José Domingo Guariglia interviews Brazilian corruption map creator RAQUEL DINIZ
HAVANA TIMES, August 30 (IPS) — The fight against corruption has taken centre stage in the government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and has led to the resignation or dismissal of several ministers over just a few months.
Civil society groups in Brazil are using digital media to protest against corruption, which is so deeply rooted in politics and economics that it is costing this South American country 43 billion dollars a year, according to the latest report by the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (FIESP), published in May 2010.
Over a few short days, a post on the Facebook social networking site convening a rally in Rio de Janeiro Sept. 20, under the slogan “Todos unidos contra a corrupção” (Everyone United against Corruption) has attracted positive responses from 13,130 people.
But merely protesting is not enough. Citizens also have a role to play in watching over public resources and denouncing cases of misappropriation of funds, said Raquel Diniz, a journalist, filmmaker, and creator of the Mapa Colaborativo da Corrupção do Brasil, an online collaborative map of corruption in Brazil, in this interview with IPS.
“My idea was for people to take some sort of action, that would lead them to realise the seriousness of the problem, and to fight for a country free of corruption,” she said in response to questions by email.
Her corruption map, which has been on-line since May, was inspired by maps designed in Spain by the NOLESVOTES (Don’t Vote For Them) movement, the map of People’s Party (PP) corruption, and the map used by the “Indignant” movement to plan protest camps at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid and in other Spanish cities, which led to the formation of the May 15 (15M) Movement.
Supporters of Diniz’s map site are determined to use it to deliver a message of rebuke to the ruling elite.
“Politicians haven’t really caught on to the idea; they are too far away, isolated in their shiny office blocks,” Diniz said. “Sooner or later they will have to understand that everything has changed. Those who govern must hand over some of their power so that society can be truly democratic.”
Map users can pinpoint the geographic location of cases of corruption that have been documented in the press, building up a collective memory that, in theory, will help citizens to access more information about politicians before voting for them in future elections.
Q: Why is it important to have a map of corruption in Brazil?
A: It’s an opportunity for people to be informed about corruption cases, to participate in producing the map, in order to stimulate interest in the issue. It’s very important that people should get angry when they see the map. I think when people are mad, they begin to want to change things and to fight back against corruption.
Corruption in Brazil is extremely serious, but people are so accustomed to corruption scandals that they seldom take action to change the practice, which is so common among politicians, the police, and therefore society as a whole.
Q: There are similar tools in the region to report and map crime and violence. Where did you get the idea from?
A: I went to live in Spain just as the 2008 economic crisis broke out. I saw the rise of many movements against the government, and the immense growth of communication via social networks. Then I found out about the NOLESVOTES Movement’s corruption map, and the map on corruption perpetrated by the PP, the most conservative party in Spain, posted by Leo Bassi (a well-known Spanish leftwing journalist) on his PPLeaks web page.
I came back to Brazil and kept in touch with the growth of the 15M Movement. When I came across a Google map people could use to set up a virtual encampment at the Puerta del Sol (in Madrid), I realised that the Arab world and Europe were living through a time of profound social transformation, whereas here in Brazil it was the reverse. The vast majority of Brazilians are happy with the country’s macroeconomic growth and turn their backs on social problems.
The same morning, an environmentalist couple who lived in the (northern) Amazon region were murdered, and that afternoon the lower chamber of Congress approved an amendment to the Forest Code, legalising the use of illegally deforested land which formerly had been protected reserves.
I was extremely angry that day. I felt I had to do something, and I created the map.
Q: What are the main results?
A: The main result was coverage in the principal Brazilian newspapers, and people hearing about the map and helping to construct it. My idea was to prompt people to take some sort of action that would lead them to understand the seriousness of the problem and to fight for a country free from corruption.
As it is an open access site, I always recommend that every post should carry references to articles published in the press, so that the posted data have credibility.
Brazil has a great record of investigating corruption cases, but corrupt people hardly ever go to prison. Any who are convicted just pay a fine and are released, and then they stand as candidates in the next elections. Many of them are voted into office again and exercise power!
Q: In your view, is the internet an effective tool for citizens and government to communicate with each other?
A: It could be very effective, because it’s a channel for mutual interaction and the sharing of information. There are enough digital tools in the web 2.0 world, many of them with open access, for citizens to be able to participate in political decision-making.
It would be very easy to institute participative democracy systems for making political decisions, but we are all only just getting to know this new way of interacting.
Politicians haven’t really caught on to the idea; they are too far away, isolated in their shiny office blocks. Sooner or later they will have to understand that everything has changed. Those who govern must hand over some of their power so that society can be truly democratic.
Q: Several studies have reported that Latin America is a leader in the use of social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Why do you think this is so?
A: People in Latin America are more sociable than those on other continents; they like to get to know people. Also, society here is very hierarchical, so there are few mechanisms for the social base to participate in building and running the country. The mass media are controlled by the elite, and are dependent on political advertising. The social networks, in a way, are a substitute for traditional mass media.