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Simon Romero: Brazil's Temer a conservative


PaHaro/Folhapress

Michel Temer, new Brazil's interim president, signals more conservative shift


BRASÍLIA — The new Brazilian president's first pick for science minister was a creationist. He chose a soybean tycoon who has deforested large tracts of the Amazon rain forest to be his agriculture minister. And he is the first leader in decades to have no women in his cabinet at all.

The government of President Michel Temer — the 75-year-old lawyer who took the helm of Brazil on Thursday after Dilma Rousseff was suspended by the Senate to face an impeachment trial — could cause a significant shift to the political right in Latin America's largest country.

“Temer's government is starting out well,” Silas Malafaia, a television evangelist and author of best-selling books like “How to Defeat Satan's Strategies,” wrote on Twitter .

“He'll be able to sweep away the ideology of pathological leftists,” Mr. Malafaia added of a conservative lawmaker whom Mr. Temer chose as education minister.

Associated Press/ Eraldo Peres

Dilma Rousseff acknowledged supporters after Brazil's Senate voted to suspend her on Thursday.

For more than a decade, Brazil has been an anchor of leftist politics in the region, less strident than the governments in countries like Venezuela and Cuba, but openly supportive of them and committed to its own platform of reducing inequality.

But parts of Latin America are now drifting away from the left after elections in neighboring countries like Argentina and Paraguay. Mr. Temer seems to be embracing a more conservative disposition for his government as well, with the country's business establishment pressuring him to privatize state-controlled companies and cut public spending.

To many of Mr. Temer's critics, the shift is perhaps most evident in the role of women in his and Ms. Rousseff's administrations.

The contrasts could not be more glaring. Ms. Rousseff, 68, was a former operative in an urban guerrilla group. She was tortured during the military dictatorship and eventually rose to lead the board of the national oil company before becoming Brazil's first female president.

Until recently, relatively few Brazilians had even heard of Mr. Temer. When they did, it often involved references to his wife, Marcela Temer, 32, a former beauty pageant contestant who is 43 years younger than he is. They met when she was just 18.

A profile of Ms. Temer in Veja, a newsmagazine, caused a stir by glowingly referring to her as “pretty, demure and of the home.” It said Mr. Temer was “a lucky man” to have such a devoted, unassuming housewife as a spouse, especially one who wears knee-level skirts.

The magazine did not mention the tattoo on the nape of Ms. Temer's neck featuring her husband's name, but the message was clear: Mr. Temer, a law professor and career politician, embodies a more conservative approach than Ms. Rousseff in the corridors of power and in his own home.

Then there is the issue of race. After a long stretch in which Brazil pressed ahead with affirmative action policies, Mr. Temer's critics point out the lack of Afro-Brazilians in his cabinet, especially when nearly 51 percent of Brazilians define themselves as black or mixed race, according to the 2010 census.

“It's embarrassing that most of Temer's cabinet choices are old, white men,” said Sérgio Praça, a political scientist at Fundação Getulio Vargas, an elite Brazilian university. He drew a contrast with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, who formed a cabinet in which half of the 30 ministers are women.

In a speech to the nation on Thursday, Mr. Temer said he would seek to soothe tensions in Brazil, a nation polarized by the impeachment trial of Ms. Rousseff. She is accused of manipulating the federal budget to hide yawning deficits, a budgetary sleight of hand that her critics say helped her get re-elected in 2014.

“It's urgent to seek the unity of Brazil,” Mr. Temer said during a ceremony introducing his ministers. “We urgently need a government of national salvation.”

The new president's supporters point out that he considered a couple of women for cabinet-level posts, including Renata Abreu, 34, a lawmaker, to oversee human rights policies.

But that effort, along with other test balloons, did not prosper. First, it became widely known that Ms. Abreu had voted in favor of legislation to make it difficult for women who are raped to get abortions. Then Mr. Temer opted to fold the human rights post into the Ministry of Justice, making it a second-tier appointment.

Mr. Temer's offer of the science ministry to Marcos Pereira, an evangelical pastor who does not believe in evolution, also fizzled. He named Mr. Pereira trade minister instead. Then, to the dismay of leaders in Brazil's scientific community, Mr. Temer merged the ministries of science and communications.

Like many of Brazil's political leaders, Mr. Temer has legal problems of his own. He was recently found guilty of violating campaign finance limits, a conviction that could make him ineligible to run for office for eight years, leaving a cloud of scandal that has raised concerns about his capacity to govern with a strong mandate.

“Temer faces the fundamental problem of legitimacy,” said Michael Shifter, the president of Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. “He did not become president as a result of a popular vote, but rather because of a controversial impeachment process.”



Brazil's Line of Succession Is
Engulfed in Scandals

The process against the suspended president has come to embody public anger over corruption and a battered economy. But those in the succession chain are also engulfed in scandals.


Click on photos and open graphic

But some argue, in Mr. Temer's favor, that his cabinet includes officials who held important posts when Ms. Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party was in control. Henrique Meirelles, a banker who is the new finance minister, served as central bank president for eight years during the government of Ms. Rousseff's predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from 2003 through 2010.

During that time, Brazil's government gained the respect of investors as incomes soared during a commodities boom. Prominent figures in Brazil's financial markets hope that Mr. Meirelles can rebuild that credibility.

Some environmental activists are blasting Mr. Temer's choice for agriculture minister, Blairo Maggi, a soybean farmer and politician who has pushed for opening huge areas of the Amazon to agricultural development. Yet some point out that Mr. Maggi was also open to dialogue, winning plaudits for reducing deforestation rates while he was governor of Mato Grosso State.

Still, Mr. Maggi, along with an array of other members of Mr. Temer's cabinet, has been battling corruption inquiries. For three years, investigators examined claims tying Mr. Maggi to a money-laundering scheme . Just this week, the Supreme Court shelved the case.

Other ministers appointed by Mr. Temer remain under investigation in separate cases, including Geddel Vieira Lima, a former executive at one of Brazil's largest government-controlled banks who is now the president's secretary, and Henrique Alves, a tourism minister in Ms. Rousseff's government who will occupy the same post under Mr. Temer.

The rancor around the ouster of Ms. Rousseff, who will go on trial in the Senate, was evident Thursday on the streets of Brasília, the capital. Dozens of women chained themselves to barriers surrounding the presidential palace, shouting slogans in support of Ms. Rousseff and expressing alarm about Mr. Temer's top advisers.

Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida, a political scientist at the University of São Paulo, said that the last time a Brazilian cabinet did not have any women was in the early 1980s, during the military dictatorship that ruled from 1964 to 1985.

Until Mr. Temer's rise to power on Thursday, she said, “all the democratic governments have had women.”

 

Vinod Sreeharsha contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro, and Paula Moura from Brasília.

A version of this article appears in print on May 13, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: New Leader in Brazil Hints at a Tilt to the Right.

Simon Romero became the Brazil bureau chief for The New York Times in November 2011.  In this role, Mr. Romero covers Brazil and several other countries in South America, including Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Before beginning this assignment, Mr. Romero was Andean bureau chief from 2006 to 2011, based in Caracas, Venezuela, where he wrote extensively on a broad range of issues, including President Hugo Chávez's political movement, Colombia's long internal war and indigenous politics in Bolivia. Vinod Sreeharsha contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro, and Paula Moura from Brasília. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

Editor's Note: This commentary was originally published by The New York Times , on May 12, 2016. A version of this article appears in print on May 13, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: New Leader in Brazil Hints at a Tilt to the Right. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.

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