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Making Law Matter, by Lesley McAllister, is a major book on an important topic: Brazil’s Public Ministry and its role in the enforcement of environmental laws. The Public Ministry in Brazil is a remarkable institution that has grown in strength and consolidated its reputation over the past two decades in fulfilling the function of prosecutorial enforcement of the law. Its enhanced role within contemporary Brazilian society, which was enshrined in the progressive 1988 Federal Constitution, has been characterized as a type of superombudsman or, even, a fourth branch of government. As McAllister convincingly argues, the key enabler of this change was the expansion of “diffuse and collective rights” within Brazilian society, including the right to a healthy environment, and the Public Ministry’s mandate to protect them. With the entrance of a new generation of highly skilled prosecutors who developed a vibrant public service ethos, environmental issues gained new visibility and the Public Ministry increased its institutional capital in the enforcement realm.
The book’s initial chapters present a concise history of the emergence and consolidation of the Public Ministry within the context of Brazil’s redemocratization process after twenty-one years of military dictatorship (1964–1985) and of the efforts towards enforcement of Brazil’s strong environmental laws within a contradictory political context in which “the quest for economic development tends to trump environmental protection” (p. 21). Separate chapters then focus on the specific themes of confronting impunity (chapter 4), increasing the accountability of government agencies (chapter 5) and making justice more readily accessible to Brazilian citizens (chapter 6). The final chapter presents an overall assessment of the Public Ministry’s effort to attain effective regulatory enforcement and concludes that this has resulted in new cultural sense of the rule of law, or, as the title of the book indicates, it has helped make law matter in Brazil.
McAllister’s analysis operates along two substantive axes: the first is between the federal-level and state-level Public Ministry prosecutors; the second is a comparison of the effectiveness of the Public Ministries of two Brazilian [End Page 145] states: the highly industrialized São Paulo state, where the Public Ministry has achieved a high degree of effectiveness, power and institutional independence, and the heavily rural Amazonian state of Pará, where the Public Ministry is weak due to the strong influence that politicians wield over the institution. Though this is a legal study, the analysis contained here is strengthened by the excellent use of recent work in political science, social movements and public policy. Another strength of the study is its solid grounding in extensive fieldwork conducted in two Brazilian states, with frequent quotations from key actors and its reliance on Brazilian documentary and academic sources.
With regard to weaknesses, though the study contains numerous references to emblematic cases – such as that of Cubatão, a highly polluted southern Brazilian city, and the initial attempts to bring the polemical Belo Monte Dam in the Amazon into the rule of environmental law –, these references are scattered throughout the text and are not dealt with in sufficient detail to get a clear understanding of the complex machinations regarding how environmental law gets enforced in Brazil. Also, the author’s emphasis on the weakness of Brazilian environmental regulatory control tends to underplay the importance of environmentalism as a social movement that was in large part responsible for getting strong laws on the books and which exert a notable deterrent effect in and of themselves, as the heated, ongoing political fights over the Forest Code attest. Finally, in the effort to draw broader implications of the Brazilian case, the author glosses the Brazilian experience as a “microcosm of the developing world” (10), a concept that is so diffuse as to lack any real heuristic value. The analysis is on much stronger ground when it concludes that Brazilian prosecutorial enforcement is “a homegrown rule of law institution” (196). These points, however, are secondary, and do not distract from the successful way the growing role of the Brazilian Public Ministry...