Why Brazil’s art scene is fighting the impeachment

Brazil
Art
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by Ocupa MinC RJ Facebook page.

‘Temer Out!’ ‘Against the Coup!’ and ‘Culture and Work!’

These are some of the signs plastered all over the walls of the Ministry of Culture building in San Paulo. Visual artists, filmmakers, designers, dancers, actors and many others have been occupying the building for more than a month, protesting the current impeachment process that has engulfed the country – what many here are calling a coup.

‘We artists, and the people who form the country's democracy, we reject this imposed government and do not recognize it as an authority,’ said Cesar Haber Paelornik, a graphic designer and member of the occupation.

The interim government of Michel Temer has been in power for just over a month, since the Senate voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and put her on trial for impeachment. The move has baffled political analysts and angered a large part of Brazilian society, since Rousseff is one of the few Brazilian politicians who has not been charged with corruption.

We artists, and the people who form the country's democracy, reject this imposed government and do not recognize it as an authority

Instead, the suspended president is being charged with manipulating budget numbers ahead of the last national elections to cover up Brazil’s failing economy. But this is largely seen as an administrative error and is not an impeachable offence.

The impeachment put the opposition PMDB party in to office for the first time in over 12 years. Since 2003, the party has lost four consecutive elections to the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), including the latest one in 2014, which saw President Rousseff re-elected.

This political maneuver also brought someone to power who is so unpopular he would have almost no chance of winning in a national election. According to polls released two weeks ago, only 11.3 per cent of Brazilians actually support Temer’s acting government.

‘If you remove someone from power who was democratically elected, that’s a coup,’ said Gabriela Campus, a sculptor and another member of the occupation, adding that, ‘At this moment I support the return of Dilma… I support her because I don’t support a coup.’

Not all occupiers and protesters across Brazil agree with the fact that Rousseff should be brought back to power to finish her term, however. Many have lost faith in the president and are calling for new elections. But they all remain unified on one point: that Temer’s government is illegitimate and must go.

Over the past month, artists have been holding cultural events on a daily basis in their occupied space, in an attempt to unify Brazilians against the impeachment and raise awareness of the country’s current social and political situation. These events range from concerts, soirees, theatre, dance, lectures among others, many of which occur concurrently – what Le Monde Diplomatique Brazil described as, ‘a place of vibrant political formation.’

But Sao Paulo is not the only place where artists and other citizens are angry. In the past month, the movement, which began in Rio de Janeiro, has spread across the country. Now, cultural ministry buildings are being occupied in almost every state.

‘I came from the occupation in Rio de Janeiro, to learn and share experiences’ said Campus in Sao Paulo, ‘and what I’m observing is that in all the occupations the message is the same, that Temer must go.’

Since he came to power Temer has made a series of controversial decisions. These include naming a cabinet composed entirely of white men, eliminating political diversity in a country where 53 per cent of the population is black.

In addition, 15 of his 26 newly named ministers are facing criminal investigations, mainly on charges of corruption. Three of those ministers have since been forced to resign because of their connection to the infamous Lava Javo corruption scandal, a massive graft scheme involving the state owned oil company Petrobras and, what seems like, most of Brazil’s Congress. Last week, Temer himself was implicated in the scandal, but has refused all accusations.

Temer has also been quick to change the PT government’s social progressive agenda and enact a series of cost cutting measures, which are due to affect the lives of thousands of Brazilians. These include cutting social programs and government ministries that were focused on promoting equal rights for women, rural populations and minorities.

Among the first ministries to get slashed were the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of Racial Equality, the Ministry of Human Rights, and the Ministry of Agrarian Development. Most of these government bodies were created after the fall of Brazil’s violent 20 year dictatorship (1964-1984), to encourage the growth and spread of democracy.

Temer’s decision to axe these ministries within his first weeks in office, ‘comes in an authoritarian way,’ said Paelornik, leading many to fear that this government takeover is a step backwards for Brazilian society and regression to the time of the dictatorship.

But even those who don’t see these policies as a direct step back into a violent past, say they don’t respond to the present or future that Brazilian citizens voted for.

Since Rousseff was elected in 2014, her popularity has plummeted, mainly because of the floundering Brazilian economy. But this lack of confidence has not been applied to the PT government in general or its progressive policies. In fact, former president and PT founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva still sees some of the country’s highest approval ratings and is believed to be the most likely to win the next national elections, if he choses to run.

In all the occupations the message is the same, that Temer must go

Temer’s agenda of cost cutting and minimizing government, ‘has already been defeated in the polls,’ said Paelornik.

The artists’ protest initially began during Temer’s second week in office, after he announced that he would close the Ministry of Culture and fold it into the Ministry of Education. He soon rescinded his stance however, and agreed to keep the ministry open after several well-known Brazilian actors and musicians denounced his policies internationally and refused to promote his government.

However, the fact that the ministry was eventually saved made no difference to Brazil’s creative types. They continue to occupy government spaces, and denounce Temer’s leadership and policies, and they seem ready to do so for the long haul.

‘The answer I hope for is that the government see that people are not sleeping,’ said Joao Carlos, artist and occupier in Sao Paulo, ‘everything that symbolizes a step backwards we are here to resist, so that the country advances.’