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Brazil swears in its first black Supreme Court President

posted 22 Nov 2012, 14:54 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 22 Nov 2012, 14:55 ]

Brazil's justice system achieves major milestone after swearing in first ever black Supreme Court President.

 BRASILIABRAZIL (NOVEMBER 22, 2012)  (GOVERNMENT TV) -  A historic and unprecedented moment in Brazil's Justice System was witnessed on Thursday (November 22) as a black Justice was appointed President of the Supreme Court.

Fifty-eight year old Joaquim Barbosa was sworn-in during a ceremony attended by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the South American country's Supreme Court in the city of Brasilia.

In his inauguration speech, Barbosa, aware of the symbolism of his appointment, was quick to point out that much still needs to be done to close Brazil's social and economic gaps.

"Not all Brazilians are treated and seen as equals before Brazil's justice system. Instead of getting the treatment and the consideration which is given to a few, what we see here and there, not always, but on occasion, is special treatment given to the privileged," he said.

A bricklayer's son who worked as a cleaner and typesetter to pay his way through law school, Barbosa came to public prominence after he oversaw the biggest corruption trial in Brazilian history that led to convictions of once-powerful politicians. The court last month convicted 25 people, including Lula's former chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, for diverting at least $35 million in public money to bribe legislators to support his minority government after it took office in 2003.

The trial surprised a country where courts traditionally have let corrupt politicians get away with little more than a slap on the wrist. It also brought welcome recognition for a minority official in a country, Latin America's biggest, where most top jobs are still held by whites even though half the population identifies itself as being black or of mixed descent.

For many Brazilians, the bribery convictions were proof that their country's democratic institutions, while not perfect, have matured. The trial, they believe, marks a turning point in Brazil's long history of corruption and impunity.

In sessions that riveted Brazil, Barbosa denounced the "mensalão," or big monthly payments case, as an "an assault on public coffers" and accused Dirceu of being its mastermind.

The "trial of the century" - as Brazilian media have dubbed it - made Barbosa a household name. Some fans on social media networks are suggesting he run for president in 2014.