The last six months in Brazil have seen an immense upheaval of society since the removal of Dilma Rousseff. A spiralling corruption investigation, controversial impeachment, mass protests, growing strikes and an Olympic games held in Rio in the backdrop of an economic recession have led to a tumultuous year.
Anger is running high at the newly appointed President. Many are claiming he is acting without a mandate and are calling for new elections to take place, a measure Dilma strongly advocated whilst the impeachment was raging on.
Here are some of the most controversial policies, many implemented whilst Temer was acting on an Interim basis, that have prompted an international backlash in defence of Brazilian democracy.
Reducing Social Security and the Ministry of Social Welfare
Brazil’s social security was the first under fire from the conservative government with Temer effectively scrapping the Ministry for Social Welfare and planning wholesale pension reform whilst operating as an interim President.
In an unprecedented move the government initially aimed to raise the minimum age of retirement to 70, making it the oldest in the world, eventually settling on 65. These reforms are a step backwards from the existing model, which favours labourers and agricultural workers by taking into account years of service.
On top of this, changes to social security will see the minimum pension reduced, removing benefits from 70% of Brazilian retirees, from the poorest in the country.
Labour Law Reforms
Brazil’s labour laws are the next under fire with the government attempting to change the strict laws protecting worker benefits, including social security, maternity and holidays by making them ‘more flexible’.
Despite the outcry from Brazil’s trade unions and even threats of a general strike from the CUT, Brazil’s largest union, the government plans to push ahead with more changes to the labour code that will see working hours opened up and benefits, wages and collective bargaining processes altered.
The neoliberal measures proposed by Temer will also aim to ease regulations on outsourcing and many people fear that legal rights to maternity leave; annual holiday entitlements; year-end bonus payments; double payment for overtime; and guaranteed redundancy payments for long service could eventually be scrapped.
New measures have even sought to soften the definition of slavery, by removing “degrading conditions” and “exhausting shifts” from the definition.
Public Healthcare Review
Health minister Ricardo Barros claimed the government would not be able to continue universal access to health care, despite it being a constitutionally guaranteed right since 1988.
Setting their sights on the health care budget, the government has planned a constitutional amendment that would see the guaranteed 13.7% federal budget spend on healthcare reduced to a lower proportion of GDP, effectively capping spending for years to come.
Coupled with plans to review the size of the public health care system SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde), these changes are set to have a devastating effect on the middle and lower classes as they are unable to pay for private care.
Temer’s ideological dismantling of the system does not stop there, the government now has plans for privatising emergency care and health insurance in an effort to move towards the notorious US system.
Reducing the ‘Mais Medicos’ Social Programme
The ‘Mais Medicos’ (More Doctors) scheme was implemented by Rouseff’s government and saw 18,000 health care professionals, with nearly two thirds being Cuban nationals, working in Brazil as part of a joint social programme.
With doctors being placed in areas of high socioeconomic vulnerability, it is estimated that up to 63 million people have been affected by this ground breaking scheme.
Supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the scheme and a subsequent increase in medical school enrolment was celebrated. WHO/PAHO representative Joaquin Molina called it ‘an example for other countries and other regions that aspire to provide universal access to health and universal health coverage.”
Temer has other plans for Mais Medicos. The new President has announced he wants to reduce the number of foreign doctors in the programme to only 3000 following criticism and opposition from right wing politicians, pharmaceutical companies and medical corporations since its inception.
Failing Women’s Rights
Temer’s government immediately came under fire when he appointed an all-white all-male cabinet for the first time since the 1970s military dictatorship whilst the terms of the impeachment were also scrutinised.
Women’s rights groups have rallied round the impeached former President labelling the coup as sexist and discriminatory. The U.N office on women’s rights in Brazil stated that Dilma had been the victim of “sexist political violence” by her ousters.
Threats and violence against women are a problem for both the public and the politicians of Brazil. Congressmen Jair Bolsonaro epitomised this in 2014 when he referred to a fellow congresswoman as ‘not worth raping’ as well as using a range of sexist slogans against Dilma during the impeachment. In the context of a country that saw 47,000 cases of sexual violence reported last year and 4,700 women murdered in 2014, behaviour like this from an elected official is unacceptable.
The policies of the conservative congress on women do not seek to rectify the treatment of women and have been accused of undermining women’s rights. The most shocking of these is a newly penned reform of the Maria de Penha law, which was hailed as a landmark victory for tackling abuse as it has increased convictions of domestic violence and support for victims.
Even now, as Temer’s has appointed his first woman to the cabinet, it cannot be seen as a victory for Brazil’s women. Extremely controversial circumstances surrounded the appointment after it was revealed that the minister she replaced had been removed because of his attempts to extend the wide scale corruption investigation into the role of high-ranking officials and politicians.
Selling State Assets
The sale of state assets is a classic short term fix for a long term budgetary problems, carried out by right wing governments across the globe. Despite policies like these being consistently rejected by Brazilians at the ballot box for the last 13 years, Temer has plans to strip the country of its natural resources.
The scale of the operation was revealed when they announcement the planned sell-off of 32 major resource and infrastructure projects, leaving thousands of pubic workers fearing for their jobs as private contractors will be in control of staffing the sites.
Contained in the plan is the sale and concession of four major airports, six power plants, three sanitation companies, five hydroelectric projects, five highways and rail lines, three oil and gas suppliers and four mining operations across Brazil, with sales expected to begin in early 2017.
One recent example is the preparation of legislation that will see Brazil’s abundant offshore oil reserves opened up to private companies, removing exclusivity from the national oil company Petrobras, despite estimates that the basin contains four times the country’s current national reserves of 14 billion barrels.
The bill is championed by newly appointed Foreign Minister Jose Serra and has come under fire due to his close relation with oil giant Chevron after a leaked cable from WikiLeaks appeared to show him suggesting a change of law could be made to win the favour of the company.
Suppression of Protests
Rallies and protests rocked Brazil in the run up to the impeachment vote and much to the Governments annoyance, this coincided with the Olympic Games in Rio.
Rather than recognise the cry for democracy from the thousands in the streets in 17 different cities, Temer tried to avoid embarrassment on the world stage by banning political protests at Olympic events in Rio.
Fortunately, Temer’s control doesn’t yet extend to the judiciary leading federal judge Joao Augusto Carneiro Araújo to step in and cancel the ban as it violated freedom of expression. Temer was subsequently booed at the opening ceremony and absent from the closing ceremony.
The demonstrators outside the games were not as fortunate. Since, the impeachment vote on the 31st of August, hundreds of thousands have marched against Temer, the coup and his policies, but reports and videos of police suppression have been growing. One young student was blinded in one eye after she was shot with a rubber bullet and even a BBC journalist claimed to have been attacked by a policeman.
Tear gas, military sting operations, rubber bullets and water cannons were used as tools of repression against a public simply requesting their right to vote. The scale of the growing protests, which have amassed hundreds of thousands and have been regularly attended for the last month, have been massive.
Temer refuses to acknowledge their existence when questioned: “There are 40, 50, 100 people, nothing more than that”
Easing the Foreign-Land Ownership Ban
Another highly criticised measure taken by Temer was the removal of the Ministry of Agrarian Development in a country where the rural communities make up nearly 15% of the population.
This was coupled with plans to remove bans on foreign-land ownership that were implemented by the former government in 2010 over fears countries like China could take control of large segments of the countries arable land.
Land ownership in Brazil is one of the most unequal in the world with 1% of the population owning 45% of the land. The country’s largest social movement, the MST (Landless Worker’s Movement), have stated the measures will make this inequality worse, promising to occupy the sold lands in protest.
Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, fears the move will have dangerous ramifications. “It will be devastating for small farmers and for food production in local markets. It will increase environmental destruction and pollution of water sources.”
It is worth noting that the measures are being overseen by Agricultural Minister Blairo Maggi, otherwise known as the ‘Soya King’. For the green inclined, Maggi currently holds the Greenpeace ‘Golden Chainsaw award’ for his unprecedented destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Cutting the Successful Literacy Social Program
Yet another social programme that came under fire was the Literate Brazil programme, a flagship education scheme from former President Lula’s first term in 2003. An estimated 1.3 million people have benefited from the scheme, reducing Brazil’s illiteracy rate from 11.6% to 8.3% in 2014.
Education Minister, Mendonca Filho, was appointed by President Temer whilst still acting on an interim basis. Fihlo proceeded to cut off all state and federal funding for the project, stopping enrolment in the scheme.
In true Temer fashion, the government continued to publically deny that any changes had been made to the literacy programme, until a concerned citizen requested an update through the country’s Access to Information Act revealing that the funding had been withheld and the programme scrapped.
Cutting the National Housing Project
Hailed by the UN as a success story, the ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ (My House, My Life) social housing programme has provided 1.7 million of Brazil poorest with affordable homes since it was launched in 2011, with a further 4.2 million homes contracted to be built. Despite Temer’s initial promise to maintain successful social programmes, the government has announced extensive spending cuts of up to tens of millions of (US) dollars.
University of Rio Professor Maria Luisa Mendonca was strongly critical of the move “Six million Brazilian families are homeless or living in precarious housing, for them, these cuts matter a lot.” Considering that a staggering 20% of Rio’s 6.5 million residents still live in favelas, a successful housing scheme like this would be expected to be protected.
No coup in Brazil are hosting a workshop in the Latin America Conference 2016 with a representative speaker from the Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT). The conference will be covering the latest developments across Latin America and features speakers from across the globe including: Ivan Marquez- Colombian peace deal negotiator, Paul Oquist-Nicaraguan minister for National Policy, Teresita Vicente- Cuban Ambassador and many more. Click here for tickets and more info. Saturday, 26th Nov, 10AM, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3LS