Why the British labour movement should care about the coup in Brazil
Tuesday 9th August 2016
As world attention turns to Brazil for the Olympic Games, TONY BURKE shines a light on that country’s dismantling of democracy
A COUP is taking place in Brazil. On first glance, a president impeached for “fiscal irregularities” in a country experiencing large-scale political corruption would seem like progress. But the wider picture is a lot darker.
The shady circumstances surrounding the impeachment; the mountain of evidence of corruption by the coup-plotters and the regressive measures taken by interim President Michel Temer mean the labour movement in Britain and around the world must stand behind impeached president Dilma Rousseff and support democracy at this critical time for the people of Brazil.
When the “car-wash” corruption scandal — a money laundering investigation expanded to include allegations of corruption in the state-owned oil company Petrobras — escalated last year, seemingly leaving no element of government untouched, anger at the government was at an all-time high.
Stories of funds being siphoned out of Petrobras and into the pockets and campaign funds of state officials appeared, followed by allegations of embezzlement, money-laundering and bribery.
As this anger at the political elite surfaced, members of Brazil’s right-wing opposition in parliament put into place a political manoeuvre that would turn Brazil’s president into a scapegoat and remove the Brazilian Workers’ Party from office for the first time since former President Lula was elected in 2002.
President Rousseff was impeached on terms of budgetary manipulation and removed from office, replaced by Temer of the PMDB party.
The lower house that first voted to impeach Rousseff contains 513 members. Of these, 303 are being investigated for serious corruption charges, while Rousseff herself has never been implicated in the Petrobras scandal and has now been cleared of budget manipulation in a recent senate report.
The leader of the house and one of the key instigators of the impeachment, Eduardo Cunha, faces investigations over alleged perjury, money-laundering and bribery. The national anger at corruption had been severely misplaced.
Rousseff received 52 million votes at the last election — a huge mandate for progressive change.
But Temer’s coup government has shown its complete disregard for democracy — initiating large-scale privatisations and effectively rolling back many of the progressive reforms of workers’, women’s and indigenous rights the Workers’ Party carried out in the previous decade.
As Temer himself is barred from running in the 2018 election due to previous electoral violations, he is dismantling democracy and imposing austerity and privatisation without fear of electoral repercussions.
From the outset, Temer’s coup government has been visibly reactionary. With the initial appointment of an all-white, all-male cabinet in one of the most diverse countries in the world, Temer set the tone for his interim presidency, presenting a cabinet that seriously under-represents women, LGBT people and the indigenous peoples of Brazil.
Within a month of being appointed, three of Temer’s new ministers had to step down after allegations that they were attempting to obstruct the “operation car-wash” corruption investigation.
One minister, Romero Juca, was caught in a secret recording implying that the removal of president Rousseff was the only way to combat the expanding corruption probe.
Senate leader Renan Calheiros is facing seven investigations, including allegations he was paid $600,000 to stop a senate probe of corruption in Petrobras.
Even the anti-corruption minister Fabiano Silveira had to resign in response to allegations he was trying to weaken the “car-wash” probe.
Temer himself is also facing allegations of political corruption. A plea-bargain testimony claims that in 2012 he asked the then head of the transport unit of Petroleo Brasileiro to arrange illegal campaign contributions to his party. The very extent of these allegations against the political current trying to overthrow Rousseff explains their desperation in trying to hold on to power and prevent Rousseff from carrying out her mandate.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Brazil and we cannot let it go unnoticed here in Britain.
As Temer’s illegitimate term started and his reactionary cabinet, policies and cutbacks were implemented, the Brazilian trade union movement was quick to back Rousseff and the Workers’ Party because of their record in tackling exploitation and promoting workers’ rights.
In fact, both the main Trade Union Confederation of Brazil and the British TUC have come together in condemning Temer’s reign as illegitimate.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The British trade union movement has pledged to our sisters and brothers in Brazil that we will not stay silent as their rights are attacked, their democracy dismantled, their social advances rolled back.”
In this time of crisis, with a corruption scandal sweeping the country and a dangerous austerity agenda on the cards, the people of Brazil, making up half the population of Latin America, are facing a serious reversal in their living standards as a result of the cuts.
And the enormous gains in social progress and democracy in Latin America are now under threat from an undemocratic, conservative cabal in charge of by far the largest and most powerful country in the region.
The British trade union movement has backed Rousseff against this coup. It is now time for the labour movement to get on board.
Whether a member, supporter, councillor or MP, the Labour Party needs to speak out against corruption, stand up for democracy and demand the reinstatement of President Rousseff.
Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite and vice-chair of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. You can follow the No Coup in Brazil initiative on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nocoupinBrazil and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nocoupinBrazil.