A Coup and Austerity Bring Chaos to Brazil

Brazilians face an uncertain future as Temer’s unelected government forces austerity into the country’s constitution, writes CHRIS WILLIAMSON


YOU’D be forgiven for not knowing the state of Brazilian politics. Indeed, other than the Star and a few articles in the Guardian, the media coverage of the fifth-biggest country in the world has at times felt non-existent.

But with the passing this month of a controversial 20-year spending freeze by a president, who was installed without an election, the country’s economy faces chaos, and it will be the poorest who suffer the most.

The controversial measure, known as PEC55, limits spending at all levels of government in health, education and social welfare and is part of a drastic set of austerity policies. At a time when the education system is considered to be failing and 75 per cent of the population are reliant on the free health service, it’s no surprise that this has prompted a huge backlash.

Thousands have taken to the streets in cities across the country, major trade unions have called a national strike and students have occupied over 1,100 schools and universities.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Phillip Alston, even called the amendment “a radical measure, devoid of all nuance and compassion.” He also said: “It will hit the poorest and most vulnerable Brazilians harder, increasing the levels of inequality in an already extremely unequal society.”

Statisticians, politicians and social movements have echoed his warnings but it’s not just the austerity policy itself that is controversial; its length and severity are also causes of concern. To compound matters, the unelected President Michel Temer has enshrined the spending freeze in Brazil’s constitution.

The move is a brazen attempt to tie the hands of future governments to make it more difficult to reverse this pernicious plan. The unprecedented timescale will also mean that Brazil’s public finances will not be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances, whether that be a world economic downturn or even a public health crisis.

Temer’s government is yet to comment on how the spending freeze will affect access to free healthcare, which is also guaranteed in the constitution. But it is hard to see how these contradictory constitutional clauses can be reconciled or indeed how the National Health System (abbreviated to SUS in Portuguese) will be maintained.

Remarkably, there has been little public debate or consultation and this has created a situation where 43 per cent of Brazilians are completely unaware of the Bill despite polls showing that healthcare is the public’s number one concern.

For those who are aware, support is rock bottom for both the Bill — with only 17 per cent approval ratings — and the president proposing it. Polls show 63 per cent of Brazilians are calling for Temer to step down before January 1 and for new elections to be held.

However, pressure for Temer to step down is not a new phenomenon. After he orchestrated the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff earlier this year, in highly questionable circumstances, demonstrations against the conservative government have been commonplace, as have police repression of them.

The controversy surrounding the former president’s impeachment has only increased public fears and added to the uncertainty in the country. Just 62 senators overturned the votes of more than 50 million Brazilians in a “soft coup,” bringing to an end 13 years of elected Workers Party presidents. These senators fraudulently claimed that the removal of president Rousseff was to tackle corruption in politics as part of a ruse to justify their contempt for the democratic wishes of the Brazilian people. But such a claim was patently absurd considering Rousseff was one of the only figures not implicated in the massive kick-back scandal at state owned oil company, Petrobras.

Since her removal numerous members of Temer’s all-white, all-male cabinet have had to resign over corruption, bribery and money-laundering charges. Leaked wire taps also suggested that the impeachment was orchestrated to hinder the corruption investigation.

The move from the same legislators to subsequently water down the anti-corruption Bill and to delete a clause creating a reward and protection system for informants only months later beggars belief. This has added to the public anger, which is currently running dangerously high. However, in view of the government’s recent track record, they seem unlikely to yield to public demands for a new election or a referendum on the issue.

There is very little public support for the hard-line conservative policies that Temer is implementing, which have been consistently rejected at the polls for the last 14 years. Consequently, social movements and trade unions are combining together in an attempt to protect the progressive achievements delivered by the Workers Party (abbreviated to PT in Portuguese) over the last decade. Their accomplishments include reducing poverty, slashing illiteracy and the introduction of internationally renowned social schemes like the Bolsa Familia social welfare programme.

British progressives were quick to condemn these actions with the publication of a statement from 20 parliamentarians calling out the removal of Dilma and criticising the government’s attempts to overturn the social reforms of the PT without a mandate.

As we head towards the festive season, Brazil’s recession, corruption scandals and political upheavals are coming to a head leaving regular Brazilians facing an uncertain new year. Secure healthcare and decent education are being consigned to history by a crooked regime with no democratic legitimacy.

That is why the Brazilian people deserve the support of the British labour movement and all progressives across the globe. So please spare a minute this week to support the millions of Brazilians who will be fearing what the next 20 years will bring.
The rise of worldwide right-wing ideology means that the Brazilian people’s fight is our fight too. Let’s stand together in solidarity against reactionary forces.

Chris Williamson is a former Labour MP and is involved in the No Coup in Brazil initiative. Find out more on the crisis from Chris when he speaks at the upcoming event: Stand With Brazil — An Evening of Solidarity at Unite, 128 Theobald’s road, WC1X 8TN, Feb 2 2017 at 6.30 pm. For more info see: https://www.facebook.com/events/1795579174058409/

This article was originally published in the Morning Star at: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-d0a6-A-coup-and-austerity-bring-chaos-to-Brazil

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