14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 June 2018 — When people talk about Brazilian TV shows, some think of the dramatic soap operas that Cuban media broadcasts every year. Those soap operas, full of intrigues, loves and hatreds, have been part of the island’s television network for decades, but The Mechanism, a production that addresses the corruption revealed by Operation Car Wash, will not suffer the same fate.
For a couple of weeks now, the series, directed by the filmmaker José Padilha and produced by Netflix, has landed in Cuba through the informal content distribution networks such as the weekly packet. With a dynamic plot and excellent performances, The Mechanism premiered on Netflix last March and since then has not stopped stirring passions.
The fictional series, based on real events, revolves around the investigation that uncovered the fraudulent network woven around the semi-state oil company Petrobras in Brazil. These investigations led to the discovery of the tentacles of bribes, money laundering and payments to politicians extended by the construction company Odebrecht for decades throughout the region.
Padilha, who had already made a name for himself with Narcos, structured his series based on a book by journalist Vladimir Netto and managed to build a gradual sense of disgust in his audience. The repulsion grows as the names of those involved appear, and the bribery strategies and the depth of these practices in the political and economic life of Brazil come to light.
Due to the little that has been reported in the national media, Cuban viewers are probably tempted to read the story as a documentary, although it is essential to take into account the warning message that appears at the beginning of each episode: “This program is a work of fiction freely inspired by real events, characters, situations and other elements, adapted for dramatic effect.”
However, along with the creative freedom that has led Padilha to change or recreate real events, The Mechanism maintains the authentic edges of Operation Car Wash, which have not been reported in Cuba, hence its dual character as entertainment and revelation. Unlike other countries where the scandal filled extensive headlines, on the island this will be the first details many people see about the many dimensions of that rot.
The case, which shook the whole continent and reached as far as Angola and Mozambique, is of particular interest in Cuba, where Fidel and Raúl Castro maintained close relations with two of the characters in this truculent story: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, who appear in the series with changed names but easily identifiable.
In the same years that Odebrecht bought contracts, supported election campaigns in Latin America and distributed millions to fend off any investigation against it, the Cuban authorities embraced, smiling and complicit, the two politicians who were up to their eyeballs in such corruption.
No wonder, the construction company Odebrecht was hand-picked for the modernization of Cuba’s Port of Mariel. The megaproject, a kind of white elephant Raul Castro’s regime used to try to attract investors, was inaugurated in January 2014 by Dilma Rousseff and the Cuban president. They posed smiling in front of the cameras of the foreign press just a a few weeks before the scandal would shake the Brazilian president.
Since then, Cuba’s official press has mostly reported the upheavals caused by the revelations of Operation Car Wash to the region’s centrist and rightist governments. That information strategy prioritized the details of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s resignation as president of Peru, and the international arrest order against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, also accused of receiving bribes from Odebrecht.
In contrast, Cuba’s national media hardly mentions the sentencing of Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas to six years in prison for the same reasons, and has totally ignored all the evidence that points to Nicolás Maduro as part of the machinations of that powerful construction company. The links to current Brazilian president Michel Temer, who assumed office after Rousseff’s impeachment, were reported in the pages of Granma, like those of Lula and Rousseff, except that in the case of these last two, it was reported as a “conspiracy of the right.”
As expected, both Brazilian former presidents are among the staunchest critics of the series since it was launched on Netflix. Lula has insisted that the “piece is one more lie” and Rousseff accused it of “distorting reality” and spreading all kinds of lies.
Beyond the welts that it raises, the arrival in Cuba of The Mechanism helps to break the mantle of silence that the Plaza of the Revolution has thrown over parts of this history, and it will set people talking about the subject and raise desires for a greater investigation of the true details.
The series is also a great opportunity to enjoy solid performances, such as those of Selton Melo who plays investigator Marco Ruffo, a researcher obsessed with the case and whose childhood friend, called Roberto Ibrahim in the series but taken from the real life Alberto Youseff, is one of the money launderers whose arrest uncovers the scandal.
The manager of the construction company, Marcelo Odebrecht (in the series presented as Ricardo Brecht), manages to transmit that calculated coldness of someone who knows that he has presidents and senators from all over the continent in his pocket, while the character of Verena Cardoni, played by Caroline Abras, stands apart from the female stereotypes that abound in Brazilian soap operas.
This, unlike those soap operas of unrequited love and exalted hatred, is not a production to get you to mourn for a couple separated in the past or for an unrecognized son, but for the rottenness of a country. What happens on the screen is not history, but absolute fiction, but one based on the uncovering of a crooked network of corruption that extends its threads to this Island.
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