Christian GEFFRAY, Lusotopie 2002/1 : 83-106
State, Wealth, and Criminals*1
he corruption of civil servants and members of the highest echelons of certain States, as well as their occasional direct involvement in criminal activities, can lead observers to use suggestive phrases like « malefactor State, » « narco-State », « predator » or « smuggler State, » « mafia State, » and other avatars of the more generic notion of the « criminal State ». The authors of La criminalisation de l’État en Afrique, for example, describe in a precise and informed manner the phenomena that, in their opinion, justify the use of these unsettling notions2 ; others show how the representatives of certain States, on every continent, abuse their authority to control and organize themselves illegal traffic in drugs, arms, and laborers or smuggling at a national level… The notion of a « criminal State », however, raises many questions, starting with the problem of identifying the actual perpetrator of the crime, the smuggling, or the trafficking : is it the State itself that is responsible, or rather certain individuals among its representatives who take advantage of their State functions and use them as a cover for trafficking and smuggling ? Indeed, the term « criminal State » is not anodyne ; it has serious implications. We may wonder, for instance, what kind of relationship exists between States listed as « trafficking States » – and so as « criminal » and « malefactor States » – and the Nazi State, to take that example, the designation of which as criminal as a State is unchallenged – as a matter of fact, it was judged as such at Nuremberg…
It is true that traffickers occupy leadership positions in certain States, where they violate their own laws by exploiting the functions that they exercise in the name of the law, but does that make these States « trafficking States » ? Does this expression even have any meaning so long as the government of such States does not include a Department of Cocaine, the name of which would then be inscribed on the façade of an official building ? Does the phrase « criminalization of the State » ultimately amount to anything other than an elision operated upon the more complete locution « criminalization of the activity of certain representatives of the State » ? If such were the case, we would have to recognize that this elision is so frequent – if not systematic – that it cannot be fortuitous : it may reveal a deeper lack of definition touching the nature of the State. I aim here to reveal some of the ambiguities involved in the definition of the State and, as a consequence, in the definition of corruption.
I will begin by discussing the situation of a Brazilian federal deputy who is a trafficker, J.R., whose activities I studied during an investigation carried out in 1995-1996 in the federate State of Rondônia3. The federal deputy was the object of a scandal much talked about in judicial and news media headlines in 1991, when his brother was taken into custody by the São Paulo police in possession of 540 kilograms of cocaine. The news of his arrest caused a great deal of commotion in the R. s’city4, São João, the mayor of which hastily called the City Council to session in order to organize the concealment of the deputy’s fortune before the arrival of the federal police in the city : his trucks were sent to Nordeste, thousands of heads of livestock were moved onto the estates of other sympathetic traffickers, etc. For our purposes here, it is noteworthy that the elected officials, whether they were traffickers themselves or simple henchmen of the deputy, did not find it necessary to act in secret ; they formed the City Council and it seemed simplest to them to hold their meeting within the official space of the city hall, as usual. A criminal course of action was thus planned by certain local representatives of the Brazilian State, from inside of a State entity and within its walls – one example among many others of what is called « criminalization of the State », which I am seeking to understand here : how was such a meeting possible ?
J.R. was a criminal before later becoming a representative of the State on top of his participation in criminal activity. His case will be differentiated from that of representatives of the State who follow the opposite trajectory by later becoming criminals on top of their State position. In the latter case, civil servants or elected officials no longer content themselves, for example, with the misappropriation of public funds and take advantage of their power to claim their share from criminal activities, either by putting these activities under their supervision or by getting directly involved in them.
I will attempt to understand how the various individuals in each type of situation use their illegally acquired wealth in their local or regional economic and social contexts, in terms of consumption, investment, or redistribution of wealth. In the interest of this inquiry, I will propose a model making it possible to reveal the two primary sources of illegal income – criminal activities and embezzlement of public funds – and their relationship with two generic forms of corruption : neutralization and abuse of State power. I will furthermore have recourse to a distinction, and opposition, between two non-market forms of the circulation of wealth : civic entitlements and clientelist manna.
We will see, at the conclusion of this discussion, that the analysis of the forms of « criminalization of the State » requires reflection about the ideal of the common good governing, in all places and at all times, the social legitimacy and existence of the institution of the State. The ideal itself being immutable, it is perhaps less the letter of the laws (however « fundamental » they be) that distinguishes the « modern » form of the State from « patrimonial » ones, than that which is supposed to guarantee this ideal and these laws in the minds of populations. Since such a guarantee can ultimately only be a matter of belief, the question that ultimately interests us may also be that concerning where sovereignty resides in people’s beliefs : does it lie in the People, or in some kind of Imperator figure, even one that is an outlaw ? I will do no more here than pose the terms of the problem.
Criminals Become Representatives of the State
J.R., Trafficker, Thief, and Federal Deputy
In the early 1980s, well before becoming a federal deputy, J.R. was an official in the Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra), which was responsible for buying the crops of the recently colonized region. He associated with the first traffickers in Rondônia and, like them, took care of buying in São Paulo the chemical products necessary for fabricating cocaine hydrochloride in neighboring Bolivian laboratories. He was on good terms with agricultural and trafficking circles and very quickly began to misappropriate part of the crops that he purchased on behalf of the State in order to smuggle them out to Bolivia, where traders exchanged them (rice, coffee) for cocaine. He rapidly became the proprietor of several businesses ; he started buying up coffee crops ; created a logging company, as well as a road haulage business ; he bought a river barge for mining the gold of Rio Madeira ; he ran commercial concessions ; and he became the proprietor of a considerable amount of real estate in São João and elsewhere, of several hotels and fazendas, some of them with landing strips, of planes, etc. When access to cocaine through barter became widespread near the end of the 1980s, the Bolivian suppliers accepted all kinds of stolen or smuggled goods coming from Brazil : jewels, livestock, gold, cassiterite, agricultural products, and especially cars, trucks, farming or construction equipment, etc.5 At that time, J.R. financed a group of vehicle thieves (who stole trucks and cars to be bartered for Bolivian cocaine) and had a man he could trust appointed to the head of the State organism responsible for registering motor vehicles, Ciretran, whose civil employees legalized the documentation of stolen goods for him. Indeed, the amount of cocaine given in exchange for these stolen goods was higher if the truck or car came with valid paperwork6.
The trafficker owned a barge on the river that was equipped for gold mining, but he did not find much. He contented himself with buying up at a good price the gold found by neighboring prospectors, which he then sold on the legal market as the product of his own mines ; this allowed the gold miners to get around taxation and to sell their gold for a higher than market price. He operated the same way with his logging company, the declared employees of which may never even have felled a single mahogany : he bought up the precious wood that authentic loggers surreptitiously cut down, at night, in regions strictly protected by the State (National Parks or Indigenous Reservations) ; he made it possible for these « picapaus » to sell their fraudulently acquired precious wood at a good price, while he declared it to be the production of his own business and resold it…
These money-laundering techniques were common in the region and hardly set J.R. apart from his trafficking peers. Through coffee, however, his operations reached a different order of magnitude. When he established his own coffee-buying company, in the early 1980s, his illegal resources were already sufficient to enable him to buy at a higher-than-market price and to resell the coffee outside the State at a price lower than his competitors. They did not have the same illegal resources at their disposal, and some of them were ruined, while others changed their occupation or fell back onto cocoa, and still others were bought out by J.R. (or a frontman). As a result, within a few years J.R. took control of the regional coffee market, well beyond his own district of São João. The whole commercial structure of the coffee market was undermined at the level of Rondônia, where the trafficker ultimately, around the beginning of the 1990s, enjoyed a position of monopoly. Without J.R.’s providential intervention, it should be noted, the coffee-growing industry probably would not have survived from the competition with the same product (« robusta ») grown near ports for exportation on the large plantations of Espírito Santo, 3,000 miles from Rondônia. Indeed, Rondônia’s productivity was comparatively low, and it took weeks for J.R.’s trucks to collect the handful of bags of coffee that the small-scale colonists lined up along thousands of kilometers of rain-damaged roads…
The State did not provide any subsidies in this sector, nor was any request or complaint concerning this topic addressed to the State, such that the local officials of the World Bank, for example, ended up marvelling over what they called the « Rondônia coffee miracle ». They seemed – or wanted – to be unaware of the secular cause of the mystery, namely the fact that the production of coffee in the State of Rondônia, which was and continues to be a source of pride to its political representatives, was secretly « subsidized » by the cocaine money of the federal deputy J.R. Through the sale of their coffee, tens of thousands of small-scale producers actually became the beneficiaries of manna generously delivered by J.R., and the genesis of this trafficker’s political and social fortune lies in this legal economic activity, which became his specialty in the State, and without which it would not be possible to understand the strange São João City Council meeting.
The Dirty Money’s Destination
Wealth from elsewhere thus changed the course of regional economic life in the same manner as a subsidy would have. Unlike a subsidy, however, the wealth came, in this case, not from the Public Treasury, but from criminal activity ; and it was not allocated in pursuance of a State law governing its legal distribution, but according to the discretionary authority of an outlaw. It is for this reason that I prefer to call it « manna » rather than using ambiguous notions like « dirty », « tainted » or « illegal » subsidies. Indeed, J.R.’s money appeared as manna to the sellers of gold, precious wood, or coffee, since the one with this money bought from them at a higher price than the other traders. Another type of « manna » was the granting of low-interest or interest-free credit, which the trafficker was in a position to lavish upon entrepreneurs, cattle-breeders, and local tradesmen who were having difficulties, and upon certain elect members of the middle classes. His benefactions were perceivable among members of all levels of local society, not only among the most disadvantaged, and each individual (had he wished to do so) could have traced the series of links in the chain of providential goods and services for which they were beholden to someone : he would have eventually come to the name of the man unsurprisingly elected citizen of honor in São João (in 1997) – J.R., cocaine trafficker, thief, and patron of a clientele. Compared to the fortunes that he distributed in the form of loans or commercial transactions that were deliberately unfavorable to himself, the gifts that he conspicuously gave (chocolates, toys, soft-drinks, and candy doled out to poor children at Christmas and Easter, as well as other displays of evergetism common in the region) represented little more than the public exhibition of a clientelist following that was acquired by other means and was far more substantial and obscure than it appeared.
A vast and robust web of direct collusion, and of outright, tacit, or even unconscious connivance, was constituted around the criminal, involving members from the entirety of civil society and local representatives of the State, even though everyone was aware of the illegal, sometimes murderous, character of their citizen of honor. These redistributive practices ultimately gave rise to the creation of a pocket of narco-development around the hub allocating the manna coming out of the illegal profits from commerce in cocaine. The beneficiaries of this development were all beholden, directly or indirectly, to the hard core of the federal deputy’s clientele ; he was the actual originator of the Rondônia coffee « miracle », as it was called by the World Bank’s agents, who perceived the phenomenon’s providential dimension… Finally, the allocation of the manna gave rise to a new kind of social differenciation among the populations, since certain of J.R.’s beholden-clients, who were among the most advantaged members of the region’s society, were in turn able to win for themselves a preeminent or dominant position in the sector of legal activity in which they were active by undercutting the competition through the manna allocated to them by the trafficker. The most powerful of the merchants, automobile dealers, air-taxi companies, real estate agents, etc., were often also among the trafficker’s most beholden clients. They were in a position to provide, by themselves and on their own behalf, for the allocation of a portion of the manna resulting from narcotics traffic, and thereby to promote themselves to the status of sub-patrons with their own clients.
The circuit of wealth at issue here can be represented in a diagram showing that the illegal personal income (rentes)7 resulting from cocaine commerce can be converted into three distinct kinds of wealth : (a) into capital that is invested in the legal economy (or in the illegal economy until it is always ultimately funneled back into the legal economy and laundered ; (b) into manna circulated in the form of gifts or wealth added to the capital invested in the legal economy, the manna tending in this case to break down the competition and concentrate the market ; and finally (c) into private treasuries that are either hoarded or consumed by the traffickers.
Fig.— 1. Source and destination of criminal income (rentes)
The notion of « manna » is too seldomly used in the social sciences – and that of clientelism perhaps too commonly – to allow us to avoid explaining what is meant here. The word « manna » is commonly borrowed from biblical vocabulary to designate wealth having a providential character (« the food that God made fall from the sky for the children of Israel while they were in the desert »)8, and it is taken up by A. Morice in his analysis of economic processes to qualify the nature of wealth circulating in clientelist networks9. Taken in this sense, the term offers multiple analytical advantages. (a) It allows us to acknowledge that the goods constituting this wealth (the manna) are not put into circulation as merchandise, even when the wealth changes hands through a transaction that is commercial in form, since profit is not what governs its transmission : if ordinary traders were to sell or buy at the same price adopted by those who distribute manna, they would quickly go bankrupt. (b) It also allows us to acknowledge that this wealth is not drawn from the Public Treasury nor distributed in pursuance of a legal principle governing its allotment, but results from criminal activity and is allocated according to the whim or the strategy of an outlaw ; it does not constitute subsidies any more than it does merchandise.
This kind of wealth can confound economists, since it appears in effect as a benefaction conferred upon people who will perhaps never be in a position to reciprocate on a par with what they owe their benefactor. Wealth distributed in this manner aims to and does in fact create debts that are morally impossible to repay, which distinguishes it from merchandise, since traders as such are interested only in the financial, and not moral, solvency of their partners. This kind of wealth is moreover distinct from goods that are given within the framework of the gift, which is fundamentally equal on both sides, since the allocation of this wealth does not call for reciprocity and, in fact, only acquires its social meaning from the partner’s inability to reciprocate at the same level. Indeed, gift exchange – where it has acquired institutional status – is based on the mutual discharging of debts, or, to be more precise, on the endless renewal of mutual indebtedness that consecrates the alliance between equal partners10. Traffickers can, of course, give in this sense, as can anyone, when they seek to renew or expand their alliances among their peers or among other patrons having their own clientele, through the reciprocal exchange of gratuitous services, by hosting extravagant parties for each other… But manna does not allow for reciprocity and, as such, only affects, through these parties, the actual or virtual clientele consisting of the guests that are incapable of reciprocating for the invitation. We might say that, in the eyes of its beneficiaries, manna has the character of gift without reciprocity, the social effects of which logically are the opposite of those resulting from the institution of the gift, since they are essentially unequal. The moral obligation placed upon the beneficiary of the manna to anticipate the wishes of his benefactor, does not constitute a form of reciprocity as is sometimes claimed. Quite the contrary, it is the subjective effect of the inability to reciprocate, of the impossibility of reciprocity, that subjugates the beneficiary to the wishes of the one to whom he is beholden and confers upon the allocated wealth its providential character. This expression makes it possible to avoid the impasses toward which, in my view, we are inevitably led by the analysis of the phenomenon in terms of « reciprocal exchange » of a « political » or « social » good for an « economic » good. In the final analysis, we should note that the notion of manna allows us simply to characterize the wealth involved in any type of redistributive dependence, as this latter was brought to the fore by K. Polanyi11 and energetically formalized by C. Meillassoux, for example12. This notion could contribute to the analysis of the social bond that these authors were able to bring to light by enabling us to look at the subjective structure of this bond, an issue which was hardly discussed by Polanyi or Meillassoux but which is considered here.
The clientele’s boss thus puts an obligation upon all those to whom he offers wealth when in their eyes that wealth takes the form of a favor that they know they will never be able to return, and that they will never be asked to return so long as they remain faithful (just as believers would not be able to reciprocate to their gods on a par with what they believe they owe them, however many sacrifices they make to attest to their devotion). J.R.’s acts of munificence were not in the least motivated by the « laws » of the market any more than they were by those of the State ; they were dependent upon the trafficker’s concern and subjective state of mind – upon his generosity, if not his whim. It is in this sense that, in my view, they took the character of manna, wealth allocated to people who were beholden to the trafficker and to whom he incarnated, ipso facto, that double figure of Providence and Commander common to all imaginary fathers. And J.R. was usually referred to, loved, or feared as such by thousands of residents of São João, whether they be humble pioneers or not : « É um pai para nos ».
We are now leaving behind the sphere of merchandise to probe into the heart of that which founds the legitimacy of an authority, that furthermore has nothing to do with the legal law, namely clientelist legitimacy. Around this legitimacy are structured networks of networks that are simultaneously hierarchical and informal, that are deeply opaque to those who do not belong to them, but able to haunt economic, social, and political life to the point of seeming to control completely its dynamics and the directions it takes. « "We live mysteriously", confided a man from Zaire to J.-F. Bayart, to explain his country’s economy » and to highlight its obscure requirements13. This is a disturbing kind of power, indeed, if it can in fact result from legal as well as criminal activity, its legitimacy being indifferent to the law in its very principle. This legitimacy inevitably arises as soon as some person, independently of any institution, finds himself in the position of being able to take it upon himself simultaneously (a) to offer benefactions providentially to an entourage that he protects and (b) to pose a threat to others and punish unfaithful beneficiaries if ever they should transgress the ideal law that he thereby incarnates for them. We know that these two functions – benefaction and punishment, the promise of help and the threat of harm – actually define the principle of legitimacy in any social order (they are usually distributed across a structure of multiple institutions – judiciary, religious, executive – that constitute the charm of civilizations)… The patron of a clientele, however, presents himself – according to his very definition – as a person ready to undermine any institutional edifice, while incarnating these universal functions in his own person. In so doing, he acts like any paternal figure and thereby finds himself credited, by those whom he makes beholden to him, with the altogether paternal ability to declare where good and evil reside, even when his words are in contradiction with what is prescribed by the legal law… This ability to undermine the law as well as the market is what distinguishes the clientelist nature of the bonds of allegiance woven around the patron’s person through the transmission of his manna, as opposed to the legal redistributive bonds that M. Weber, for example, qualifies as « patrimonial »14.
Corruption as Neutralization of the State
Clientelist bonds are indifferent to what is prescribed by the legal law, but, even so, they do not abolish its effects, nor do they affect the social existence of the State behind which clienteles grow and multiply. These bonds can sometimes be formed with indifference to whether they are legal or illegal and be one or the other by chance, but they can also be organically formed through the subversion of the laws, when they result from the instrumentalization of these laws, in which case the laws are simply « landmarks to be gotten around, pivots around which procedures are invented for developing new relationships, » as B. Hibou has written15. In the case of drug traffickers (the focus of the present discussion), where the bonds are formed around criminal activities constituting a violation and not a subversion of the law, the traffickers are faced with the problem of escaping the constraints of the legal law, for example by neutralizing those whose duty it is to apply and enforce it. So, they take the initiative of corrupting the State’s representatives according to a procedure that is relevant for perverting any institution : they invite an official to renounce carrying out his duty to their detriment, holding out to him (a) the promise of benefit, in the form of particularly desirable and providential favors or wealth, or, on the contrary, (b) the threat of some dreadful harm, including that of death. In such a situation, they are not plotting to buy « power, » as is often claimed ; if this were the case, they would enjoy the use of this power, which they would own and exercise themselves, like with venal offices during the Ancien Régime. Nor do they buy « the official, » who – in the strict sense – would become their slave… What they buy from the official is a specific service, namely his renouncement of the exercising of his function against them, even as he continues to hold his office, since it would not be of any help to them if he resigned. « Treason » is not too strong of a term for characterizing the behavior of corrupted State representatives, though such a forfeit does less harm to the official’s superiors, as J. Cartier-Bresson notes16, than it does to the very ideal of the State that he has committed himself to serve, an ideal that resides beyond his person and that of each of his superiors.
Indeed, whatever form it takes, corruption presupposes the official’s forsaking of the subjective commitment that he is reputed to have undertaken in the service of the State’s ideals. Accordingly, corruption entails at the same time (a) renouncing the ideal of the public good that universally legitimates the exercising of State power, whatever its historical form, and,
as a consequence, (b) committing treason against populations who respect the State to the full extent that its activity seems to them to correspond to the requirements of such an ideal. We should note along the way that the social existence of the State is not the result of violence, but of the populations’belief that the exercising of State power is based on some form of the ideal of the public good, upon which alone its legitimacy can be founded… This, in my view, is an anthropological fact concerning the nature of the State and not a moral opinion, a fact which, if it were not taken into consideration in the analysis of corruption, would make the phenomenon incomprehensible. The moral effects of betraying the ideal of the public good are, as such, social effects : according to whether identification with ideals succeeds or fails, collective beliefs – and, thus, institutions – either flourish or disintegrate (often in violence). The moral dimension belongs in substance to corrupting practices and manna alike, and this may explain why the positive social sciences have some difficulty grasping the principle of either of these.
Any kind of legitimacy is based on faith, as corrupting criminals well know – and they are careful to have an official betray the ideal of the State less out of greed than out of adherence to the clientelist ideal that they represent (belief versus belief). If they are successful in this, then their money does not buy anything anymore, since it takes the form of manna, the devolution of which brings along with it, in the symbolic order, the conversion of the official – however vacuous the clientelist credo may appear (the profession of faith on the part of those who are beholden in São João, for example, whether or not they are officials, is always reducible to the same basic statement : « I believe in J.R. ; he is a strong and good man who protects me ; he violates the legal law, but he knows where good lies (ideal law), and I must serve him… »). As a general rule, it is true, criminals do not care a jot about the beliefs of those whom they corrupt : as far as they are concerned, the officials’greed is a sufficient guarantee of their loyalty, so long as the outlaws are able to neutralize the effects of the legal law beyond the officials themselves. If they are not able to guarantee this loyalty through adherence or through greed, then the charming criminals become threatening and promise to cause harm. They threaten and kill :
« Dear colleague ! Henrique. Faithful [?]. We were hoping that you would respect our arrangement. You know what we mean ! No ? Yes, you know, Henrique ; it is you who have forgotten. Not us. You promised to inform us about any investigation concerning us. Fortunately for us, you have a price — a very low one — you are not even worth a packet of cigarettes. You remember having helped us in certain difficult situations ? Situations in which we earned millions and you a few cents ? Henrique is so doltish [otàrio] that he has not even realized that he was being used. He has sold himself for : some packets of cigarettes — a few small bottles of beer — some whisky and a few liters of gasoline. You are nothing to us — and to the police, because you leave your colleagues’lives hanging from a thread. All of that is going to cost you dearly ; your days are numbered because you have not respected the arrangement. ([vida jaz]) »17.
A subject can find himself committed through his allegiance to the different ideals of the State, of patrons of clienteles, and of his family, and these ideals correspond to the requirements of various credos that are potentially antagonistic to each other every time that he cannot serve one without betraying another, like Antigone and Creon. Furthermore, these credos, like all beliefs, are open to being undermined in a way that can destroy all of them together, through the simple effect of commercial activity and the prevalence of interests. We get a glimpse here of the complexity of the moral universe within which certain social strategies are deployed in regions where there is a great deal of State corruption, and, thus, where clientelist followings are strong – where people live exceedingly « mysteriously » indeed. Pretending to believe what this or that group says or keeping quiet – in other words, imposing upon oneself or internalizing rigorous self-censorship – can become an absolute necessity for social, if not physical, subsistence.
As for J.R., he obviously did not believe in the State, but he could hope that it would remain stable, with its hierarchical structure intact, while at the same time being under his control and strictly paralyzed in the accomplishment of those of its functions posing a threat to him. This trait is probably common to all outlaws : their social existence is secondary to and parasitic of the populations among which they prosper as predators. This existence is dependent upon that of the society in which those populations subsist within their laws, and thus, paradoxically, it is dependent upon the State that guarantees the laws ; and outlaws hardly imagine overthrowing that State, even when its officials ferociously harass them… In the final account, criminals behave toward the State as a whole in the same way as they do toward each of its representatives whom they individually corrupt : it is a matter of getting the State to renounce exercising its function against them, even as it continues to hold its place. J.R. corrupted and threatened, and he carried out or caused to be carried out his threats against State representatives. Nonetheless, he had nothing to gain from getting involved in politics to publicly contest the legitimacy of that State, and he probably never imagined serving such an ideal (which he could not have done without contradicting the principle of his clientelist project). His political activity did, however, help him in his endeavor to neutralize the State, while enabling him to increase his social prestige and following.
J.R. used the resources of his powerful clientelist legitimacy to reap its benefits in the legal political sphere, getting himself elected to the Union’s federal Congress. Having done so, he himself held a public office enabling him to supplement advantageously his strategy for neutralizing the State, to control in an official capacity the public decisions and nominations that were useful for his business, while benefiting from the judicial immunity conferred upon him by his congressional mandate. Many humble voters were even able to perceive this whole process, paradoxically, as a kind of revitalization of the State’s authority and legitimacy : after all, J.R. made his clientelist legitimacy coincide with his legal one as a people’s representative in the State. He caused the fusion of the two ideals and thereby acted in accordance with the populist imperative, the slogan for which could be expressed, in Brazil and anywhere else, as « rouba mas faz », that is, literally : « he steals, but he is doing something ; » in other words, he violates the legal law, but he does something for us, in accordance with the ideal law.
The local State structures were progressively emptied of their substance, and certain strategic leadership positions were occupied by traffickers or neutralized through corruption or the threat of death, but that did not provoke any particular social, political, or judicial reaction : the populations seemed to live in peace in a situation of relative social and political stability (there was comparatively little crime in São João), even in a certain degree of economic prosperity. The traffickers had legally won their positions in the City Council, and, with the backing of unquestionable social support, they had no more doubts than their constituency that they were in their rightful place within public edifices. It is true that open or tacit censorship concerning information about their representatives’ covert activities weighed heavily upon the populations – if for no other reason, to protect the comfort of all those who did not want to know anything about what was being done… The arrest of the federal deputy’s brother in possession of half a ton of cocaine shattered this censorship and endangered the pax traficana reigning in São João : we can understand that it led to the calling of an extraordinary City Council meeting18.
* * *
Corrupting is the preoccupation of any criminal who is outside of the State, once he is exposed to the possibility of being punished by the State and concerned to avoid this. Some criminals, like J.R., are able to solve the problem by occupying a position within the State. Criminals themselves thus become State representatives, and nothing keeps them from increasing their illegal income by exploiting another generic form of corruption that was hitherto inaccessible to them : on top of the revenue from drug trafficking, they can add that coming from the misappropriation of the public funds to which they have been given legal access. Senator Olavo Pires19, for example, whose fortune (like that of J.R.) came out of the import-export of Bolivian cocaine, misappropriated shipments of medicine and sanitary supplies from the Ministry of Health in order to distribute them charitably within the framework of his « Olavo Pires Foundation. » He abused his legal power to convert public property into manna allocated on his behalf, such that the products that people ought to have received simply by virtue of their citizenship were transformed into personal favors. The populations became the beholden debtors of the benificent trafficker-senator as an individual ; they were, ipso facto, disenfranchised of their egalitarian civic subjectivity. These misappropriations, which are common in Brazil and elsewhere, were independent of the criminal activity of O. Pires, who was acting in this instance simply as a corrupted senator, and not as a trafficker : the criminal had become a State representative, and his behavior was no different from that of the Angolan President, Eduardo dos Santos, for example, who took part of international funds, State revenue unaccounted in the national budget, and even funds of some government’s departments, to allocate this public wealth in the name of his « E. dos Santos Foundation »20. In both cases, the operation consisting in the conversion of public property into personalized manna is strictly identical.
This development, through which outlaws like J.R. or Pires can become State representatives, constitutes only one form of the so-called « criminalization of the State ». Now we need to consider the opposite occupational trajectory, at the end of which State representatives get involved, directly or indirectly, in criminal activities.