Since: Apr 12
In Brazil, Many Laws Are for Englishman's Eyes Only
Written by Augusto Zimmermann
Thursday, 25 September 2008 22:23
Due to the chasm in Brazil that exists between law on paper and "law"
in practice, anyone wishing to understand how the country works in
reality will need also to consider the ways in which people are able
to excuse themselves from submission to laws.
In order to understand the reasons for problems blocking the rule of
law from taking hold in Brazilian society, this article explains three
curious expressions that are quite important in helping reveal crucial
aspects of Brazil's legal culture:'a lei não pegou'(the law did not
take hold); 'para inglês ver'(for the English to See); and 'jeito'.
A lei não pegouf (The law did not take hold)
One would be quite right in asserting that many laws have been
introduced in Brazil with the almost certain knowledge that they will
never be respected. Thus, as law professor Keith S. Rosenn points out:
"Brazilians refer to law much in the same manner as one refers to
vaccinations. There are those who take, and those who do not".
He gives the insightful example of a Minister of Justice, Francisco
Campos, who in the 1930s responded to criticisms about the enactment
of a new law that was identical to another enacted by the same
government only a year earlier by saying: "There is no harm done, my
son. We are going to publish this one because the other não pegou (did
not take hold)".
A lei não pegou (the law did not take hold) is the phrase that
Brazilians commonly apply to the numerous instances in which positive
laws can exist in theory but never in practice. Such laws are
ineffectual despite their putative validity. They do not take hold
when they supposedly contain unrealistic provisions related to such
things as price controls, labour laws, or interest rates.
A good example of unrealistic provision is found in the original text
of the Brazilian Constitution, which contained a section fixing the
level of interest rates in the country at 12% a year. The provision
was never truly enforced, because doing so would completely paralyse
the country's economic activities.
But one of the best examples of a well-known legislation not taking
hold involves the prohibition of a popular gambling racked called jogo
do bicho (animal's game). The law was enacted more than one hundred
years ago, but this illegal activity currently employs more than
700,000 people and grosses more than $150 million dollars a month.
Although the game still remains illegal, candidates for public office
have normally sought support from gambling bosses, "who are known to
contribute heavily to political campaigns". In Rio de Janeiro,
gambling bosses sponsor official events, such as the world-renowned
Carnaval, as well as the electoral campaigns of numerous politicians,
including high-ranking government authorities.
Para inglês ver (For the English to See)
Para inglês ver (for the English to see) is another curious expression
of Brazil's culture. It was coined in the first quarter of the
nineteenth century, and now refers to any situation where something on
the surface appears for all intents and purposes to have been done,
while beneath nothing has, in actual fact, changed. Since it is quite
an illuminating expression, it is worthwhile giving a proper account
of its origins.
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