Brazilian Circus. Part II
In our previous article written before the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, we made a few guesses as to how the then hypothetical government led by Vice-President Michel Temer would look like. Our forecast was bleak: the acting President would announce neoliberal measures regarding the economy which would be quickly pushed through Congress and acclaimed by the majority of public opinion, still infuriated at Dilma Rousseff and contaminated by a fanatical anti-PT partisan sentiment. We predicted a cabinet of corrupt and blatantly anti-Brazilian minsters, citing José Serra, the Senator that was caught "negotiating" Brazilian oil with Chevron, as an example.
Unfortunately, most of our forecasts were either confirmed or were actually too optimistic.
A few noteworthy facts took place before Friday the 13th. Eduardo Cunha, Temer's greatest ally in the lower house of Congress, was "temporarily withdrawn" from his term by the Supreme Court. Cunha was the maestro of the impeachment process in the lower house of Congress - as President of the House, he conducted the process with brutal efficiency. His "temporary removal" happened just a few weeks after Cunha conducted the impeachment process: Cunha was already awaiting trial by the Supreme Court for quite a long time - at least since December 2015; however, the Supreme Court "curiously" kept Cunha's process on the back burner for a few months.
The timing could not have been better. After completing his task, the "temporary removal” - little more than a slap on the wrist since the congressman is allowed to keep his government-provided mansion and salary - was just enough to shush public opinion so that Cunha could be quietly swept under the rug.
On May 9th, with Cunha "temporarily removed" from his position as head of the lower house, Waldir Maranhão, a veterinarian from the Northeastern state of Maranhão and a close ally of Eduardo Cunha, took office as the house's acting president. Astonishingly, Maranhão decided to revoke the impeachment vote previously made by Congress alleging technical issues, which many interpreted as a covert maneuver orchestrated by Cunha in order to pressure the new government into lifting his suspension. In a bizarre plot twist, later that night Maranhão decided to annul his own annulment.
That was the last hiccup in the otherwise well-crafted, well-planned scheme to remove president Rouseff from office. A few days later, the Senate approved Rouseff's impeachment and Temer became the acting president. The word "temer", in Portuguese, is the infinitive form of the verb “to fear”. Temer was appointed interim president on Friday, May 13th.
Corpse Autopsy: examining the members of the new government
President Rousseff was impeached over a minor budgetary misdemeanor which was practiced by virtually all presidents and state governors in Brazil. Most of her political adversaries admitted that the process was more than justified by the popular anti-PT mythological outrage over corruption in president Rousseff's cabinet.
The most symbolic example is that of former president Lula: as a last attempt to save her government back in March, Rousseff appointed former president Lula as Chief of Staff. On the same evening, the popstar judge Sérgio Moro leaked a wiretap (which many jurists and experts considered illegal) of former president Lula and Dilma to the press. The story broke on the prime-time evening TV news show, Jornal Nacional of Rede Globo, in a full 9-minute segment. Although the phone calls had no incriminating content, the damage was done: widespread pot-banging protests (panelaços) echoed throughout Brazil, and notoriously corrupt Supreme Court justice Gilmar Mendes suspended Lula's nomination the next day.
The outrage over Lula's nomination was based on the parliamentary immunity he would gain as chief of staff, which could be seen as "evading justice", since popstar judge Sérgio Moro would be obligated to pass over his investigation on Lula to the Supreme Court. This fact was exhaustively explored and repeated by protesters, the press, and chief political figures of the opposition. Ironically, Acting President Temer's own cabinet featured no less than twelve ministers implicated in the Carwash operation. At least two of them gained parliamentary immunity exactly in the same manner that former president Lula would have, if he had taken office. It goes without saying that there were no outraged segments on prime-time TV shows, nor were there any pot-banging protests in this case. This was the first practical example of how anti-PT mythology effectively shielded corruption in the new government.
The House of Horrors: arbeit macht frei
Perhaps the most abhorrent aspect of the new government is its slogan: in a chilling resemblance to the ironic saying of Nazi Germany's concentration camps, arbeit macht frei ("work sets you free"), Temer's semi-official slogan is “Don't talk about the crisis. Go to work.” Several accounts of this ersatz Nazi slogan emerged throughout Brazil, but, curiously enough, many lacked any official federal government identification or any other indication that they were government propaganda pieces.
"Don't talk about crisis, go to work!!!" - unmarked government propaganda on a bus in the Northeastern city of Recife.
The slogan is fitting in many ways. As a direct order - go to work - it conveys the authoritarian tone of the new regime. More importantly, it is a perfect example and proof of the information and propaganda war being waged in Brazil for several years: since 2015, the word “crisis” has been repeated as a mantra, over and over, day and night, by almost the entirety of the Brazilian press. A typical Brazilian would wake up hearing "crisis" being repeated half a dozen times on the morning news, then read about it in the morning paper, have lunch listening to a TV anchor blabbering about "the crisis" and go to sleep after the evening news featuring special reports on "the crisis". After Friday the 13th, when Temer took office, the word was suddenly (but not unexpectedly) banished from the press.
Only a few hours after taking office, Acting President Temer fell for a prank phone call by an Argentinian comedian pretending to be President Macri. This embarrassing fact was ignored by local press but set the tone for the new interim government somewhere between the absurd and the ridiculous.
The plot laid bare: "we'll remove Dilma so we can save ourselves from the Carwash”
Writing about the month-old Temer government is challenging in a number of ways. Romero Jucá was the first minister to be sacked after only 10 days of service. He was caught on tape discussing a "plan to stop the Carwash investigation". A week later, Fabiano Silveira, head of the anti-corruption ministry, was sacked after having an oddly similar conversation.
There are a few names which always seem to surface whenever the Carwash operation is mentioned:
Machado: "It's an agreement - putting Michel [Temer], a great national agreement."
Jucá: "With the Supreme Court, with everyone."
Machado: "With everyone. Then it [the Carwash operation] would stop."
A few days before, a "hacker" was arrested trying to extort money from Temer's wife, Marcela, by threatening to leak "intimate photos" of her. The so-called "hacker" works in construction and specializes in wooden rooftops.
To be continued...