Some politicians intrigue me in a bizarre way, in that they are so shamelessly atrocious, so lacking in self-awareness. There are a few in the Labour Party, but I won’t say who as I’ve been told recently that if I offend the Compliance Unit my vote can be torn up despite me having cast it.
The man who has most recently attracted my attention is the new president of Brazil, Michel Temer, who has led the coup against Dilma Rousseff and the Workers Party (PT).
I’m not a big fan of Rousseff, nor the way the PT has conducted itself while in power. The situation it finds itself in now, I think, is a testament to its refusal under both Rousseff and Lula to confront centres of power. It shows the weaknesses of social democracy in contrast to socialism. If the PT had been more combative the coup likely would have still come, but perhaps more in the way that Venezuela has experienced.
But anyway, this isn’t about the PT! This is about Temer. Who is hilarious. (But not if you’re Brazilian!) Here’s a feature I wrote for work, which is on the website but presented here with links.
After the ousting of democratically elected Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff last week by a pack of corrupt senators the reins of power have fallen into the hands of the man who was her vice-president, Michel Temer.
Really it was only officially, as Temer had taken over Rousseff’s job in May after Brazilian senators voted to begin impeachment proceedings and suspend the president in the meantime.
Thankfully he was well prepared. A month earlier, before even Brazil’s lower house of parliament had given a green light for impeachment, a 15-minute recording was leaked of Temer practising the first “address to the nation” he planned to give after Rousseff was out of the way.
In it, he says that he’s agonised over whether or not he should speak directly to the Brazilian people given the impeachment proceedings, despite being begged to, and that he wouldn’t dare appear to be taking the place of Rousseff while she waits to face the charges.
It sets the tone for Temer — who served six terms as an MP and is renowned as a behind-the-scenes deal-maker — and more generally the entire sordid affair.
There is good reason to think that Brazilians don’t care much for Temer’s thoughts. Brazil’s most-read, most-influential newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo has just been caught out lying about and trying to cover up a poll that it claimed said half of Brazilians want Temer to stay on. In reality almost two-thirds want him gone and new elections to be held.
As for “taking the place of the president,” it was only a week after Temer became acting president that he sprang a package of austerity measures on the public that threaten to roll back the gains made under 13 years of Rousseff’s Workers Party (PT). On the list are the usual cuts and sell-offs, as well as a some novel moves such as weakening the definition of slavery.
Needless to say, Temer and his cabinet are rich white men in a nation mostly poor, black and female — many descended from the four million Africans kidnapped and shipped to Brazil as slaves.
Perhaps this is why he was so loudly booed at the Rio Olympics opening ceremony — despite trying to hide from the crowd and insisting that he wasn’t introduced. (He avoided a repeat by not going to the closing ceremony.)
Now, Rousseff’s PT had adopted austerity measures following her re-election. The result has been to further weaken the economy while making Rousseff personally unpopular. But what Temer is suggesting — reportedly planned out in a 18-page document last year — is on another scale entirely.
Despite voters choosing Rousseff and the PT in October 2014, they now have a government headed by Temer’s PMDB — which hasn’t stood a presidential candidate in 20 years — and supported by the PSDB, which has lost the last four presidential elections. The PT is shut out.
The PMDB is supposedly “centrist” and effectively defends entrenched elites.
A US diplomatic cable paraphrases Temer himself describing it to embassy staff as having “no real unifying national identity,” instead being “an umbrella organisation for regional bosses” who, another cable states, “for the most part seek political power for its own sake.”
The PMDB has proven flexible, going into coalition with both the neoliberal PSDB and then the PT — which itself, unfortunately, has proven flexible when it comes to challenging centres of economic power.
It appears that Temer and his pals finally snapped when an avalanche of corruption charges rained down on members of congress. Well over half of the 513-member lower house and 81-member senate are being investigated for serious crimes and corruption. These are the people who impeached Rousseff for using a routine budget mechanism that prosecutors have said is not a crime. (The PT only has 11 senators and 57 MPs.)
Temer himself is banned from standing for public office for eight years — even for his own job — for breaking election finance laws. He’s being investigated as part of the huge Operation Car Wash graft probe and has been accused of taking hundreds of thousands of pounds in bribes.
What better time, then, to stage a coup? Sweep those pesky corruption charges under the rug and seize power while you’re at it.
And it very much is a coup. Romero Juca, the head of Temer’s PMDB, was caught on tape saying that removing Rousseff was the only way to stop the Car Wash probe, and that he had the judges, media — uniformly anti-left — and military on board too.
“I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it,” Juca said.
With this in mind, Temer’s call for a government of “national salvation” to “pacify the nation” has more than just a sinister tinge, and raise fears that Brazilians could be in for a return to a very dark period in their country’s recent past.