Brazil Politics

MICHEL TEMER’S HEAD-SCRATCHING CABINET

No women, no minorities. Michel Temer has formed a cabinet filled with white men – and some are under suspicion of corruption

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brazil new president michel temer
Photo: Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil

After Brazil’s House of Representatives approved the continuation of the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff, it became only a matter of time for Michel Temer to become Acting President. He then began to send signals as to what his administration would look like. He would have a reduced cabinet filled with specialists – pork-barreling practices wouldn’t have a place in his administration. One month later, he took office with a questionable cabinet. First, he didn’t reduce the size of the federal government as much as he promised. Second, his entourage includes many politicians accused of corruption. But the third problem, and perhaps the most worrisome, is that of his cabinet’s demographics. The 21 new ministers are all white men.

It came as no surprise that the new president chose for his government some names that are the very essence of political patronage in Brazil. What blindsided many people, though, is that the new cabinet is anything but inclusive. The last time a presidential cabinet did not include women was all the way back in 1979, during the presidency of Ernesto Geisel, one of the military dictators who ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Women make up 51% of the Brazilian population, but still suffer from prejudice and sexism.

AzMina, a Brazilian feminist online magazine, published a list with 10 women that Temer could have chosen for his government – from a neurosurgeon to businesswoman to various politicians. While we don’t agree with all of the names on AzMina’s list, the point is that Temer had options. To respond the criticism, his allies told journalists that the Secretary-Executive of the Ministry of Education (number 2 in the hierarchy) is a woman. Whose boss is a man. A white man – like all of his colleagues.

Bad Choices

For some members of the cabinet, becoming a minister is also a way of avoiding the tough Federal Judge Sérgio Moro, who is responsible for the anti-corruption campaign Operation Car Wash. In Brazil, ministers can only be investigated and prosecuted by the Supreme Court – so for those under scrutiny, their investigations will have to be transferred to Brazil’s highest court, and it takes a while until the justices are fully familiarized with cases.

Geddel Vieira Lima, taking over the Secretary of the Presidency, is suspected of having taken bribes from OAS, a construction company from his home-state of Bahia. He will be in charge of the individual negotiations with congressmen – always with an avid appetite for taking public money. Romero Jucá is the new Minister of Planning, Budget and Management; he’s facing accusations in two police investigations, Operation Zealot and Operation Car Wash, for allegedly receiving bribes. Now, he will be responsible for a colossal budget: billions and billions of dollars. Seems fitting.

Maurício Quintella, new Minister of Transportation, was convicted in 2014 for syphoning money away from the state administration of Alagoas – money that should have been used to buy school lunch money for students. See a running theme?

Temer’s new Minister of Justice and Human Rights is not accused of corruption – but don’t mistake that for a sign that he’s not controversial. Alexandre de Moraes used to be a lawyer for a company suspected of being a front business for PCC (First Command of the Capital), São Paulo biggest criminal organization –responsible for arms and drug trafficking, among other enterprises. In 2006, the mafia organization perpetrated 299 attacks against policemen in São Paulo, resulting in the deaths of 564 people, between cops and civilians. As Secretary of Public Safety of São Paulo, he defended the use of lethal weapons by policemen in an operation to finish the occupation of a school by teenage students.

The Few Bright Spots

Perhaps the new president did get right with his appointment of Henrique Meirelles, the man set to run Brazil’s economy. Formerly Lula’s former President of Brazil’s Central Bank, Meirelles guided the bank for eight economically successful years. Meirelles is capable of bringing credibility – and investors – back to the country. The perspective of Meirelles has pleased investors, as the Brazilian stock market rose 0.9% after it was confirmed that he would be in charge.

It is worth mentioning that he was actually the man that Lula wanted to name as Dilma Rousseff’s Finance Minister back in December, as the former President interpreted the impeachment situation as a measure protesting her failed economic guidance.

Another name that will likely receive praise is José Serra – the new minister of Foreign Affairs. Like Meirelles in the economy, Serra will represent a deep inflexion of Dilma Rousseff’s (lack of) foreign policy.

The recent Brazilian foreign policy was marked by a lack of international trade agreements. In the last 20 years, we’ve signed a grand total of three agreements with Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian State. Also, the Workers’ Party had betted in emerging and small countries as business partners – which proved to be an error. Serra did not have kind words for the Mercosur, the South American economic block: “[The Mercosur] was a megalomaniac delirium. Do you know what joint customs is? It is denying commercial sovereignty.” We expect Serra will want to elevate Brazil’s role in the international trade arena.

All in all, Temer’s cabinet has its bright spots, but does not inspire blind confidence. Especially after having assumed the role of president under such extraordinary measures. He won’t have the luxury of a 100-day honeymoon with the public opinion and the opposition working in his favor – the latter will be ferocious and led by the Workers’ Party, which was bluntly removed from power after 13 years. It won’t be an easy ride, that’s for sure.