São Paulo. May 23.  Anti-Temer protests have spread like wildfire throughout Brazil, as the interim government performs U turn after U turn, and now faces its first big political crisis after sensational revelations in one of the leading newspapers, Folha de S.Paulo. The protests and revelations have aleady claimed their first victim: the new Planning Minister and President of Temer’s PMDB party, Romero Jucá, has been forced to ‘take leave of absence’, but in effect he is out of the government.

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Romero Jucá, now ex-Planning Minister and President of the PMDB

On Monday the already questionable legitimacy of the self-styled ‘government of national salvation’ was dealt a body blow when Folha published the verbatim record of a taped conversation clearly showing Michel Temer´s right hand man, Romero Jucá, the new Planning Minister, conspiring  to put an end to  the corruption investigations known as Lava Jato by impeaching Dilma and replacing her with Michel Temer, fellow member of the PMDB.

Talking to another PMDB politician, ex- Senator Sergio Marchado, former  president of Transpetro, both of them under investigation in the Lava Jato investigation, Jucá says: “We have to resolve this porra (mess). The govt has to be changed so we can  stop the sangria bleeding ..”

To which Machado says “The easiest solution is to put Michel Temer there.”  They talk about a big national accord, including the Supreme Court. Jucá says he has also talked to the military chiefs, who are on board.

The conversation, in March, a month before the process to impeach Dilma was approved in congress, was apparently secretly recorded by Machado, possibly because he fears indictment and wants ammunition for a plea bargain. It was sent to the Chief Prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot. It is not clear how Folha de S.Paulo obtained it.

As one columnist wrote “It is clear that President Dilma’s impeachment was articulated to assure the impunity of those under investigation, and who are suspects in Lava Jato”.

Jucá gave a press conference in which he  claimed  that he was referring to the economy, not to Lava Jato. It was an unconvincing performance, and even rightwing politicians who support the interim government called for him to go. The PSOL party asked the Chief Prosecutor to have him arrested, for trying to obstruct the investigations.

Brazilian film stars protesting at the Cannes Festival
Brazilian film stars protesting at the Cannes Festival

Even before the Jucá revelations, the anti-Temer mood in the country was growing fast.  In 21 different capitals, including the less obvious ones of Porto Velho and Cuiabá, there were protests at the extinction of the Ministry of Culture, with the occupation of the premises of Funarte.  Famous artists took part in special shows, and at the Cannes Film Festival, the cast of the Brazilian entry, Aquarius, including the star Sonia Braga, held up placards denouncing the golpista Temer government.  On Saturday, Temer gave in to the pressure, and re-created the Ministry.

But the protests have continued. The Virada Cultural, a weekend of open air music, theatre and performances in São Paulo, became one big protest as the crowds chanted Fora Temer, Volta Dilma.

Thousands marched on Temer’s house in the elegant São Paulo district of Alto do Pinheiros, but police had set up barriers to block them and told bemused residents that they now lived in a “zone of national security”.   When some of the protesters set up a camp in a nearby square, they were dispersed with watercannon.

On Saturday I went to a packed protest meeting at the Casa de Portugal, where  white haired PT militants sat side by side with young members of the new social movements organised by social media. Besides the  FBP (Brazil Popular Front, the BSM (Brazil Sem Medo) and the FNL (Frente Nacional da Luta), whose members have occupied a ranch said to belong to Michel Temer, there were many secondary school students, who have occupied schools to demand school meals.

Women at an earlier protest (before the impeachment vote).
Women at an earlier protest (before the impeachment vote).

Women speakers dominated, all indignant that the interim government  contained not a single woman. One said “it is impossible to have a national project which ignores women … it is a return to the 19th century. “

The philosopher Marilena Chaui described Temer’s government as the sewer of Brazilian politics. She said  there are 55 projects in the pipeline that would undo all the rights that have been won in the last 15 yrs – “we  are here to guarantee everything we have conquered.”

The interim Temer government, while not daring to scrap them completely, has announced a freeze on the PT’s most cherished programmes, like the housing programme Minha Casa, Minha Vida, Mais Medicos, Pro-Uni, Fies, and Funatec, whose beneficiaries are the poorer population.

A speaker from the black community said “The poor are not going to stay watching this coup, this retrocesso is not going to win – we are going to fight, fight and fight.”

Some of the older speakers  said they were reminded of the 1964 coup. One said,”This is a moment when we need to shout out for democracy… it’s not a party struggle but of all the Brazilian people.”

A woman paraded up and down with a placard saying Free Zé Dirceu ( the PT leader and ex-chief minister in Lula’s government, who was sentenced last week to 23 years imprisonment for corruption and money laundering by Judge Sergio Moro). His lawyer said, “ for a  70 year old this is equivalent to life imprisonment”.

Giant inflatable images of Dilma are now replaced by those of Cunha, the 'ratazana'.
Giant inflatable images of Dilma are now replaced by those of Cunha, the ‘ratazana’.

Eduardo Cunha, who although indicted for crimes just as serious, if not more so, than Jose Dirceu, has not been brought to trial. Cunha, although suspended, still enjoys all the perks of speaker of the lower house of congress. The demonstrators call him a ratazana =, a big rat, an abominable figure.

Meanwhile Dilma has never been so popular. She was mobbed by crowds chanting Come Back Dilma when she arrived in  Belo Horizonte at the weekend.  Such is the unpredictability of Brazilian politics, that, who knows? It might even happen.

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Veteran correspondent and regular LAB contributor Jan Rocha writes about life in São Paulo and Brazil