outing their monetary source. Billionaires like Sebastiao Camargo, Marcelo Odebrecht, Roberto Marinho, Edir Macedo and Eike Batista, financed political parties and campaigns to receive insurmountable benefits. Tax cuts, fast-tracked permits, contracts, credit lines, and billions of dollars of loans were given to these men and their businesses because of the impact and power their money held. In one year, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) lent over 76 billion dollars, which was more than the World Bank lent to the entire world.

Billionaires play a key theme in this book. A few specific ones play the biggest role, and Cuadros uses examples and stories to show how their control plagues Brazil.

EBX

“The market moved constantly on something [Eike had] said or done.”

People believed everything Eike Batista dished out. Their confidence in his business and words only caused trouble for Brazil. Under his conglomerate known as EBX (Eike Batista X), Eike controlled LLX Logistica, MMX Mineracao, OSX Brasil, OGX Petroleo, and MPX Energia. His fascination with the letter X is one of many quirks in his wild lifestyle.

During an auction war, Eike bid on oil fields in a way that confused many people.

He potentially paid up to ten times the going price for the fields, causing investors to assume Eike and his team knew something nobody else did. Instead of questioning the overpriced bids, they trusted Eike’s judgment. Stock in his public companies jumped substantially with the hope of profits, which never came.

One major project Eike created was a new port in Brazil called Açu. Unfortunately, all that Açu amounted to was a “ten mile pier of concrete in shallow sea that needed dredging” two years after it was projected to be open. Then, news came out that Eike’s businesses held contracts that could not be fulfilled. MPX Energia, OSX Brasil, and MMX Mineracao did not have the resources to meet clients’ needs. The energy company, MPX, had to outsource electricity from a competitor and the mining company, MMX, had to buy ore from competitors as well.

As time passed, these delays caused profit loss, but Eike would publish reports that gave positive forecasts and projections. His wealth was so powerful that the nation believed everything he said.

Not only did the public support Eike, but politicians supported him as well. Although you could also say that Eike supported politicians, which in turn benefitted Eike tremendously. Charity was his way of controlling the political scene.

In 2002, Eike criticized the election of Lula, and four years later donated half a million dollars to help reelect Lula and win Lula’s support.

While Lula was president, the BNDES funded loans amounting to five billion dollars to Eike’s businesses. When Eike’s businesses started failing, Dilma still supported Eike, claiming that if Eike failed the nation would fail. This fueled the narrative that the government only looked out for its own interests.

When news of bankruptcy for his companies finally came out, the amount of debt Eike held also became a hot topic. Unknown to most, Eike had been pledging leverage on leverage of his own shares as collateral for the deals he made. Soon, Eike’s billion-dollar net worth dropped.

Finally, accusations started arising in 2014 for insider trading, withholding relevant data on bad investments, and distorted reports. However, in typical Brazilian fashion, Eike continued to live in luxury while waiting for his trial.

3G Capital

“Lemann is a legend in the world of money. He’s seen as the man who brought meritocracy to Brazil.”

In the 1970’s Lemann took over a brokerage firm called Garantia. Now he is a partner for 3G Capital and aided in the acquisition of Budweiser and Burger King. In a sense, Lemann was a contradiction to Eike. Or at least, he wanted to be the appearance of one. Cuadros assesses that Lemann “was self-made but not the rags-to-riches kind.” He came from a wealthy background, but used his circumstances to get the best education.

At Garantia, Lemann tried not to live the life of luxury that Eike portrayed.

Dressed in khaki pants and short sleeve shirts, he could be seen driving to work in his decade old Passat. As far as employers go, Garantia was the top firm for young businessmen in Brazil. Lemann created a culture that taught you to give your all and work nonstop. There was no assignments, employees were required to create work for themselves and had to come up with contributions on their own.

Lemann held to the fact that he became wealthy through hard work and individual merit, and not using his dad or finding assets to buy low and sell high for quick profits like Eike had done. Some compare Lemann to John D. Rockefeller with his, “daring in design, cautious in execution” lifestyle as characterized by the biographer Ron Chernow. Others claim that Lemann never needed to ask the government for a favor, but that does not mean he did not benefit from it.

He received four billion dollars of taxpayer-subsidized rates over a ten-year period. And a scholarship he created was once awarded to a woman whose father served as health minister, which sounds a lot like bribery to me. Although Eike’s life was outward and flashy, at least Eike did not hide his desire for power as Lemann did.

When pushed into a corner, Lemann would reach out to his contacts at the bank for fast-track approval when needed.

He also cheated the system with the voting and nonvoting shares he held in an AmBev merger mentioned in greater detail later on. Potentially the father of meritocracy in Brazil, Cuadros claims that repetition and belief in the word causes it to lose its meaning. “The myth of Lemann, the myth of pure meritocracy, can be dangerous: a wishful justification for an unequal status quo.” Like the other billionaires in Brazil, Cuadros states that Lemann just desires to create an empire that leaves his mark on Brazil.

Construction Giants

“I’m always here. It’s you gentlemen who change.”

If one quote can summarize the control of wealth in Brazil, this quote made by Sebastiao Camargo is perfect. It goes to show that government officials can be replaced, but money from the wealthy always remains. Camargo helped build one of the biggest construction giants in Brazil.

In an economy that supported infrastructure projects, Camargo Correa never ceased to have control. His ability to befriend whoever took office next gave him unequivocal power. Soon Camargo would become involved with a huge scandal that would throw the entire government into disorder.

This scandal, now known as Carwash, followed a cartel made by construction giants Camargo Correa, Odebrecht, and a couple other companies that received contracts from the state oil company, Petrobras. To receive these contracts, this cartel paid over two billion dollars in bribes to the government run under Dilma.

To make matters worse, Dilma had once been the chairwoman for Petrobras when Lula was president. Protests in March 2015 caused mayhem in Brazil as the people demanded impeachment for Dilma. Cuadros writes,

“Corruption is truly an issue in Brazil when inflation gets out of control. That’s why Collor fell in 1992, but Lula didn’t fall in 2005.”

In Brazil, unless the economy has a tangible problem, corruption gets slid under the rug.

But this time Brazilians wanted justice. However, Dilma and her supporters tried blaming the actual investigation instead of the bribery itself, trying to deflect the blame away from herself and the cartel. This investigation led to fines and even the imprisonment of Marcelo Odebrecht and detainment of Lula. Whether the power of money is truly changing is yet to be seen.

Cuadros questions whether a culture of corruption among construction giants can be targeted at one person, and if punishing one contributor will enact change within a nation. Although it may be too early to tell, Brazil is in dire need of progress. The imprisonment of Odebrecht may be the first step in hopefully changing the system of impunity Brazil holds.

Media Tycoons

“Globo…an ‘institution of power’ in Brazil. It’s shaped the debate on wealth, sex, and race for the past half-century.”

TV in Brazil shapes everyday life whether wealthy or poor. In the 1970’s, families without running water would still own a TV set. Now, with a population of 200 million Brazilians, forty percent will be watching a soap opera run by TV Globo. Roberto Marinho owned a TV network that had millions watching, which allowed him to control the narrative the media portrayed.

Marinho encouraged the 1930 takeover by Vargas, and then Marinho denounced his support later on.

The initial friendship sparked with their mutual anticommunism beliefs, but when Vargas prevented Marinho’s first TV license bid, they became enemies. Marinho used propaganda against political opponents and provocative newspaper stories to aid politicians he supported.

Abuse of his power reached a new level when protests for free-elections in 1984 were described as celebrations of the city’s birthday. Marinho used Globo to publicize the agenda he believed in, gaining support from politicians nationwide. Pro-business, pro-democracy, and anti-communist were in Marihno’s belief system.

Presidential elections were postponed multiple times on the request of Marinho when he worried the vote would not be in his favor. “Globo labeled all left-wing militants as terrorists whether they’d been proven guilty of a crime or not.” Whoever would support his business the most, would receive funding from Marinho. He would even change his views if the result benefited Globo, striving for more power and more profits within his company.

No one dared challenge the TV oligopoly due to Marinho’s contacts in politics. Contracts to government officials from Marinho resulted in major platforms to gain votes and profits beyond measure. This favoritism halted any legislation on the ban of media oligopolies. The Marinho family wealth gave them an opportunity to control politics.

Edir Macedo ran the second largest TV network, TV Record. A preacher for the Universal Church, Macedo teaches the prosperity gospel, claiming that donating to the church will bring insurmountable riches. Cuadros gave a simplified version of how Macedo acquired the network,

“He took his followers’ donations, called them interest-free loans from the church, and used the money to take over a television network called TV Record back in 1989”

The danger with Macedo is his ability to use religion to accumulate wealth. When in reality he is stealing money from the poor to fund his TV network. Mentioned in further detail later, his wealth led to an investigation against him ending with no sentence. In Brazil, “money talks”.

Overall, these businesses and owners carry too much weight in Brazil.

Politicians almost seem like puppets in some cases, making every decision based on who is supporting them at the time. This power allows these wealthy individuals to receive special treatment in multiple scenarios. Contract bids, funding, and support for big businesses all come from controlling politics.

Additionally, these billionaires never had to worry about the scandals they caused. The worst that could happen was a fine that they could pay off. According to Cuadros, “When winners emerge in the race for profit, free markets become less free. The winners gain leverage in government, and the line between public and private blurs.”

This culture allows for dishonesty in business and politics. If that never changes, Brazil will have trouble becoming the prominent nation it wants to be.

PRIDEFUL NATIONALISTIC VIEW

As Cuadros continued to interview the billionaires of Brazil, a pattern unfolded. Each businessman felt that their contribution, their industry, their company, kept society as a whole together. Without them, Brazil would not function. Blairo Maggi, the owner of an agribusiness soy producer, captured this mantra when he stated,

“The company’s results belong much more to Brazilian society than to [our family], because it generates progress, development, opportunity.”

Let us not look past the fact that Maggi was given the Golden Chainsaw Award for the deforestation in Brazil he caused. He claimed that an increase in deforestation of 40% has no effect on the Amazon and was bestowed this award for his promotion of clearing the rainforest.

A fifth of the Amazon Rainforest has been flattened since 1970 to support agribusiness.

Even with the role Maggi played, he became a governor in 2006 and later a senator of the environmental committee, as ironic as that is. The people of Brazil support businesses, and put all of their hope in projects and a nationalistic vision.

One project that affects the Amazon and was pushed through the system on questionable terms was the Belo Monte dam. This project employed thousands of workers and then laid off people as time went on. One major reason for the dam, to supply jobs for Brazilians, ended up hurting more than helping.

Those workers that moved for employment became stranded in a overpopulating city. Some ended up finding drugs, burglary became rampant, and frequent power outages were commonplace. The increasing population created a higher demand for utilities that could not be maintained. The construction giants like Camargo Correa and Odebrecht did not experience any of this pain though.

The contracts with the government guaranteed revenues to these construction companies but prevented them from losses if the dam was a bust. Even with the forced displacement of tribes in the Amazon, the government allowed this massive project, believing the jobs that would result would justify the means.

The government official supporting the project ended up holding an executive role at a company outsourced to work on the project, giving another example of the bribery within Brazil. Cuadros writes,

“Dilma’s attitude about the environment belongs to the same brand of pragmatism that led her and Lula to ally themselves with corrupt politicians and dubious companies, believing it was for the good of the country.”

The Marinho family holds the same fantasy that Maggi believes.

The only difference lies with the fact that the Marinho’s do not claim their Globo enterprise belongs to the society as Maggi claims his company did. Whether Globo belongs to the Marinho’s or Brazil, they believe that without their business, Brazil would have no chance of growing.

The family holds that they are agents of Brazil, holding the country together with the power and influence their TV network controls. The wealthy do not only believe that their contribution to society stimulates the economy; they also have intense pride in what they control and the position they hold.

Roberto Marinho led a campaign against his TV network rival Macedo when a threat arose. The desire to be on top created an unhealthy rivalry that spurred propaganda against Macedo and soap operas paralleling a corrupt minister that quoted exact phrases Macedo spoke. While Macedo might be corrupt, Marinho was no more fair or just either.

Projects and business ventures took first place over everyday life.

The poor were never given a chance within this system. A lot of places in Brazil are built for the lobbyists and bureaucrats that can afford the living, while workers and the poor settle in low-income areas plagued with violence. At one point, government tried to takeover gang run areas and implement some of the first public works in these cities. But then the police took over and corruption ensued.

Interrogations turned to torture and valuables were stolen from people’s houses. In this way, the government failed its people. Projects to help build these poor societies up were bled out to fund projects led by Camargo Correa and Odebrecht. Despite this flawed system, pride emerged in the hearts of the poor for their country. The amount of funding going into these massive projects was simply wasted on inefficiency and corruption.

This project-based economy was a dream come true for Eike.

He truly believed he could revolutionize Brazil. With multiple companies under his name, he framed each a success in every way possible. One of his first ventures, TVX basically went bankrupt after being sold off, but Eike never admitted to this failure.

The more companies under his name, the more projects for Brazil, and the more he thought he was doing to transform Brazil. Having his name so high on the rich list could help his country. Cuadros writes,

“Eike’s point was that he wasn’t making himself rich; he was contributing to the nation. Asked once if he was embarrassed to be so rich…he answered by talking about the jobs he created, the taxes he paid, and the oil and mining royalties he would generate for the government.”

Whether Eike’s projects led to a natural gas plant that generated profit for his business without ever being used, a port that was never finished, or tax credits and fast-tracked permits, his failures almost seem justified. Brazil gave him too much power.

And according to Eike, God blessed him with that power. This theory aligns with John D. Rockefeller’s belief that “God gave me my money.” But Eike, unlike Rockefeller, could not hold on to his fortune, or generate viable projects. The people of Brazil have adopted a saying that means “He steals but he gets things done.” They try to vindicate these dirty politicians and businessmen.

It is no secret that the system is corrupt, the people have just learned to admire it. I believe it stems from the pride for their nation, this desire to defend the problem. Being told that Brazil will rise has made the society believe the system they have will work instead of trying to change it. This saying may be a reason Brazil does not rebound. If stealing is justified even by the poor, and the government continues to act unfairly, no improvement will come to the nation.

POOR CHECKS AND BALANCES

“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The words of Lord Acton still apply over 100 years later. Brazil falls prey to being a perfect example of this idea. Not only does wealth and power corrupt, the corruption goes unpunished. It is uncommon for leaders and wealthy individuals to be charged with crimes, but even if they are, it ends in pizza.

This is a common term in Brazil that was coined from a disagreement between soccer teams that ended in the order of eighteen pizzas. Pizza results “when a scandal dies out with no one powerful suffering any real penalties.” This is unfortunately a recurring theme within Brazil.

The impeachment of President Collor is a surprising example of this system contradicting itself altogether.

With most cases of bribery going unpunished, Collor was not able to escape it. However, like most cases in Brazil, the whole political contribution system is a contradiction. One second these prominent billionaires will support a revolt or political candidate, then turn around, and fund the opposition to upheave the political figurehead they originally supported. Collor was a catastrophe from the beginning, his plan to fight hyperinflation led Brazil into a recession that topped any Brazil had ever seen.

Two years into his presidency, a bribery scheme came to light against Collor that led to Congress wanting to impeach him. The contradiction arises in the fact that most cases of bribery and corruption are overlooked, but when people already hate the politician, they will use any excuse to remove him. Even with his failed policies and bribery scheme, Collor was elected as a senator a few years later.

His years as senator overlapped with Lula’s term, the man Collor ran against when he was elected president. Even though Collor’s name was tainted, he joined Lula’s party and was elected to Congress. His past mattered not as long as he switched allegiance, Collor could stay in the political scene.

Macedo escaped the judicial system as well.

As mentioned prior, Macedo made his rise by using money from the church to take over TV Record. The 45 million dollar takeover drew suspicion, and prosecutors began digging deeper into the case. Finally, in 1992 charges against Macedo arose.

These would include charlatanism, offering medical attention without holding a license, and fraud. Although he did end up in jail for 11 days and he paid a small fee, everything went on like nothing happened. Part of the reason he got off the hook was because an accusation about defrauding church followers brings into the question of faith, and cannot objectively be answered.

Macedo never had anything to worry about because precedent had already been set. Thirteen years later, the new CEO of TV Record was caught on a private jet with five million dollars of cash in bags. Claiming the cash was only donations from churches that are not able to deposit the cash in banks every week, no charges were brought against the CEO or Macedo.

With the right team (a criminal defense lawyer who happened to be the former justice minister under Lula) and money, fraud can be swept under the rug in the Brazilian culture.

Lemann, a legend in Brazil, was caught up in his own corruption scandal.

Typical of these cases in Brazil, he walked away without having to admit any type of offense. His case, brought forth in 2005, took four years until it was settled at a small fraction of the illegal gains Lemann and his executives received. AmBev was set to merge with a Belgian company named Interbrew in 2005.

With this inside information, Lemann and a few other executives bought voting stock with stock options while selling their AmBev nonvoting stock. This tactic benefited Lemann because with the merger, the voting stock price rose while the nonvoting stock price fell. Instead of forfeiting the ill-gotten gains, Lemann and his partners only had to pay $2.5 million each to cover it up.

In June 2013, protests erupted in Brazil. Ricardo Boechat, a journalist, once said,

“I think the feeling is: enough of politicians…I’ve had enough of the Brazilian state, of what it’s transformed itself into–the private and exclusive property of those who occupy the administration and the houses of Congress…What we’re seeing here is this energy that exploded within the Brazilian people…flowing to wherever it wants to…”

This narrative scared the politicians in Brazil. Dilma, the president at the time, once led a rebellion and now disowns it. With fear of what could come from the protests, the Supreme Court finally imprisoned a congressman.

This act had not been seen since the military dictatorship. After this event, a case that had begun in 2005 finally resulted in the conviction of Workers Party politicians who bought votes in Congress. It took protests, economic unease, and fear of a coup to enact progress and conviction in Brazil. Sadly, this gesture did not become the norm and sending five people to prison without convicting countless others, shows the unfair favoritism Brazil still holds.

Eike’s son, Thor Batista, knows all too well how to walk away unscathed from criminal accusations.

His story is much harder, and sadder to hear, but nonetheless leaves him criminally untouched. One day in 2012, Thor hit and killed a pedestrian, Wanderson Pereira dos Santos, on a bicycle. This tragic event was not the first time Thor hit a pedestrian while driving. With the help of the same criminal lawyer used by Macedo, the defense team wrote off every accusation made against Thor.

They claimed the report with calculations of his speed was not originally in evidence and therefore could not be used and that the man he hit had been drinking. The defense was basically claiming Thor was a victim, not just Wanderson, and this event raised questions about the rich in Brazil. It encompassed Brazil’s deepest issues, “Not just the gulf between the rich and poor but also the special treatment reserved for the powerful and the well connected.” Questions arose about whether the ultra-rich advanced society in Brazil or held it back.

One viewpoint claims that the poor people in Brazil do not appear to respect their life.

This lack of respect is not solely their fault. “The society they belonged to never made them a priority.” Even though the poor are not a priority, they still hold to the Brazilian dream, maintaining pride for their country. They continue to immerse themselves in soap operas created by Globo and live in a world that is not getting better.

Cuadros also jumped to a conclusion that even if Thor had served a sentence, it would not have changed anything for the people like Wanderson. Unfortunately, this way of thinking plagues Brazil. If the system does not believe punishment will help set a precedent, punishment will never be an option, and corruption will never cease.

CONCLUSION

In Brazil, corruption is hidden by censorship to make the public believe things are getting done. The government creates big infrastructure projects to “show for something” and to make Brazilians believe politicians are helping the economy.

But in reality, corruption is entrenched in politics and 50% to 90% of political campaign spending is done with bribes. One step forward in Brazil leads to two steps backward. The wealthy in Brazil have overall say in politics, and the lack of checks and balances within Brazil eliminates any chance of progress.

The World Cup contracts for 2014 were not different. Camargo Correa and Odebrecht, who gave the most in political campaigns, received the best contracts. Most Brazilians got hurt while the wealthy flourished. Eike was even able to get back into business after the EBX failure and has found new investors who believe in him.

It does not appear as if the relapse will be prevented. The wealthy benefit no matter what, because the narrative still holds that their companies run the economy of Brazil. It is often said that the nation believes it is their only saving grace. The illusion that the cause of the failure will be their savior is contradictory, but it seems in Brazil future it will only continue to repeat itself.

HookedtoBooks.com would like to thank the Titans of Investing for allowing us to publish this content.  Titans is a student organization founded by Britt Harris. Learn more about the organization and the man behind it by clicking either of these links.

Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books.  We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.

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