Curitiba Prison Is Humble Home To Brazil's Fallen Mighty

Curitiba prison is humble home to Brazil's fallen mighty

CURITIBA, Brazil, Feb 1, (Pakistan Point News - APP - 01st Feb, 2017 ) - The list of inmates' Names looks like the members' directory at an exclusive club. But these former Brazilian ministers, congressmen and executives are not clinking glasses - they're cooling their heels in prison. The Penal Medical Complex in the southern city of Curitiba houses some of Brazil's most illustrious or infamous prisoners, men who until recently knew power and wealth but after being snared in a huge corruption probe now live three to a 12 meter square (129 square feet) cell.

They include the once powerful Jose Dirceu, who was chief of staff for then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. On the other side of the political divide there's Eduardo Cunha -- the seemingly untouchable speaker of the lower house who engineered the impeachment last year of Lula's chosen successor Dilma Rousseff. Men used to giving orders and speeches are submitted to long periods of enforced silence, with two hours a day outdoors and a shared television screen as their few creature comforts.

The best known prisoners here are targets of Brazil's gigantic anti-corruption drive codenamed Operation car Wash. Prosecutors have unravelled a network of bribes and embezzlement centered on state oil giant Petrobras and involving politicians, lobbyists and executives. In Curitiba, suspects and convicted men are spared the real horrors of many Brazilian prisons thanks to an odd law which sends people with university diplomas to better facilities.

However, one big name brought down in unrelated bribery allegations -- Brazil's former richest man Eike Batista -- was jailed this week in a standard Rio de Janeiro institution. Unlike many other white collar crime suspects he dropped out of university, a decision he may now regret as he sits crammed in an overcrowded cell. Even for the luckier college graduates, prison must feel a very long way from their past lifestyles of chauffeurs, bodyguards, glitzy mansions and fancy cars.

"They all need time to adapt and some can suffer a certain amount of depression," Luiz Moura, the prison chief for Parana state where Curitiba is the capital, told AFP. "If they need psychological treatment we give it so that they can accept their new reality and realize that the social conditions they had outside no longer matter." - Honest wages - ================ Men accused of stealing millions can now earn more modest amounts with a bit of honest work.

Dirceu was one of the country's biggest high-fliers, at one point touted as a possible successor to Lula before Rousseff took that slot. He was incarcerated in Curitiba after being convicted of receiving an illegal payment of $3.12 million, part of which was meant to pay for a Cessna airplane. One of currently eight Operation Car Wash prisoners in Curitiba, he is serving a 20 years, 10 month sentence. He gets paid 45 reais ($14) a month to deliver books to other inmates -- although he doesn't escape a 25 percent tax on his earnings.

"It's not a librarian's job because he isn't qualified for this. It's just distributing books, bringing them to cells and taking them back, as well as cleaning and maintaining the books," Moura explained. There's a good reason why these prisoners might want to read: if they complete one book a month they knock four days off their sentence each time. Even in this though, the system makes sure no one cheats: inmates are tested on whether they really read the text.

- Few options - =============== Cunha, a deeply conservative politician often compared to the scheming, ruthless hero of "House of Cards" Frank Underwood, has yet to find a suitable job as he awaits trial on Car Wash-related corruption charges. "There are a limited number of posts and we give priority to those who have already been sentenced," Moura said. Former congressional deputies Andre Vargas, who was sentenced to 14 years and four months, and Joao Argolo, sentenced to 11 years and 11 months, and the former Workers' Party treasurer Joao Vaccari Neto, who got more than 30 years, all have cleaning jobs.

Other Car Wash prisoners who passed through Curitiba include Marcelo Odebrecht, the one-time construction tycoon who played a central role in the pay-to-play scheme at Petrobras. He is currently looking for a reduction to his 19 years, four months sentence in return for having turned state's witness. But while in Curitiba, he didn't let the lack of things to do get him down. "He was extremely disciplined. He established a routine of exercises and carried them out. When everyone was enjoying the sun or chatting, he'd be running," Moura said.