A political earthquake hits Brazil again as the highly unpopular president Michel Temer is implicated in new corruption allegations and the calls for immediate elections grow stronger, reports Mike Fox from Brazil
Sharmini Peries: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In Brazil ongoing corruption scandals intensified when a new tape recording surfaced on Wednesday that appears to show that President Michel Temer encouraging hush money to be paid to a close associate of his. The associate is Eduardo Cunha who recently was convicted of corruption. Cunha was the head of the Lower House in Brazil that lead the campaign to impeach former President Dilma Rousseff. His latest development prompted outrage among Brazilians, many of whom took to the streets throughout Brazil to demand the President’s immediate resignation. Supporters of President Temer are also increasingly calling for him to step down. Temer though is resisting the calls and is claiming that his recordings do not prove what his opponents claim. Then on Friday Reuters reported that Brazil Supreme Court released a plea bargain testimony of Joesley Batista, executive of the meat packing giant, JBSSA, that includes accusations that President Michel Temer received 4.6 million in bribes in 2014 before he took office. He took them from the executives of the meat packing giant. Batista’s testimony also claims the former President Lula da Silva received 50 million in bribes in offshore accounts from BGS executives and also President Dilma Rousseff took 30 million in bribes in offshore accounts. Joining us now from Brazil to analyze the latest developments is Mike Fox. Mike is a freelance journalist based in Brazil. Thanks for joining us, Mike. Mike Fox: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. Sharmini Peries: All right, Mike, so tell us about what these tapes are, who released them, the context in terms of the plea bargain testimony that it is, and what is contained in these tapes. Mike Fox: Right, so the conversations are between Joesley Batista, the head of JBS, Brazil’s largest meat packing company, and President Michel Temer. In them, they’re from March so they’re during Michel Temer’s current time in office and in there they’re discussing several different issues. In one of them is having to do with this hush money still being paid to Cunha. They were released … In it is also Aecio Neves and obviously him receiving funds from Joesley and from JBS. This is just a much … What’s fascinating is it’s a look into a much larger issue of how this money and how this corruption is happening within Brazil and how it’s taking down … I mean, literally this is at the very least Aecio Neves has been taken down. You’ve got Temer who’s been tagged up in this, people are calling for his ouster and calling for him to be impeached. This is an ongoing thing with these audio leaks that we’ve seen in Brazil. Since over the last year and a half already six or seven members of Temer’s cabinet have stepped down, many of them due to other leaks that have also happened that show them either taking money or endorsing bribes or calling for the end of lava jato. That’s really what a lot of this is being talked about, trying to stop lava jato. The head … One really interesting fact which has also happened just over the last day is the attorney general, Brazilian attorney general who was appointed by Dilma, his name is Geral, he’s already come out and said that Temer’s under investigation and that it looks like Temer and Aecio Neves worked together to stop justice, really trying to push back on the lava jato investigations. All of this stuff is happening at the same time and, like I said, it’s a scene from a Brazilian soap opera only you couldn’t make it up. Temer, like you said, has not stepped down, he said he’s not going to step down. There have been eight motions for impeachment that have landed into Congress. It’s not likely that they’ll move further because the Congress which is extremely conservative, Congress and Senate, two-thirds of Congress and Senate would have to vote in favor of impeachment. That would be like if two-thirds of the Republicans … Or if Republicans controlled two-thirds of the House in Congress in the United States and they voted to impeach Trump, it’s just not likely. Regardless, this is big news. Like you said, people have hit the streets. The other really big thing as you mentioned that just happened an hour or two ago was, that came out in this plea bargain testimony that Lula and Dilma may have also received bribes. There is no evidence to that, I think that that is a really big question that a lot of people are asking themselves is, is that plea bargain testimony or is it kind of faked in order to make it seem not so bad for the Temer and the right wing camp. Sharmini Peries: Mike, what do you make of the most recent scandal that just broke hours ago related to the bribes that Temer and now Lula and Dilma Rousseff is accused of? Mike Fox: Right. This was this was just reported on by Reuters and a bunch of other agencies that they could also be involved in the scandal. Now, the one thing that’s important for us to understand is the first one regarding Temer and also Aecio Neves, I’ll get into that in a second. There’s evidence of that, I heard the tape this morning, it’s pretty damning. The stuff having to do with Lula and Dilma is part of his plea bargain testimony, this guy, Joesley Batista, the head of JBS, the largest meat packing exporter in Brazil. We don’t know for sure if it’s fake, if it’s true or if it’s false. Obviously, it’s plea bargain testimony, it should be true but you never really know anything in Brazil. I think what we can expect is in the next few hours, in the coming day or two days there’s going to be a lot on the news. That’s what mainstream Brazilian media is going to focus on, that what Globe is going to be talking about, and that’s what we’re going to be hearing internationally because if that’s true it’s massive. Sharmini Peries: Michael, now if Temer is actually guilty of what he’s being accused of, obviously the tapes are abundant proof to a great extent, nobody can deny it. What happens in Brazilian politics if he has to step down or if he actually gets impeached himself? Mike Fox: Right, so the next in line is Rodrigo Maya, he’s the head of the Lower House. It was actually Eduardo Cunha who was the very person that the hush money was being paid to but it’s Rodrigo Maya. Rodrigo Maya is the son of Cesar Maya who was the former Mayor of Rio de Janeiro for four or five terms. He’s the DEMs, the DEMs is the political party. It’s a smaller political party that’s been aligned with the PMDB, also with the PT when the PT was in power but also right now with the right wing, the PSDB. The DEMs, they’ve been involved in the lava jato, in the scheme. They’ve been involved in obviously investigations against their members and what not. It’s kind of par for the course, he’s part of the Temer government and there have been investigations into him also receiving money and bribes. It’s hard to say where it would go from there. Sharmini Peries: Right. These allegations launched again, Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva, now obviously Brazil is facing another election coming up. Hell or high water there will be elections but this is also a way of discrediting the PT and Lula da Silva who is considered one of the more popular presidents and has a good chance of winning the next election because there’s no other leadership emerging at this point. Mike Fox: Yeah, that’s exactly what this is. There’s been a campaign for the last year and a half to try and … Longer than that, as soon as the lava jato investigations began, to really try and take down the PT and to take down Lula now. Lula is the hope for the left. [inaudible 00:08:40] reporting for The Real News just a week and a half ago and that was all … Lula had been brought into town to testify before Sergio Moro who’s the judge who’s been leading the lava jato investigations. They don’t really have anything on him but they’re trying to find ways to tarnish that image. In this case, regardless of whether or not it is true, if it comes out this plea bargain testimony was false then it’s just par for the course. Once that meme is out there that Lula and Dilma also took money then there’s a portion of the Brazilian population that’s going to believe that regardless of what happens from now. It’s the same thing that we’re seeing in the United States regarding false news. I think that that is just going to continue and that’s why I think the media is really going to harp on this thing regardless of whether it’s true or not over the next little bit. One thing that is very, very important also from the audio tapes which we haven’t discussed just yet is Aecio Neves. Aecio Neves is a senator, he was a former presidential candidate with the PSDP. He’s also the president of the PSDB. The PSDB is Brazil’s largest right wing conservative party, they’re the staunch enemies of the Workers’ Party. He was just caught up in this same tape that was released on Wednesday and Thursday. Take it even further, he actually did receive two million dollars because the federal police … I mean, two million reals. The federal police actually followed the money and saw that his advisors received the money. He was suspended just yesterday from Senate, we know that. That’s a huge hit for the PSDB, the major right wing party. The PSDB has been really, really tight with the PMDB, that’s Temer’s party obviously in this government. That I think is a really big thing for your viewers to understand is what that means for the right. He was one of the leading candidates for the PSDB and for the right wing going into the 2018 elections. Regardless of what happens with Lula and Dilma the right wing also has to reorganize around a new candidate going forward because Aecio is not going to be standing for election. Sharmini Peries: Such politically devastating times for people of Brazil. What can they expect moving forward? Mike Fox: There’s a question about whether this is the end of the Temer government, I would say it’s probably not. Is it the end of the Temer government’s ability to push through its austerity measures and its reforms in Congress? I think that’s really what we’re looking at in the next couple weeks, next couple months. The Economist just wrote an article yesterday in which they were asking the same questions. Will Temer be able to continue to push through the mass austerity reforms? What will be the fate of the pension reform, the labor reform which are kind of sitting there in Congress and waiting to be voted on the next little bit. Temer’s been really pushing for the pension reform. He has not had the support and it’s extremely unpopular. Will he be able to push it through? There are big questions here, particularly now that he himself has been tainted, caught up in this whole big corruption investigation. I think that is the big question also for the social movements and folks on the left that want to push back as heavy as possible, as much as possible on the austerity reforms. I think we’re going to continue to see people in the streets. In Sao Paulo just yesterday there were massive marches out against Temer and they’ve been saying, they’ve been actually calling for another general strike. Whether or not we’ll see that we know that major marches are expected in the next little bit around the labor reform. I think that with this it’s only going to grow and become even deeper. I think one last point which is important to understand for your viewers is just the understanding about what all this stuff means. This is literally the implosion of the Brazilian politics and Brazilian politicians from within. As soon as one person goes down then they’re using audio leaks to take down the next person. Cunha when he was forced out of office, force out of the head of the Lower House last year, he said he was going to take down other people because he had damning information. He hasn’t leaked it yet because he’s been paying hush money. Is that going to happen now? We don’t know what the next couple days, weeks, and months will mean but it’s definitely going to be a roller coaster ride. I think people are just hoping that the austerity can stop and that the left and social movements can really take this opportunity to really push back. Sharmini Peries: All right. Just a few weeks ago we did an interview with Michael Fox about the general strike that took place which was massive demonstrations across Brazil in terms of resisting the Temer government’s austerity policy. Do tune into that and I thank you so much for joining us today, Michael. Mike Fox: It’s been a pleasure, thank you so much. Sharmini Peries: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.