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Worldbeaters: Michel Temer

Brazil
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by Agencia Brasil/Alamy Stock Photo

Michel Temer, at 76 Brazil’s oldest president – and one of its most controversial – is the consummate political and business insider. He was first elected as a member of the constituent assembly in 1986 and, according to WikiLeaks, has been providing intelligence on matters Brazilian to the US Embassy since 2006. He rose to leader of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (BDMP) and in 2011 became vice-president, under Dilma Rousseff of the leftist Brazilian Workers’ Party. In May 2016, Rousseff was betrayed in a coup supported by her erstwhile allies in the BDMP, with Temer the main political beneficiary.

The ostensible reason for Rousseff’s ouster was for defying a minor provision in the budget laws by using state funds to keep the Bolsa Familia (a vital social grant programme for poor Brazilians) economically viable. This was perceived by some as a grave fraud; by others as an accounting manoeuvre used by many previous administrations. The fiery rhetoric of the coup-makers suggests, however, that their impeachment votes were motivated by that vaunted patriotic triumvirate of the Right – God, Family and Country. Some even harked back to the ‘glory days’ of the 1960s military dictatorship, with one conservative congress member going so far as to dedicate his vote to the person responsible for torturing Rousseff when she was a jailed opponent of the dictatorship, suffering beatings and electric shock.

Temer’s rise to power was more than just personal ambition. He admitted as much in a closed-door meeting with a US business and policy elite group, telling them that the government’s fate was sealed when it refused to adopt a package of neoliberal reforms being pushed by his party. The ‘Bridge to the Future’ reforms are the usual porridge of aggressive austerity measures, privatization and market ‘normalization’. Ironically, Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, faced with a deteriorating economic climate, had already gone some way down the austerity road, undermining some of its support in what is still one of the most desperately unequal societies in the world.

So what to expect from Temer? His cabinet is made up entirely of white men, despite the fact that Brazil is 52-per-cent mixed race and 53-per-cent women. Eight of these cabinet members (himself included) have already been implicated in the Petrobas affair, which involved kickbacks and bribes between politicians and the national oil company. But Temer is a complicated mixture of economic and social liberal, who is in favour of privatization and deregulation but who also champions individual rights such as abortion in a country with some of the most restrictive laws to discourage it.

His greatest fault may be the company he keeps. Among his more conservative followers is the mayor of São Paulo, Joao Doria, whose police sergeant-like commands now dominate this once-great urban hub of Brazilian democracy. Then there is the BBB (bullets, beef, Bible) caucus which brings together members of congress backing the security forces, big ranchers and the religious establishment. Recent attacks on Brazil’s social movements, such as the violent police raid on Florestan Fernandes National School, run by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), show that the unpopular Temer may lack either the ability or the will (or both) to restrain this iron heel of repression. n