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Source: Protests against Corruption throughout Brazil during Independence Celebrations, RondoniaVip, Brazil, 7 September 2011

Corruption has many faces.  Our governments are corrupt when they sell arms to dictatorship governments that serve the interests of their nations. Our
governments are also corrupt when they rig elections in order to stay in power.
Our elected politicians are corrupt when they abuse the power invested in them
for their own interests. Our corporate executives and business owners are corrupt when they lavish politicians with luxury gifts or large sums of money to have them pass laws that will benefit their business enterprises. We, as individuals, are corrupt when we pay bribes to government officials for personal benefits.

Having lived for 28 years under a dictatorship government, I was well aware of the abuses of political power in stealing public funds and foreign aid for personal enrichment, and in silencing political rivals and opposition activists. To survive, I was complicit with my silent acceptance of corruption.

Nevertheless, when I started working in Brazil, I was not prepared for the endemic government corruption that had trickled down into the workplace and sprouted roots. This went far beyond the workers’ silent complicity. This was participation in corrupt activities for survival within a corrupt society – a society of glaring socio-economic inequality between the minority super-rich elites and the majority working class. (During the period 1987 to 2003 when I lived in Brazil, the middle class was insignificant in number.)

The sluggish, heavy-weight Brazilian bureaucracy fed corruption. Burocracia brasileira was a bad-word bounced around the workplace like a soccer ball. Bureaucracy forced many entrepreneurs and corporate executives to bribe government employees (a lifetime position) at all levels to do their jobs in processing the myriad documents required for starting up and operating a business, and, for importers and exporters, obtaining an import license or clearing your goods at the port.

Government auditors inspecting your company’s accounts could find discrepancies that required the payment of high fines – errors that could disappear with a bribe of a much smaller sum.

To reduce the heavy burden of countless taxes at all levels of production and commercialization that stifle the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, many business owners resort to maintaining two separate ledgers – Caixa 1 and Caixa 2 – one with the correct values; the other for taxation and auditing.

Impunity of top government officials, corrupt attorneys, and a comatose judicial system make it difficult to curb corruption. Whistleblowers and witnesses can be neutralized or eliminated. Court documents can disappear.

Newly-elected President Dilma Rousseff has taken a courageous suicidal step in trying to scourge corruption from her government. The growing middle class has joined her in public protests for an end to corruption. But the cancerous cells of corruption cannot be destroyed overnight. It is a painful, slow process towards recovery and transparency.