Why the British left should be troubled by the chaos and austerity of Brazil’s “coup”

You would be forgiven for not knowing the state of Brazilian politics.  Indeed, other than a few articles in one national newspaper, coverage of the fifth biggest country in the world has at times been non-existent.

Earlier this year, just 62 senators overturned the votes of more than 50 million Brazilians in a “soft coup”, bringing to an end 13 years of democratically elected Workers’ Party presidents. Michel Temer, an unpopular right-winger, was installed as the new president without bothering with another election.

These senators dishonestly claimed that the removal of President Dilma Rousseff was designed 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 with state owned oil company Petrobras.

Labour MPs were quick to condemn these actions with the publication of a statement from 20 parliamentarians.  They condemned the removal of Rousseff and the plans to overturn the social reforms that have reduced poverty, slashed illiteracy and introduced internationally renowned social schemes like the Bolsa Familia social welfare programme.

Since Temer was imposed, there has been little comment in the British media about his hard-line economic agenda including his 20 year public spending freeze on health, education and social welfare.  He has even enshrined the freeze in Brazil’s constitution in a brazen attempt to tie the hands of future governments and make it more difficult to reverse his pernicious policy.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said the plan “will hit the poorest and most vulnerable Brazilians hardest, increasing the levels of inequality in an already extremely unequal society.”

Following Rousseff’s removal, a number 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 Rousseff’s impeachment was orchestrated to hinder the corruption investigation. This abuse of power has also seen these same legislators delete a clause in an anti-corruption bill that would have rewarded and protected whistleblowers.

The hard-line conservative policies that Temer is implementing have been consistently rejected at the polls for the last 14 years.  Unsurprisingly, polls show 63 per cent of Brazilians are calling for Temer to step down before January 1 and for new elections to be held.

It is easy to think the upheaval in Brazil couldn’t happen here but we are already sailing in unchartered waters following the Brexit vote on 23 June. Right-wing ideology is gaining traction in mainland Europe and the election of Donald Trump in the US has created a postmodern version of the 1930s.  The failure of the Labour movement at that time only emboldened right-wing extremists after the TUC backed non-intervention in the Spanish civil war, a position that was supported by the Labour Party until 1937.

What happened in Brazil has set a dangerous precedent, which is why the international labour movement motto that “an injury to one is an injury to all” is particularly apposite today.

Chris Williamson is a former Labour MP and is involved in the No coup in Brazil initiative. He will speak at Stand With Brazil – An Evening of Solidarity at Unite, 128 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8TN, on February 2.

Originally published by Labour List at: http://labourlist.org/2016/12/why-the-british-left-should-be-troubled-by-the-chaos-and-austerity-of-brazils-coup/

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