Sunday finally saw the municipal elections put to bed for another four years, and frankly, not before time. I can now enjoy the sound of adolscents screaming on their way home from school, people being knocked off their motorcycles on the dangerous crossroads in front of our house and other assorted sounds of vibrant Brazilian culture without some nasty jingle insulting what passes for my intelligence and driving me, ears bleeding, towards the abyss. "More health! More education! More employment!" they warbled, "Vote with the heart!" - the last thing Brazil needs. Voting with the head would surely be more appropriate.
The results were predictable - our man narrowly avoided election and the same old song continues. Ugly scenes were witnessed one evening last week when some of the winning candidate's thugs turned up at one of his rival's election rallies in the town square and started making threats and throwing beer over his supporters, one even trying to physically assault the candidate's elderly father, before being dragged away by a slightly more democratic / sober militant.
The old cliché goes that we, the voters, are responsible for whom we put into power - "it's your fault for voting for a thief," is the standard refrain of the bleating apologists. But this is missing the point entirely, I feel. Often the choice is between a thief and an embezzler, the real problem being that nobody with any kind of wealth and power is ever made to pay for their crimes in Brazil, leading to institutionalised corruption taking hold at the trough that is public service. (Indeed "corruption" assumes that there is something, a lawful system, that gets corrupted. Things have descended to such low farce here that the corruption is the system.)
Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Blood River by Telegraph reporter Tim Butcher. In it, a character makes the following observation:
"... the point is, the money goes only to a few people, not to the country in general. If you think you can solve *****'s problems with money, then you're a bloody fool. You solve *****'s problems by creating a system of justice that actually works and by making leaders accountable for their actions."
Which place do the asterisks represent? Africa, though he could just as easily have been talking about Brazil. The book, which I highly recommend, is a ripping yarn about how the author retraced Henry Morton Stanley's mapping of the Congo River in the 1870's. But the point, depressingly, is exactly the same.
The more I live here the more incredulous I feel - not that Brazil is stumbling around in abject, generalised chaos, but that there exist places on earth that aren't - places where there is respect for the law, some form of social justice and accountability in politics.
Those fortunate countries are very much the exceptions, I'm beginning to realise.