With his index finger raised, he fires criticism at President Jair Bolsonaro and makes inquiries at Covid’s CPI, covering everything from negotiating the purchase of vaccines to more petty issues like the difference between a virus and a protozoan.
The harsh tone of his questions, however, contrasts with the core of his political activity, marked by the swing he learned as a diligent student of Mestre Bimba, the creator of regional capoeira.
At 73, senator Otto Alencar (PSD-BA) has already done everything in politics: state deputy, councilor at the Municipal Court of Accounts, vice-governor of the state twice and governor for eight months.
In his trajectory, he acted as a kind of political chameleon. He was one of the most faithful allies of former senator Antônio Carlos Magalhães (1927-2007) until he became, in the words of senator Jaques Wagner (PT-BA), an “inside friend” of the main PT leaders in the state.
“I have always been very grateful to ACM, who has always been very correct and has never been wrong with me. But after he died, I felt free to look for a different path”, justifies Otto.
An orthopedist doctor, he emerged into politics in the 1980s, as a result of his volunteer work at the Sister Dulce Social Works Hospital. In 1985, he was a candidate for vice-mayor of Salvador on the ticket led by Edvaldo Brito (at the time in the PDS), the only black person to have been mayor of the Bahian capital.
On that occasion, Otto was defeated at the polls, but he cashed in for the next election, when he was elected state deputy by the PTB. He amended three terms in the Legislative Assembly of Bahia until 1998, when he was elected vice-governor on the ticket led by César Borges, then in the PFL.
In 2002, with Borges’ resignation to run for the Senate, Otto reached the peak of his political career, becoming governor between April and December. At the time, it was affiliated with the PL.
The period was short but troubled. It was precisely in his government that the wiretapping scandal broke out, in which ACM was appointed as the mastermind of illegal eavesdropping by political opponents carried out by the Public Security Secretariat. Otto has always denied participation in the case.
At the time, a CPI was even created to investigate the case. Otto came to be in the crosshairs of the opposition, but the government majority in the Bahian Legislative Assembly was decisive for him to bypass the investigations.
Three years later, he was also in the crosshairs of Ebal’s CPI, created to investigate a break in the budget of the state-owned company that ran a network of public supermarkets in Bahia. Once again, his good political relations meant that he was not called to testify.
After his term as governor, Otto took over as Secretary of Industry and Commerce under Governor Paulo Souto (PFL). He left the government at the end of 2004 to take up the post of adviser to the Municipal Court of Accounts, the court responsible for judging the accounts of 417 cities in Bahia.
At the time, opponents attributed the departure from party politics to an attempt to shield it: in court, it would have jurisdiction in the STJ (Superior Court of Justice). Others compared the match to a kind of fridge imposed by then-senator ACM.
Otto denies both versions and claims that going to the Court of Auditors was a natural path. He spent six years in court, where he was noted for his good relationship with mayors, but says he didn’t adapt to the position: “I wasn’t born to be a judge”.
He was rescued into party politics in 2010, at the hands of then-governor Jaques Wagner, who invited him to be a vice-governor candidate in his campaign for re-election.
The move was decisive for Wagner to rebalance the political chessboard in Bahia after his break with Geddel Vieira Lima (MDB), then minister of the Lula government (PT). When referring to Otto, Wagner claimed to have sought “the number 10 shirt from the other team”, in a reference to the ACM group.
The six years at the Court of Auditors led him to immerse himself in micropolitics, working like an anthill with mayors and local leaders. With an excellent memory, he has in his mind the political scenario of each municipality in Bahia.
He built a network of solid relationships in the interior of Bahia, which includes political partnerships and friendships with those who share some of his main passions: horses, vaquejadas and viola fashions.
Even outside TCM, Otto maintained good relations in the Bahian courts of accounts. He has one of his daughters employed at the State Audit Court by counselor Gildásio Penedo, who is the husband of a niece of the senator.
After four years as deputy governor and secretary, he arrived at the Senate in 2015 with the ostensible support of Wagner, the current governor Rui Costa (PT) and Lula.
From the former president, Otto claims to be grateful. “He supported me in 2014 and was decisive for my election. This, for me, will always be a reason for gratitude and recognition.”
He says he would have no difficulty in supporting Lula’s new candidacy in 2022. His work at the federal level points in that direction: even when his party, the PSD, endorsed Michel Temer (MDB) and Jair Bolsonaro (no party), Otto maintained a position of independence —in 2016, he voted against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff (PT).
At the local level, he claims to be a candidate for re-election in the Senate for Bahia, but his allies are beginning to encourage a possible candidacy for the state government in view of the political showcase he won at the CPI.
One of the biggest enthusiasts of the government candidacy is also Senator Angelo Coronel (PSD-BA), one of his closest allies, who has said that Bahia needs a new alternative in addition to Wagner’s PT and the former DEM. Mayor of Salvador ACM Neto.
Otto claims that he will work to keep the political group together, maintaining the partnership with the PT, and that he is not considering a candidacy for the government in opposition. On the other hand, he says that his name is available, should this group understand that he is the best option to run for government.
“I have my word, I never declined an appointment. I will be firm in my positions regarding my alliance with the PT, just as I was clear when I was an ally of ACM. I never wavered.”
For the coming months, the goal is to remain at the forefront of investigations into the Bolsonaro government’s role in the pandemic.
The senator says he is convinced that there are at least three crimes typified in the federal government’s actions, including an alleged deliberate action in search of herd immunity and also the failure to purchase vaccines.
Otto says he will maintain his assertive stance at the CPI, even after he has been the target of criticism, false information and even threats from pocketnarista militants in recent weeks.
This level of aggressiveness is new for the senator who has always made good neighbors his way of doing politics. But he says he doesn’t mind: “That’s part of it. You can be sure it doesn’t take a second of sleep.”