Give Temer the elbow

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was impeached over budgetary manoeuvres that have been carried out by numerous presidents, including Barack Obama. Ken Livingstone believes coup-installed president Michel Temer represents a major threat to democracy.

In Brazil, right wing neo-liberal policies are so unpopular that they have been consistently rejected at the ballot box in presidential elections for the last 13 years. Unable to achieve electoral victory, the only way to implement the neoliberal measures has been through the illegitimate impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, a move that’s seen hundreds of thousands out in protest calling for new elections in cities across the country and protesting against newly appointed President Michel Temer.

The impeachment and removal of Rousseff in August was extraordinary, when just 61 senators voted to overturn the will of 54 million Brazilians at the ballot box, in what numerous international commentators and civil society organisations were quick to condemn as a coup.

For those of us who expressed solidarity with activists against the US-backed dictatorship in Brazil from 1964-1985 and stood with the Chilean people against General Augusto Pinochet following the 1973 coup there, alarm bells are ringing at this right-wing regime change in one of the world’s largest democracies.

Tellingly, Rousseff was impeached over budgetary manoeuvres that have been carried out by numerous presidents over the years. The US academic Mark Weisbrot has highlighted the comparison that “When the Republicans in the US Congress threatened to shut down the government over the debt ceiling in 2013, the Obama administration used a number of accounting tricks to extend the deadline and there was little controversy over this.”

Temer’s supporters are so fearful of their unpopularity at the next presidential election that they are now attempting to discredit future presidential candidate and former president Lula da Silva. Numerous attempts have been made to link him to the corruption investigation that has left many in Brazil’s upper and lower houses facing serious corruption charges. Despite systematically seeing off the allegations, the accompanying media circus has tried to portray Lula as a controversial and corrupt figure.

British TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady summed it up well earlier in the year in saying that “There is every sign that the current impeachment process is precisely designed to prevent Lula’s return at the next presidential elections.”

Yet it is still the case that Lula consistently polls as the most popular candidate and it is no surprise that there is such a campaign against him. They know that if Lula runs, they may lose and their coup be overturned.

On the streets, many Brazilians have rallied around both Lula and Rousseff, questioning the legitimacy of President Temer and his implementation of neoliberal policies without mandate.

According to polls conducted by market research company Datafolha, the mass demonstrations appear to be reflective of the Brazilian public with 62 per cent backing the calls for new elections earlier this summer. Numerous social movements, including the main trade union confederation in Brazil (CUT), the International Trade Union Confederation and various Latin American governments, consider Temer’s reign illegitimate.

Amazingly, the initial cabinet announced by Temer totally failed to represent the people of this diverse country — it included no women or Afro-Brazilians, in a country where the majority of residents self-identify as black or as of African heritage.

As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights put it: “The designation of a cabinet of ministers that does not include any women or persons of African descent leaves more than half the population excluded from the highest government offices.” It added that “the last time Brazil had a cabinet with no female ministers was during the military dictatorship.”

Day by day, the true extent of the aggressive austerity agenda that Temer’s presidency will bring to a country that elected a left-wing president has been revealed.

The privatisation agenda is wide scale and extreme. The government has announced the sell-off of 32 major resources and infrastructure projects including airports, railways, highways, gas and oil reserves, sanitation companies, hydroelectric projects, mining concessions and energy suppliers.

Thousands of public workers have been left fearing for their jobs and a proposed pension reform that would see the minimum retirement age set at 65 years old and see pension benefits delinked from adjustments to the minimum wage leaves prospects looking bleak.

Undoubtedly, these cuts and neoliberal policy shifts are set to mostly affect Brazil’s poorest. The stakes for the future of the country and the region couldn’t be higher — permanently installed until the end of the current term in 2018, Temer seems determined to overturn the legacy of the Workers Party (PT) governments of Lula and Rousseff.

The country undoubtedly faces many difficulties and changes, but the PT was able to achieve a narrowing of the inequality gap while it has widened globally, and falling rates of poverty and illiteracy.

These resulted from world-renowned social inclusion programmes like the Bolsa Familia (Family allowance) programme for low-income earners, increases in the minimum wage and other policies.

Alongside this, the Brazilian trade unions are now raising concerns over the new government scrapping legal rights to maternity leave, annual holiday entitlements, year-end bonus payments, double payment for overtime, and guaranteed redundancy payments for long service.

Those protesting against the coup in Brazil are in need of our solidarity, faced with an austerity agenda and a president that they did not vote for. Politicians, the public and the media around the world must recognise that thousands are taking to streets and the significance of what has happened there.

Our battle against neoliberalism and for a better world is more international than ever in today’s increasingly globalised economy — the labour movement globally must raise our voices as loudly as we can in solidarity with democracy and social progress in Brazil.

First published in the Morning Star