The streets win again. The Brazilian Congress has overturned PEC-37, a proposal for constitutional reform that would have limited the ability to investigate officials. This reversal probably would never have happened before the weeks of mass protests.
PEC-37 aimed to limit transparency in the work of Brazilian attorneys general and give more powers to the police. When it was presented in June 2011 it was backed by 207 out of 513 members of the federal Congress; six months later, it was approved by the Constitution Committee, and then by another committee in November of last year.
But on Tuesday, in a surprising turn of events, Congress rejected the project with 430 votes against, nine in favor and two abstentions. The Congress building in Brasilia -- a world-famous Oscar Niemeyer structure -- was surrounded by activists, who burst out in cheers at every no vote.
“Today the whole of Brazil is here -- for that I have to say that it would be a massive event if we reject this PEC by unanimity,” Congress President Henrique Eduardo Alves, a conservative, said right before reading the votes.
Not everybody agreed with Alves, though. Luiz Moreira Gomez Júnior, an official from the Ministry of Homeland Security, said PEC-37 would not have given immunity to officials, as long as the ministry continued to control the police. He argued that the proposal was not born from the desire of corrupt politicians to dodge inquiry, but as a result of wrongdoing within the ministry. According to O Globo, he did not elaborate on the specifics of said offenses.
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After reading the results, Congress considered a proposal President Dilma Rousseff offered Friday, by which the totality of the state receipts from oil, which amounted to $6 billion in 2011, would be invested in education. The Congress decided to designate 75 percent of the resources to education and the remaining 25 percent to health care. The proposal now will go to the Senate for approval.
Since Rousseff opened the door to the protesters' demands last week and admitted that Brazilian politics needed a refreshing, events have moved fast. First the hike in public transportation fares that originally sparked the protest was canceled, followed by São Paulo state's Governor Geraldo Alckmin announcing that highway tolls would not be raised this year.
On a larger level, the president kept her word that she would listen more to citizens, with her plans to infuse education and health care with much-needed investment, and now by rejecting any special treatment for officials.
As it turns out, the protests achieved more than the walking back of the 20-cent raise in bus tickets that started it all.
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