There are positions and careers that must meet the interests of the State and could not be submitted to subdivisions that serve the interests of government or party occasions. Most citizens will agree with this sentence, leaving only to define which positions and careers these would be. Some will choose a larger role, others a smaller category, in a healthy debate. In this discussion, it would be almost unanimous to think that the representation of a foreign country cannot serve the electoral game. At the same time, this is exactly what is being discussed in the Brazilian Senate.
Senator Davi Alcolumbre, former president of the House, is the author of the Proposed Amendment to the Constitution 34/2021, from October 2021. The PEC proposes “amending item I of art. 27 of the Federal Constitution, to provide that the investiture of a parliamentarian in the position of head of a diplomatic mission of a permanent nature does not give rise to the loss of his mandate.”. In other words, it will allow elected politicians to head Brazilian embassies without having to give up their mandates.
The PEC procedure was updated last week, when the Constitution, Justice and Citizenship Commission approved the request made by Senator Mara Gabrilli to hold a public hearing on the matter. At CCJ, the rapporteur is senator Daniella Ribeiro, with a vote in favor of the text, which has the signatures of 27 senators at the time the column is written, most of them members of parties from the so-called “centrão”, the block of clientelistic interests, with no defined ideological orientation and which seeks occasional alliances with the executive of the moment.
Alcolumbre and Daniella Ribeiro are two examples of politicians of the “ center”. Both are from influential families in the politics of their states, Macapá and Paraíba, respectively. Alcolumbre, in twenty years of political career, is in his third party, while Ribeiro spent twenty years in the Progressive Party until changing to the Social Democratic Party of Gilberto Kassab in the year of 2022. This brief recap of their political careers has only one purpose, to show where this proposed amendment comes from and the possible interests embedded in it.
This is the question that must be asked: who is interested in this amendment? Who wants an embassy to be parceled out as a commissioned post and held by an elected politician without him having to give up his mandate? A party elects a certain representative to the Senate. This same party receives, as a “pleasure” of the executive of the moment, an embassy for that representative.
Meanwhile, the seat in Congress is occupied by an alternate, keeping the line of the elected that made ambassador. It sounds quite convenient, even more so in delicate moments when an eventual senator is involved in discrediting headlines. Of course, every ambassador needs to be approved by the Legislature, but wouldn’t corporatism speak louder, with senators and deputies voting for their own?
This is the first door that the PEC opens, that of transforming embassies in another currency of exchange in the Brasilia partisan game. And, of course, hardly any senator should have as his dream destination the embassies in Lilongwe or Colombo. The fight will be for Washington, Rome, London and other posts with the same status and presence in the popular imagination. Participating in dinners with Queen Elizabeth II or having an audience with the Pope would be much more interesting for senators.
That is, precisely the most important embassies, which represent essential political relations for the State Brazilian economy, as well as the most intense commercial and economic links. These relationships, whether political or economic, would potentially be hijacked by the electoral interests of the partisan ambassador at that time. Bringing business to his state would be more important, as would weakening a partisan rival or political disaffect. A recipe for disaster.
Worse still, a politician disinterested in the daily life of the embassy, who thinks only of his career, his constituents and his immunity, would leave the diplomats of representation even more burdened. Employees of the diplomatic career would actually need to exercise the position that, ceremonially, belongs to the illustrious senator, without the same authority and needing to pass everything through the politician.
Diplomats and price to be paid
The second door that this PEC opens is precisely that of dismantling and weakening the diplomatic career. Brazil has had an extensive training program for professional diplomats since 1945, which has served different governments, even those that did not come to power in a democratic way, of different ideological shades. Even so, the current president Jair Bolsonaro has already criticized an alleged “left” ideological alignment within the Foreign Ministry. Unfounded criticism, let it be clear.
Perhaps the best-known episode involving the current government is the possible appointment of federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of the president, to the embassy in Washington, one of the posts most important in Brazilian diplomacy. This appointment did not go ahead, however, other posts were occupied by nominees from outside the diplomatic career, such as the embassy in Israel, occupied by a military man. It is important to remember that the position of ambassador is at the discretion of the president of the republic, whoever he may be.
The appointment of ambassadors follows a similar logic in the US, as a prerogative of the president. As the country has a myriad of representations, as a result, several embassies are occupied by adventurers, such as digital influencers and major campaign funders. In Brazil, politicians, academics and jurists have occupied embassies before, in more or less controversial circumstances. An influential and engaged politician can, indeed, play a great role as an ambassador, representing the Brazilian State.
This is not what this PEC is about, coming directly from the bowels of the “centrão”. It is about putting all the embassies of the Brazilian State in the game of party exchanges. More than that, filling them with politicians who, instead of fulfilling their terms for which they were elected, would have a few years to play diplomat, in a comfortable way, without having to give up their terms. Who would pay the literal price would be the Brazilian citizen, in the short and long term.