São Paulo, May 25. A week is a long time in Brazilian politics, and President Michel Temer has revealed himself to be a stubborn survivor as he battles to stay afloat in the sea of sleaze accusations. He has just sacked  Justice Minister  Osmar Serraglio, himself accused of corruption, replacing him with Torquato Jardim,  a prosecutor well versed in dealing with the courts in whose hands Temer’s future may now lie. Jardim is also a critic of the Lava Jato corruption investigations. As such he is welcomed by the many politicians, including Temer, who, while in public heartily defending the Lava Jato probe, would in fact very much like to see it brought to an end, or at least neutered.

Politics is like a cloud. You look at it one moment, it is a certain shape. You look at it a moment later, and the shape is completely different.

The outgoing minister, Osmar Serraglio was seen as weak because he did nothing to rein in the federal police as they raided the several residences of PSDB Senator Aecio Neves in search of incriminating documents, and arrested his sister and collaborator, Andrea Neves. Or when they secretly filmed one of Temer’s closest advisers, PMDB Deputy Rodrigo Rocha Loures, taking delivery at a pizzeria, not of a  quatro queijos or a margarita, but of a suitcase stuffed with banknotes.

Serraglio was also seen as incompetent, not because he has allowed the dismantling of FUNAI, and  did  nothing to stop the recent massacres and attacks on rural labourers, posseiros and indians, but because he did nothing to curb the power and independence of the Federal Police.

Temer’s refusal to resign —after the tape of his clandestine and chummy conversation with JBS owner Joesley Batista became public— depends on his ability to bribe or buy allegiance. In  the fight to stay in power he is wooing congressmen and women at lunches and dinners, promising funds, jobs, tax amnesties. The environment, conservation areas, indigenous lands, mining rights, have all become bargaining chips. The president of BNDES, Maria Silva, who had been tasked with ‘moralising’ the bank, has just resigned rather than open up the bank’s coffers to companies pressing for cheap money.

It’s the reforms, stupid

Besides the ‘benesses’ (privileges) of government, what is also helping Temer cling to  power is  the difficulty of finding a consensus candidate for interim president if he goes. The new president would have only 18 months in power before the 2018 general elections.

Market insiders are down to earth: “it doesn’t matter if it’s Temer, Maia, Jeressati, Jobim, whoever”, said one, “as long as the economic reforms go ahead. São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alkmim, said “our commitment is not with the government but with the reforms”.

However the reforms are going nowhere, because opposition parties are obstructing them.  The PSDB, the tucanos, whose support is vital to Temer’s survival, watch and wait, true to their tradition of sitting on the fence. Or as one tucano leader said, “We have decided not to decide.”

Not to decide

But the PSDB’s hope that the problem of how to get rid of Temer would be solved for them on June 6 has crumbled. This is the date when the judges of the TSE (the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral, Brazil’s electoral court) are due to rule on the conduct of the Dilma-Temer ticket in the 2014 elections, following accusations of election fraud by the losing candidate, Aecio Neves.

If the judgement went against Dilma-Temer, the PSDB leadership could ‘cassar’ Temer’s mandate, leaving congress to hold an indirect election for his successor, or even, although it is extremely unlikely, order a new, direct election to be held. That would suit them because then they would not be forced to choose whether to stick with Temer — the decision would be taken for them.

Gilmar Mendes. Photo: Wikimedia

However, tribunal president Judge Gilmar Mendes, a friend of Michel Temer’s, threw a spanner in the works by saying,  “It’s no use looking to the TSE to solve a political crisis”. He added that if one of the judges decides to delay the case by asking to study the papers further, then he can.  That of course would suit Temer.

So it seems that June 6 will not be a magic date after all, and the politicians are left trying to decide how they can get rid of Temer in the absence of a quick court decision. It would be easier if there were an obvious candidate waiting in the wings, but the dearth of uncorrupt leaders of the centre-right parties in congress, who they will call the shots in an indirect election, is so severe, that even two former presidents, both in their 80s, have seen their names thrown into the ring. Proof that Brazil is still a good country for old men.

Last week’s front runner, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, has fallen out of favour, while former minister Nelson Jobim still hovers. But for many the idea that the man who replaces Temer will be chosen by an indirect election, with only 594 voters, or both houses of congress, is not only anathema, it is a “coup within a coup”.

Carlos Lupi. Photo: Wikimedia

“This is not the time for an elite to meet and in the depths, sort out the situation in Brazil. We want a legitimate president, elected by the Brazilian people” said PDT president Carlos Lupi.

Everyone wants him to go, but how?

The constitutional amendment needed to hold a direct, instead of an indirect, election, has been proposed, but to pass it requires a two thirds majority, and the opposition parties together have less than 30%  of the votes in congress.

It would take massive demonstrations, with millions on the streets demanding direct elections, to make it happen, and so far this has not occurred.

Scores of thousands  travelled to Brasilia in hundreds of buses from all over Brazil last week to protest against the reforms, demand Temer’s resignation and call for Diretas Já,  but the peaceful demonstration was overshadowed by the violence of a minority and the deployment of troops.  In Rio last Sunday a solid mass of people occupied Copacabana’s Avenida Atlantica to demand Diretas Já and shout Fora Temer.  In São Paulo on Monday night the TUCA theatre at the PUC (Catholic University), traditional home to protests, was packed by the supporters of the various organisations, unions and parties that make up the Brazil Popular Front (FBP).

There they launched their Emergency Plan for a post-Temer government, including a progressive tax system, more spending on health and education, and measures to protect the environment and demarcate indigenous reserves— not areas traditional  left-wing parties have shown much interest in before.

So the political stalemate remains. Everyone it seems wants Temer to go, but they do not know how to get rid of him.

Not safe for the poor

Meanwhile in the depths of Brazil, far from the machinations of the political elite, violence, injustice and cruelty are the order of the day.   While Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi in São Paulo was assuring foreign investors that Brazil was a very safe place in which to put their money, especially agribusiness and infrastructure projects, ten rural workers, nine men and a woman, were tortured and executed by local police at a farm in Pau d’Arco, near Marabá, in the south of Pará state. The police then piled their bodies into pickups and drove them to the nearest town. It was horribly reminiscent of the massacre of 19 landless in Eldorado do Carajás, in the same region, in 1996.

Protesting against the Pau D’Arco massacre in Marabá, 25 May. Photo: Comissão Pastoral da Terra
Their village burned and destroyed during the eviction of 67 families of Kariri Xocó. Photo: Assessoria CIMI

In Bahia families of the Kariri Xocó Indians were brutally evicted from an area they had occupied, and their homes bulldozed, although negotiations were under way to solve the conflict. Brazil might be a safe place for foreign investors, but it certainly isn’t for its own people, if they are poor, indigenous, or landless. Under the government of Michel Temer, dominated by the powerful rural lobby, the situation has worsened.

Clouds moving in opposite directions, over Goiânia, Brazil. Filmed by Judson Castro.

And nobody knows what lies around the corner for Brazilians. As a well known politician once said “Politics is like a cloud. You look at it one moment, it is a certain shape. You look at it a moment later, and the shape is completely different.”

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

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