By Colleen Shaddox
“Now that I have accumulated some experiences, I am looking forward to sharing,” Fernando P. de Mello Barreto said, explaining why he has come to UConn School of Law to prepare for a second career as an academic. “Some experiences” is an understatement. His diplomatic service to Brazil has included stints as ambassador to Australia and to Russia and as delegate to the World Trade Organization.
Now two years from mandatory retirement age of 70, he is Consul General of Brazil in Hartford. His minister was surprised at his request to be posted at a quiet site. De Mello Barreto wanted to be close to his children in New York and Boston. He is especially pleased that he chose Hartford now that he is pursuing a SJD (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor or Doctor of the Science of Law) degree, a research-based doctorate. All the program’s six students hail from outside the United States, from countries where the SJD is a requirement for professors of law.
De Mello Barreto said that he was impressed with the SJD program at UConn and had spoken to Dean Timothy Fisher, when Fisher was planning a trip to Brazil. The dean encouraged him to apply for the program. The faculty he met were engaging and equally encouraging.
The heart of SJD studies is research culminating in a dissertation. De Mello Barreto is examining and comparing anti-corruption initiatives in Brazil, the U.S., Denmark and Russia. “I was reluctant to write about corruption, because I am not a criminal lawyer,” de Mello Barreto said. His advisor, Professor Mark Janis, the international law scholar who runs the SJD program, urged him to explore the topic. Del Mello Barreto was also inspired by a line from the book by René David and John E.C. Brierley, Major Legal Systems in the World Today, which says that comparative law is "useful in gaining a better understanding of one's own national law and in the work of improving it.” At this writing, the Brazilian senate has voted to suspend and begin an impeachment trial against President Dilma Rousseff, who is accused of manipulating the country’s finances.
While public acknowledgement of it is new, corruption in Brazil is not, said de Mello Barreto. “The reason we have corruption cases going forward is because we are now a democracy,” he said. “It is the end of impunity.”
Scholarship should play a role in promoting better government, he said, noting that Aristotle researched 133 constitutions before writing one for Athens.
Early in his career as an international lawyer in private practice, de Mello Barreto did some teaching. He has also written four books on Brazilian diplomatic history. “Academia has always been part of my life,” he said. As has long been true for the diplomat, de Mello Barreto does not know here he’ll be a few years from now. But spending the present researching a topic so close to his heart is deeply satisfying. “It’s been fascinating at this point in my life to do something like that,” he said.