The recent impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is extraordinary and received relatively little attention in the British media, until protests have taken place against the new President in the Olympics and Paralympics.
The startling fact is that, while more than 50 million Brazilians voted to re-elect Dilma Rousseff as their president in 2014, it took only 62 senators to remove her from office. This has ended 13 years of the PT (Workers’ Party) governing Brazil, first through President Lula and more recently Dilma.
Brazil’s trade unions, Workers Party (PT) and social movements have simply labelled it a coup, and in Latin America itself, numerous governments and sections of civil society have issued strong condemnations.
Globally, trade unions including the International Trade Union Confederation, renowned cultural figures, progressive political movements and many others have called for international support for those in Brazil protesting for democracy and social progress, including new elections.
Now that Dilma is gone, Michael Temer has been permanently installed for the remainder of the presidential term, which ends in 2018.
Polls have shown Temer has little support among voters, with one poll suggesting only two percent saying they would vote for him. Interestingly Dilma Rousseff’s most vocal defender – and former president – Lula has support from over 20 percent of the electorate according to a July poll.
Since President Dilma’s suspension in May, the nature of the new Government has been increasingly exposed as one of hardline neo-liberalism – an agenda clearly contrary to the will of Brazilians when they re-elected Rousseff.
Nearly immediately, they announced that they intended to fire at least 4,000 public workers and it has been reported that ministers had to review the pay rolls of their ministries in order to seek to cut 25 per cent of workers.
Meanwhile, new health minister, Ricardo Barros, said the size of Brazil’s highly popular public health program must be reviewed, even though universal access to health care is constitutionally guaranteed. Similar cuts are taking place in education.
Tellingly and astonishingly, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Agrarian Development, the Ministry of Science and Technology (merged into another ministry,) the Ministry of Women and the Ministry of Human Rights were all abolished.
The Ministry of Racial Equality was abolished on the 128th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil.
In an incredibly diverse country, the new cabinet had no women, no Black ministers, or no one who identifies as gay, lesbian, or transgender.
In particular, women will be facing the worst of the Temer government with prospects for obtaining greater rights over abortion and domestic abuse looking dismal. At a time where health care budgets look to be cut, the public challenges caused by the Zika virus outbreak will disproportionally affect women.
The impeachment itself has galvanised women’s groups across the country in support of the country’s first female President and against Temer, especially since the all-male cabinet is attempting to undermine the Maria de Penha Law, a law designed to increase domestic violence convictions and support victims.
Rousseff was quick to point out both the sexist undertones and the antidemocratic nature of the process after the final vote was cast. “Today is the day that 61 men, many of them charges and corrupt, threw 54 million votes in the garbage.”
Why does this matter to those of us interested in democracy and international development here in Britain and Europe? Not only because we should support democracy throughout the world, but also because of what Brazil has achieved in recent years in terms of social inclusion, including in the area of health.
At the start of the millennium, about a third of Brazil’s population languished beneath the international poverty line ($2 a day), and about 15 per cent was living on less than $1.25 a day.
Yet, since the Workers Party has been in power — with Lula (2003-2011) and then Rousseff — according to Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), between 2004-2014 the country has reduced poverty by 63 percent.
In its first three years, extreme poverty fell by 15 per cent, and by 2014, the percentage of Brazilians living in extreme poverty declined to less than three percent—a level the World Bank considers equivalent to eradication.
Additionally achievements in the area of health provision have been very real - vaccination rates reached 99 per cent, and infant mortality dropped 40 percent in a decade, with deaths from malnutrition down 58 per cent.
Of course, Brazil also faces massive challenges and difficulties but democratically elected governments, who at least have a keen focus on reducing poverty and inequality, deserve our international support.
- For the latest news on Brazil follow No Coup in Brazil online, on Twitter here and on Facebook here
- Diane Abbott MP is part of the reference group for the recently formed Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America. You can follow them on Twitter here and Facebook here.