Over a Million People on The Street Demanding New Elections in Brazil
President Michel Temer has just succeeded in carrying out a coup against Dilma Rousseff, but we are unlikely to see him concede to public pressure, says Alex Main of the Center for Economic Policy Research
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Large protests took place in various cities in Brazil last Sunday with the largest formation in Sao Paulo where media outlets estimated that over 100,000 people took to the streets against the new conservative government of President Michel Temer. Last week Brazil’s senate had voted to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office in what her supporters have called a legislative coup. Sunday’s protestors were mainly calling for [outher] of President Temer and demanded new elections. Let’s have a look at what one of the protestors had to say.
SPEAKER: “Because the Temer government is going to look to make anti-democratic reforms that go against the people. And we’re here to show that the people still have power and that despite the coup, we are here in the street to bring down the (current) government and call for a new election.”
PERIES: Once the protests in Sao Paulo officially ended, police unexpectedly clamped down on the remaining protesters and attacked them with tear gas and rubber bullets. Police claimed it was to prevent looting, but reporters from BBC and Spain’s newspaper El Pais say they saw no evidence of looting. While the clashes took place in the streets of Sao Paulo, President Temer, who was in China for the G-20 summit, told the media, “These are small groups … I don’t have it numerically, but they are 40, 50, 100 people.”
Joining us from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is Alex Main. Alex is a Senior Associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research where he focuses on US foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Alex, good to have you with us.
ALEX MAIN: Good to be back Sharmini.
PERIES: So Alex you are in Sao Paolo at the moment. How large were these protests and what are the newspapers saying about them?
MAIN: Well I wasn’t there but certainly there are many many images of the protests. You can see that they really stretch from one end to the other of the enormous Paulista Avenue which is sort of the main boulevard that crosses downtown Sao Paolo here. And as you were saying, as the protests came to an end there were scenes of total mayhem as a great deal of repression took place. There was lots of tear gas. There have been people hurt and it’s really given us a taste of things to come I think. But what was interesting is that you haven’t seen very big protests in Brazil for a while. You saw a number of small protests during the Olympic games. But it really seems that with this final decision that the Brazilian senate made in which they have permanently suspended the elected president Dilma Rousseff from office. It suddenly woke people up to the terrible reality of an unelected government that’s taking the government in a very very right wing direction. So there’s definitely sort of a changed ambiance now in Sao Paolo and I have walked around the streets a bit and one thing you do see are lots of graffiti saying [Fora Temer], get out Temer, and also saying Temer is a [golpista], Temer is a coup perpetrator.
PERIES: And so what is the general mood there when you talk about what happened to Dilma Rousseff and what’s to come in the near future?
MAIN: Well the mood is I think one of growing resistance really and that’s what we saw with these protests and people are trying to organize. It’s not easy because the party that ruled for the last 12 years, partido de trabajadores, the Worker’s Party of Lula De Silva and Dilma Rousseff is not very greatly admired and broadly admired in Brazilian society today and with good reason. They’ve also been implicated in many corruption scandals. Though as the mainstream media in the US doesn’t always point out, of course Dilma Rousseff who’s not implicated in these corruption scandals.
In fact, one of the few clean senior political figures and she was taken down of course by some of the most corrupt members of the political class here. So at any rate I think there’s a lot of discontent with political parties in general here and I think people are focused now on sort of renewing the grassroots struggles and social movements including the MST, the [inaud.] workers’ movement, the movement of those without [roads], the San Petros, and others are very energized working together in a unified manner. I think this does give a certain amount of hope if not for the short term at least in the medium or long term for Brazil.
PERIES: And as I mentioned in the introduction Alex, President Temer made light of the protests claiming that it was only a handful of people. Obviously that was not the case. There are indications that Temer is trying to minimize the opposition against him by soft pedaling the kind of protests that’s going on. Even when he was at the Olympics at the opening ceremonies there was a lot of boos against him. What is the likelihood that he will step aside and hold these elections as the protestors are demanding?
MAIN: Well it’s entirely unlikely and I think this was a right-wing power grab. The right wasn’t able to win through elections. In the last elections they lost, though by a small margin. They’re not prepared to now release their grip on power after having spent 12 years trying to get back in control. So I think that’s entirely unlikely. More than certain that he will be in place until the end of 2018.
The only manner that he might be dislodged might be an internal coup within his party and together with one of his other opposition parties. His party’s the PMDB and the PSDB could work together to unseat him and then they would carry out if they unseated him through an impeachment process as was done with Dilma Rousseff. If this takes place in the last two years of the presidential term there are then indirect elections through the congress and as we know the congress is close to 60% corrupt and controlled by the opposition and they most certainly would put in another one of their leaders and it could well be José Serra, the current foreign minister.
PERIES: Alex, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, President Temer indicated that he wasn’t going to push through undoing some of the PT programs like the welfare program, the Bolsa Familia, the housing program, and its community doctor programs and all these good things that PT put into place because he fears that there is mounting opposition against him like the demonstrations we just saw. Are people buying that and do they realize how serious undoing these programs would mean to their livelihood?
MAIN: Well no I think we have to see what’s going to happen at this place at this moment. The next steps aren’t very clear. We know that legislation has been introduced to deregulate the labor market more to carry out some broad reforms, structural reforms of the economy and certainly to do away or to diminish a lot of the social programs. We have to see now whether the congress and the president move forward on this agenda. So that’s not entirely clear. And of course there’s only so much that an unelected government can do in particularly when you have protests that are growing in the country.
PERIES: Alex, interesting statements were issued by Human Rights Watch, the person responsible for Latin America, and also the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. What are they saying about what took place in Brazil last week?
MAIN: Well it’s interesting I think about these statements, that they’re diverging. For one, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights where a petition has just been filed by members of the un-throned President Dilma Rousseff, members of her party to try to get a case opened to look into what they say obviously was a coup by the Inter-American Commission. After that the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. That statement that was released by the Inter-American Commission expresses concern about irregularities, about the arbitrary nature of the impeachment process and you know about just the general manner in which the impeachment process has taken place. Meanwhile you have a former member of that commission José Miguel Vivanco who’s at Human Rights Watch who’s in charge of the America’s program there who was in Brazil.
PERIES: You’re talking about José Miguel Vivanco.
MAIN: That’s right José Miguel Vivanco. He was in Brazil really just as Dilma Rousseff was being removed from power by the Brazilian Senate. He held a press conference and he told the media and it was picked up by all the right wing media in Brazil, that they, Human Rights Watch doesn’t consider this to be a coup nor will they ever consider it to be a coup.
They said that Brazilians should be proud of the example that they have set for the world and largely praised the whole impeachment process. Said it really showed that Brazil’s institutions and democracy were strong a bit reflecting the same line that the State Department has taken ever since the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff was launched. And in [crowned] contrast with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In contrast with many human rights groups and that there have been many statements over the last few weeks including one that was signed by a broad range of human rights groups, women’s groups, workers’ organizations including the AFLCIO and others you know that really denounced the whole process and pointed out how flawed it was where of course the main charge against Dilma of violations of the fiscal laws in Brazil were thrown out by Brazil’s public prosecutor. Therefore, there was absolutely no substance to the impeachment when it was finalized just a week ago.
So there are very obvious flaws. Vivanco should be aware of this. But we really saw his agenda as well in the same statements that he made with the Brazilian press where he praised the de facto foreign minister José Serra who has come out very strongly against the current government of Venezuela has made a lot of statements against Venezuela and is trying to prevent Venezuela from exercising the presidency of Mercosur, the block of countries in the south of South America which Venezuela is now a member of.
So he’s been on the offensive and Vivanco came out very supportive of Serra. So we see that his agenda is a very narrow one in the region. It’s to go after Venezuela. Any government willing to do so no matter how week it’s democratic credentials may be, as is the case in Brazil, it doesn’t matter as so long as they are focused on trying to undermine the government in Venezuela.
So that’s his real agenda. And of course he’s given a big boost to the right wing in brazil in these statements. Not just the right wing in Brazil but in the US. You have people like Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald picked up Vivanco’s quotes and you really saw it all over the Brazilian press. Human Rights Watch is saying that everything is perfectly democratic in Brazil and therefore it has to be true. He’s saying it’s not a coup therefore that has to be true. So he is giving legitimacy to this new government in Brazil.
PERIES: Very strange behavior on the part of Human Rights Watch who otherwise in some very good cases give moral guidance to these kinds of issues seem to be failing the Brazilian people as it did I must remind you in part to the coup to President Chavez in Venezuela. Those of us who are familiar with how this particular director Vivanco behaved prior to the coup that took place against President Chavez and thereafter with similar statements. We could continue this conversation Alex but time is limited in terms of how much people will spend watching these things online. I thank you so much for joining us and hope to continue this conversation as things unfold in Brazil.
MAIN: Thanks Sharmini.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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