You may not have heard much about Brazilian politics at the moment. In fact, since the new unelected President took office earlier this year there has been surprisingly little international coverage of the mass demonstrations, strikes and occupations of schools that have swept the country against President Temer and his hard-line austerity policies in the fifth most populous country in the world.
For those of us following closely, the passing on Tuesday of a constitutional amendment for a 20 year freeze on healthcare, education and social welfare spending is only the latest in a long list of disastrous decisions from the unelected government, but with the constitutionally protected ‘access to free health care’ in the sites of the conservative coalition, Temer has gone a step too far for the Brazilian public.
Spending caps are a common (and largely unsuccessful) practice for right-wing Governments desperate to cut their deficits but they are mainly legislated with flexibility, something a constitutional amendment will not allow, and they are never set for such an irresponsibly long timescale.
Just look at the outbreak of the Zika virus just a year ago- a potentially disastrous health crisis can come at any time and will need serious funding to be combated properly.
Day to day healthcare is under threat from these cuts as well, as the Government has yet to outline how they will guarantee access to health care or maintain the health system.
It’s no surprise then that the fierce outcry at the PEC55 bill has come from all avenues of Brazilian society, including prompting 8 major trade unions to call for a national strike whilst mass demonstrations are being staged around the country regularly.
In response to the cuts in education, the country’s students have been leading the way: occupying over 1,100 schools and universities to get answers from the unaccountable government at a time where the public education system is already considered to be failing.
Brazil’s most popular politician, Former President Lula da Silva, has been a strong critic of the cuts, leading protests and inviting international figures like former Uruguayan President ‘Pepe’ Mujica add their support.
In fact, earlier this year I attended the IndustriALL global conference in Rio and was lucky enough to see Lula give a powerful speech addressing the problems facing the country today.
Some organisations are advocating a referendum on the issue but given this Government’s track record of bypassing the democratic process, this was never likely to happen.
President Temer, of the conservative PMDB party, took office earlier this year after a widely condemned ‘parliamentary coup’ was carried out against leftist President Dilma.
At the time polls showed that more than half the public favoured new elections, something Dilma herself advocated, rather than the promotion of vice President Temer and yet 62 senators voted to remove Dilma and overturn the will of 54 million voting Brazilians.
Since coming to power he has forced through a hard-line conservative agenda of privatisation and austerity that Brazil has consistently rejected at the ballot box for over 14 years leaving many to question whether democracy still exists in the country and what will be left of the social achievements of recent years by the time Brazilians can again elect a President.
Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary of Unite and is writing on behalf of the No coup in Brazil initiative which has been active in campaigning against the removal of elected President Dilma Rousseff, and in solidarity with those now struggling for democracy and social progress in Brazil.