- Maria Luisa Mendonça
director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights. She is also a professor in the International Relations Department at the University of Rio de Janeiro. Her recent piece for The Progressive is called “Brazil’s Parliamentary Vote is a Coup.”
A key figure in Brazil’s interim government has resigned after explosive new transcripts revealed how he plotted to oust President Dilma Rousseff in order to end a corruption investigation that was targeting him. The transcripts, published by Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, document a conversation in March, just weeks before Brazil’s lower house voted in favor of impeaching President Rousseff. Romero Jucá, who was then a senator but became a planning minister after Rousseff’s ouster, was speaking with a former oil executive, Sérgio Machado. Both men had been targets of the so-called Car Wash investigation over money laundering and corruption at the state-controlled oil firm Petrobras. In the conversation, the men agree that ousting President Rousseff would be the only way to end the corruption probe. In the transcript, Jucá said, “We have to change the government so the bleeding is stopped.” Machado then reportedly said, “The easiest solution is to put Michel in”—a reference to Vice President Michel Temer, who took power once Rousseff was suspended. We speak to Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with the political crisis engulfing Brazil. On Tuesday, the country’s interim president, Michel Temer, unveiled a raft of economic austerity measures and introduced a far-reaching constitutional amendment limiting the growth of public spending to the equivalent of the previous year’s inflation. Temer reportedly is now focused on overhauling Brazil’s pension system, but two of the country’s largest unions have refused to participate in talks, saying they don’t recognize the interim government. Temer has also called for the immediate abolition of funds created to channel oil revenues into education initiatives. On Tuesday, he addressed a meeting of the Brazilian congressional party leaders.
INTERIM PRESIDENT MICHEL TEMER: [translated] Public spending is on an unsustainable path. We can delight ourselves in one or the other conquests, but further down the line we will have condemned the Brazilian people to extraordinary difficulties.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, a key figure in Brazil’s interim government has resigned after explosive new transcripts revealed how he plotted to oust President Dilma Rousseff in order to end a corruption investigation that was targeting him. The transcripts, published by Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, document a conversation in March, just weeks before Brazil’s lower house voted in favor of impeaching President Rousseff. Romero Jucá, who was then a senator but became a planning minister after Rousseff’s ouster, was speaking with a former oil executive, Sérgio Machado. Both men have been targets of the so-called Car Wash investigation over money laundering and corruption at the state-controlled oil firm Petrobras.
In the conversation, the men agree that ousting President Rousseff would be the only way to end the corruption probe against them. In the transcript, Jucá says, “We have to change the government so the bleeding is stopped.” Machado then reportedly said, “The easiest solution is to put Michel in”—a reference to Vice President Michel Temer, who took power once Rousseff was suspended. Writing for The Intercept, journalist journalist Glenn Greenwald said, quote, “The transcripts provide proof for virtually every suspicion and accusation impeachment opponents have long expressed about those plotting to remove Dilma from office.” On Monday, Romero Jucá said his comments were taken out of context, but announced he would temporarily step down as the planning minister.
Well, for more, we’re going to Berkeley, California, where we’re joined by Maria Luisa Mendonça. She is the director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights. She is also a professor in the International Relations Department at the University of Rio de Janeiro. Her recent piece for The Progressive is called “Brazil’s Parliamentary Vote is a Coup.”
Maria Luisa Mendonça, welcome to Democracy Now!
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Thanks very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what’s happening and the significance of these audiotapes?
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Yes. They actually see and prove very clearly something we have been saying from the beginning, that this is a coup, because there is no reason, no legal basis, for the impeachment of President Dilma, that the main reason to do this was to actually stop investigations of corruption. And it was clear from the beginning, because the interim president, Michel Temer, appointed seven ministers that are now facing charges of corruption. And also one of the first things he did was to eliminate the Controladoria-Geral da União, which is a state agency that controls contracts between the government and private businesses. So it was clear that it was a way to stop investigations of corruption. And then, the second main reason was to implement austerity measures in the right-wing agenda that has been rejected by Brazilian society since 2002. So, the right-wing forces have not been able to win elections. The only way for them to take power was by orchestrating the coup.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk, as well, about his elimination of all these other ministers that deal with social issues within the—within the government?
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Yes, exactly. Just a few hours after taking power, he eliminated the Ministries of Women, of Agricultural Development, of Human Rights and Racial Equality, of Culture, of Communications. So, it was a huge structural change, with very serious consequences. And for instance, the Ministry of Culture is an institution that promotes Brazilian culture all over the world. So you cannot justify that by any argument, even economics. It doesn’t make any sense. Since then, there have been huge demonstrations. Just over the weekend, this past weekend, several office buildings have been occupied by artists. At least in 20 states, the offices of the Ministry of Culture are now occupied. And we have seen huge concerts with demonstrations against Michel Temer. And even in stadiums, in soccer stadiums, we are seeing demonstrations all over the country. So it’s very clear that this agenda will be rejected.
Also, for instance, in the case of the Ministry of Women, there now is a secretary. It lost its status as a ministry. Michel Temer invited five women, academics and artists, that rejected the invitation. So I think it’s actually interesting to see that no woman wants to be part of the new government, which is a positive sign considering what this government looks like. And just yesterday, finally, he found someone for that position, and it’s a former congresswoman who is herself being accused of corruption.
In the case of the communications, the public communications system is actually very concerning. Just a few hours after taking power, Temer fired the head of the public broadcasting system in Brazil and replaced him with an executive from TV Globo, the very powerful network that is calling for demonstrations against the government for over a year right now. So, that is a huge change. Imagine if suddenly the head of NPR was replaced by a Fox News executive. That’s a comparison that we can make. So he eliminated several very important public institutions.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned Globo. What has been the role of the mass media, of the commercial media, as all these events have been unfolding?
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Yeah, that is a key role. What we—I have been saying that—imagine if here in the U.S. all TV stations were like Fox News, and they all started to call for demonstrations against the government and were broadcasting those demonstrations live all day long, and at the same time the large demonstrations in support of the government, in support for democracy in Brazil, were mainly ignored. So, I think it’s very important for people to understand that this was created—this idea of that the main problem in Brazil was corruption was pretty much created by corporate media, and now it’s very clear that, with the recent release of this transcript, that the main goal was to actually stop the investigations of corruption and to implement an agenda, a neoliberal agenda, that not only cut important social programs, but changes legislation, as you were mentioning in the beginning of the show.
For instance, in the case of the spending, governmental spending, for education, right after the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil, the new constitution determined that in local and state administrations, 25 percent of the budget is the minimum that has to be applied, invested on education, and the same as the federal—in the federal level. That is, a minimum of 18 percent. And Michel Temer now is proposing to change legislation so the state is not obligated to spend a minimum on education, which will have a huge impact. This is not going to improve the economy. This will create more economic inequality and more instability.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald spoke to former President Dilma Rousseff. She expressed some concerns about the situation unfolding in Brazil.
PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Why wouldn’t I say that it’s the end of democracy? Because today, institutions can be disrupted, but they’re stronger than you think. I’m apprehensive now, because what happens under an illegitimate government? An illegitimate government tries to dress itself in the veil of pseudo-order. It bans protests and freedom of expression, and, above all, shows an enormous willingness to cut social programs.
AMY GOODMAN: So that is, well, the president, the democratically elected president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who has just been ousted, replaced by the vice president, Michel Temer. Maria Luisa Mendonça, go more into who Romero Jucá is, who was then a senator but became a planning minister after Rousseff’s ouster, the one on these tapes is speaking to the former oil executive, Sérgio Machado, and they’re talking about ending the corruption investigations against them.
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Yes, he has been a key player in this conspiracy against President Dilma Rousseff, and that’s very clear now by the transcripts. And he’s a very powerful member of PMDB, which is the political party of Michel Temer. And he’s been in politics forever, and he’s been charged of corruption. And in his history, we had also very horrible stories. In the ’80s, he was the head of FUNAI, which is the infrastructure in Brazil that is the foundation for indigenous people in Brazil. And at that time, he allowed mining companies to enter the Yanomami indigenous communities in the Amazon, and that created huge disasters for those communities. Hundreds of indigenous people were killed in conflicts and also because of diseases from mining exploitation in their territories. So he has a history of, you know, corruption and being a very conservative politician.
But the joke now in Brazil was that he was the planning minister, right? And it’s clear right now that there was a plot to—that the impeachment is actually a plot, as a coup. That’s why we have to call this a coup. And I think a key point that I would like to emphasize is that there is no reason for the impeachment. We cannot say that President Dilma can be impeached just because her popularity may be low at some point in her term or because there is an economic crisis in Brazil. We are not a parliamentary system. We are a presidential system. So, no matter if you like President Dilma or not, if you criticize the government or not, we cannot justify the impeachment. Would be almost like, you know, can you arrest someone in Brazil? Yes. But if the person did not commit any crime, then this is fascism. You cannot impeach the president just because you don’t like her personality.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And let me ask you in terms of the strategy of the Workers’ Party at this point, with these extraordinary developments, what is Dilma Rousseff planning to do now as she’s facing this impeachment? And what about the role of the former president, Lula da Silva?
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Well, the main strategy now is to oppose this government, this interim government, to say that this is not a legitimate government. And the Workers’ Party congressmembers have been saying that very clearly, the senators, the congressmembers in the lower house. And—but what we have been seeing in the last few days is huge demonstrations against the government. I think this is—will increase. The opposition from society, from Brazilian society, will increase, from the part of the academic community, artists, and then the people in general. We have been seeing very large demonstrations against Michel Temer, including a demonstration by his house. The movement of homeless people in the state of São Paulo just had a large demonstration in front of Michel Temer’s house. And he has been called a golpista. So, we have been seeing those types of things, including the new foreign minister, José Serra, who was just in Argentina and was received with protests in Argentina, as well. So I think the international community will need to pay attention, and we will need solidarity from U.S. organizations to call on the Obama administration to support President Dilma Rousseff and the process that elected and re-elected her just over a year ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly—we have 30 seconds—what has been the Obama administration’s response to what so many are calling a coup in Brazil?
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: At the beginning, it was not issuing any very strong statements. But recently, it’s basically confirming that it would support President—the interim president, Michel Temer, which is not a very good sign. We hope that the Obama administration doesn’t do the same thing as we saw in Honduras. So we hope that they don’t make the same mistake, because this will be a very dangerous precedent that can bring instability to the whole region.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, also a professor in the International Relations Department at the University of Rio de Janeiro. We’ll link to your piece in The Progressive called “Brazil’s Parliamentary Vote is a Coup.”
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