By Chris Williamson for The Morning Star
Following the removal of the Dilma Rousseff as President of Brazil, the new unelected President has launched a wave of neo-liberal policies, but is facing massive resistance, writes Chris Williamson.
South America’s largest country has recently undergone massive political upheaval with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the installation of right wing leader Michael Temer.
The newly ‘appointed’ Government is now initiating harsh and unpopular austerity measures, including wide-scale privatisation of Brazil’s public sector and natural assets. This reactionary policy programme has been accompanied by the heavy handed repression of protestors across the country.
The removal of Dilma was initially portrayed as eliminating corruption in government following the revelations of an ongoing corruption probe. This enquiry has seen over half the Lower House investigated for their part in a scandal involving kickbacks between Brazilian officials and the country’s major oil supplier, Petrobas.
After repeatedly being cleared of corruption and links to the scandal, the focus of the impeachment process against Rousseff suddenly shifted to her management of government finances. She has been penalised for a budgetary manoeuvre that numerous Presidents around the world have utilised, including President Obama, without any sanction whatsoever, let alone impeachment.
After just 61 senators overturned the will of 54 million Brazilians at the ballot box and voted to impeach Rousseff, we saw the Workers’ Party – Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) removed from power. This was after 13 years of consecutive Presidential election victories by PT.
In the run up to the impeachment, polls showed the majority of the Brazilian’s were calling for new elections and Temer’s popularity rating fell to just 2%. Nevertheless, he was still installed as President until the next set of Presidential elections in 2018.
These developments should be a concern for internationalists, trade unionists and Brazilians alike.
Although the PT faced many difficulties in government, and had much still to achieve, Presidents Lula’s and Dilma’s administrations achieved an array of vital reforms. Their achievements brought about a real transformation in Brazil. This included significant real wage increases, 15 million jobs created, 40 million people lifted from poverty through globally acclaimed social programmes; and advances were also made in trade union, indigenous, BAME, LGBT and women’s rights too.
Since taking office, even though he has no mandate, Temer has implemented hard-line neoliberal policies, which will reverse the progressive gains made by the PT’s period in power. He is racing to destroy as much of the Lula/Dilma legacy as he can before the next presidential elections.
The initial appointment of an all-white, all-male cabinet the new President set the tone for his Government. Then he abolished the Ministries of Women, Human Rights, Social Welfare and Racial Equality, which set alarm bells ringing for many in Brazil.
When his plans to sack 4,000 public sector workers were announced, it created a huge backlash from the country’s trade unions. Only last week thousands of Rio state workers demonstrated against a proposed blanket 30% pay reduction.
The next controversial announcement was that of a massive privatisation project to sell-off 32 major resource and infrastructure projects. This included airports, power plants, sanitation companies, rail lines, highways, mining operations, and hydroelectric, gas and oil suppliers, leaving even more public sector workers fearing for their livelihoods.
Taking aim at the highly popular social programmes has led to even more resistance against a President who was imposed by a ‘soft-coup’.
For most, proposing to cut the ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ social house building programme in a country where millions still live in favelas, (shanty towns) including 20% of Rio’s population, would be unthinkable. But that is precisely what Brazil’s illegitimate administration is proposing to do.
Other programmes to be cut include a foreign doctors’ scheme, (Mais Medicos). This initiative has enabled trained medical professionals to be sent to regions with the lowest access to healthcare. Another project that has been axed is a literacy programme that has assisted over 1.3 million people since 2003.
It is abundantly clear that Temer is targeting the cuts on the weakest and most vulnerable people in Brazil – sounds familiar doesn’t it? But his most controversial announcement was one of his more recent pronouncements to impose an astonishing 20 year spending freeze on healthcare, education and social welfare!
The backlash from Brazilians who feel that the Government is acting without a mandate has been enormous. People’s grievances have been compounded Temer’s unwillingness to arrange even the most cursory public consultation on his plans. The response to his pernicious proposition has seen the streets flooded with protestors. A national strike was held and over 1100 schools and universities were occupied across the country, with students taking an inspirational lead against the Temer’s regime.
Despite a culture of resistance being formed by sections of society, Brazil still faces a tough fight against the undemocratic actions of the instigators of the coup, who are routinely repressing peaceful protests. Tear gas, water cannons and physical violence by police against protestors are now commonplace. Incidents, like the recent assault on a Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) School using live ammunition, have resulted in worldwide condemnation.
As the Brazilian people march against a government they did not vote for, and in opposition to policies they have consistently rejected, many are left wondering how far Temer will go to silence them. That is why this is a time for international solidarity, a time to speak out against this tyranny, a time to stand up for democracy.
We must not stand aside while democracy is displaced by oligarchy in Britain’s largest Latin American trading partner.
The No Coup in Brazil initiative has been campaigning against the removal of elected President Dilma Rousseff, and in solidarity with those now struggling for democracy and social progress. To find out more follow them on twitter @nocoupinbrazil
No coup in Brazil are also hosting workshops in the Latin America Adelante! Conference 2016 with a speaker from the Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT). The conference covers 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. Visit www.latinamerica2016.org.uk for tickets and more info. Latin America 2016 Adelante! Saturday, 26th Nov, 10AM, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3LS