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Michel Temer: Captain of Brazil’s Titanic

Trapped on his own bridge the President's every action accentuates the crisis

SourceJan Rocha


Aug 14 2017 What is President Temer’s weapon for fighting corruption charges? Why, corruption of course. In his relentless battle to stay in power, President Michel Temer has appealed to the very methods he stands  accused of by the Attorney General’s investigations: bribery and corruption, or as Theresa May might say, confidence and supply.
Rodrigo Janot. Photo: Wilson Dias/ABr – Agência Brasil/CC BY 3.0 br, Wikimedia
This enabled him to win last week’s crucial vote in Congress by 263 to 227, denying authorization for the Supreme Court to hear the charges brought by the Attorney General, Rodrigo Janot, including that of obstructing justice. Temer remains in power but the cost is mounting.  Like a Russian troika dashing through the snow with a pack of hungry wolves behind it, he has to keep throwing sweeteners to congresspersons, ravenous to extract as much as they can from the fragile usurper in the Planalto Palace.

The wolves

Among the greediest is the rural lobby, the bancada ruralista, who in return are believed to have provided 130 of the 263 votes which saved the president. On the eve of the vote, Temer met with the FPA, the Parliamentary Farmers’ Front to negotiate their demands.
3. Mato Grosso soy silos and agribusiness facility owned by the Amaggi Group, a gigantic international commodities company run by Blairo Maggi’s family. Much of the region’s soy crop is marketed to Europe and Asia, including China. Photo: Thaís Borges
These included not only tax and loan amnesties but the the paving of an environmentally unlicensed road in Mato Grosso, a section of the transBrazil BR242. This section will directly benefit a soy farm belonging to Senator Blairo Maggi, who also happens to be Minister of Agriculture[1]. The proposed road’s environmental licence has not been approved by IBAMA because it would affect archeological sites, cave paintings, and the headwaters of rivers which run through the Xingu National Park, only 10 kms away.  8000 members of 16 indigenous groups have petitioned the authorities to stop the road. The cost of this congressional cornucopia will be paid for by cuts to other sectors of government.  Not only health and education, but the budgets of the federal police, federal universities, and agencies like FUNAI, IBAMA and the CNPQ, which has suspended  grants to hundreds of students doing their doctorates. In other words, the future of Brazil is being sacrificed to the voracious appetite of the past, the “atraso”   represented by the landowners determined to maintain  their right to deforest, to  pollute rivers, to exploit workers, to ride roughshod over the culture and rights of others, all the time subsidised by the  government.

Stoking the deficit

For Temer’s  finance minister, Henrique Meirelles, the president’s reckless generosity is a huge headache.  A year ago he was hailed as the man who would sort out the economic mess left by impeached President Dilma Rousseff.  Now he is trying to explain a growing deficit,  stoked by a Congress which seems hell bent on spending, and dead against any revenue-raising initiatives. A tentative proposal to tax top earners was shot down  immediately.  A government bill fixing rates for the re- financing  of  government loans and payment of fines (‘Refis’)  was eviscerated with the introduction of  discounts of up to 99%, reducing planned revenue to a fraction. Meanwhile congress representatives propose a new election campaign fund of R$3.6 billion from the public coffers. In effect they are blackmailing the government, confident that Temer’s desire to stay in power is so strong that he will agree to anything.

The growing army of the homeless

The government flounders, desperately trying to maintain its credibility with foreign investors, while the machinery of government grinds to a standstill and the poorest sectors of the population feel the brunt of austerity.  At night the streets of Rio and São Paulo are paved with rows of sleeping men and women, the newly homeless, plus workers unable to afford the daily fare home. Meanwhile, faced with a government which is mortgaging the very future of the country, the left is finally   trying to get its act together. A new movement, called “Vamos!” (Let’s Go!) inspired by the idea that led to the rise of Podemos in Spain, has been launched.
Website for Vamos, being developed by Midia Ninja
Public debates will be held in São Paulo this month and in Rio and other capitals later on. A site is being developed by Media Ninja. The organisers, who include Guilherme Boulos, one of the new generation’s best known thinkers, say the aim is not, at least immediately, to form a political party, but an attempt to discuss the future of Brazil and the left, over the next 10 or 20 years. If left in the hands of the Temer government, the future is bleak. Automatic alignment with a Lula presidential candidacy is also not a given.
4. While the Temer Titanic sinks, Brazil’s ‘perfumed elite’ is still applauding. Cartoon: Viomundo.co.br
Brazil, at the moment seems like the Titanic, its captain  obstinately ignoring the looming danger, while in the first class the music plays and the dancers waltz. The question is, can the left come up with a new route that avoids the iceberg? [1] For a detailed examination of the career and interests of Blairo Maggi, see the July 2017 article by Jenny Gonzales for Mongabay.

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Jan Rocha's Blog

Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.

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