Brazil hit by first general strike in two decades
by Daniel Gallas
ReutersAn empty street in Rio de Janeiro after demonstrators blocked traffic
Brazilian cities went into partial shutdownas the country observed its first general strike in more than two decades.
Millions of workers, including public transport staff, bankers and teachers, have been urged to take part by trade unions and social groups.
Protesters are taking a stand against the president's proposed pension reforms.
President Michel Temer says the changes are needed to overcome a recession.
"It is going to be the biggest strike in the history of Brazil," said Paulo Pereira da Silva, the president of trade union group, Forca Sindical.
Demonstrations are taking place across the country, with organisers saying they would focus attention on disrupting cities rather than small towns and rural communities.
ReutersBurning barricades were created in the capital, Brasilia, early morning
Participants are opposed to the government's pension overhaul, which will be voted on in Congress next week and which could set the minimum retirement age at 65 for men and 62 for women. Public sector workers have been able to retire at much earlier ages.
A congressional bill to weaken labour laws also progressed earlier in the week, and the country is experiencing an ever-unfolding corruption scandal, which has been linked to many top politicians, fuelling further public discontent.
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Some protesters set up roadblocks in various cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia.
EPAPolice try to unblock a street in Rio de Janeiro
The route to Sao Paulo's international airport was among those barricaded with burning tyres in the early hours of the morning.
Empty streets in Sao Paulo - BBC's Daniel Gallas
Polls suggest President Temer is very unpopular but up until today he had not yet faced a mass demonstration likegeneral strike.
Many private and public schools are closed across the country. In Sao Paulo - the country's biggest city - most bus, metro and train services are not operating. There are few people on the streets here and it feels like a holiday.
The government says the current pension system is unsustainable and is dragging down the economy. Unions say the president wants Brazil's poor and unassisted to pay the price for the country's economic woes.
Whatever the turnout is for the protest, Mr Temer still looks fairly strong in Congress. Earlier this week he won a vote for his labour reforms with a wider margin than needed.
This has been the hallmark of his administration: a president who is very unpopular in the streets, but is able to get things done in Congress.
A spokesman for the Anglican Church in the coastal city of Recife, Dr Juanildo Burity, told the BBC that it would also be taking part in the strike.
"Officially the Church has taken a position that encourages its members to be part of this movement, because it understands the political situation," he said, citing concerns over living standards.
ReutersA protester shouts against police in Sao Paulo
President Temer says capping pension benefits and raising the retirement age will fix the finances of the country, as it undergoes the worst recession in more than a century.
The president has said the austerity measures are needed to prevent a future crisis such as that suffered by Portugal, Spain or Greece.
The country has also been hit by rising unemployment.
Government statistics releasedsay more than 14 million people are out of work.
This article first appeared in The Hill. By Alexander Main.
With a steadily growing economy and expanding social programs that lifted millions out of poverty, the South American nation was seen by many as an emerging global power and a shining example of good governance and inclusivity. Lula da Silva, Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010, was widely credited for his country’s remarkable success; President Obama called him "the most popular politician on Earth."
© Getty Images
In early 2014, Brazil's economy began to tank. The causes included the Latin American and global economic slowdown, but also neoliberal economic policies favored by Brazil's powerful financial community, including budget and credit tightening at the wrong time and exorbitantly high interest rates.
Meanwhile, revelations surfaced regarding a vast bribery scheme — commonly known as "Lava Jato" (car wash) — involving state energy company Petrobras and numerous senior figures from Brazil’s major political parties. This perfect storm of economic and political setbacks contributed to a rapid decline in the popularity of da Silva's successor, Dilma Rousseff, and created a golden opportunity for right-wing sectors to unseat Rousseff and her left-leaning Workers' Party.
But rather than attempting to retake the presidency through elections, sectors of the right conspired to remove Rousseff by triggering legally unjustified impeachment proceedings against her.
Amid massive anti-impeachment protests, Brazil's opposition-dominated Senate voted to permanently remove Rousseff from office on Aug. 31, 2016. Since achieving this "soft coup" — as many Brazilians label it — the Workers' Party's adversaries have set their sights on da Silva, who remains Brazil's most popular political figure.
The former president is regularly vilified in Brazil's conservative media, which dominates the nation's airwaves and press. The telegenic federal Judge Sergio Moro, elevated to near-superhero status by much of Brazil’s major media, has been leading a biased and politicized investigation targeting da Silva, and has repeatedly violated the former president's due process rights.
The Obama administration has failed to speak out against these assaults on Brazil's democracy, but U.S. congressional members have taken notice since Rousseff's impeachment trial began in May 2016, and have been forcefully appealing for the respect of rule of law and human rights in Brazil.
In July 2016, 43 Democratic members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry expressing "strong concern" regarding Rousseff's impeachment and noting that its main promoters faced corruption charges, including Romero Jucá, a key political ally of current President Michel Temer caught on tape plotting Rousseff's removal. The objective, Jucá said, was to prevent corruption investigations from moving forward.
Temer, Rousseff's replacement, promptly appointed an all-white, all-male Cabinet that embarked on far-reaching reforms, including drastic cuts to social programs.
In early August, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued a statement arguing that: "The United States cannot sit silently while the democratic institutions of one of our most important allies are undermined."
Kerry ignored these appeals. On, as the impeachment trial was still underway, he held a friendly joint press conference with Temer's foreign minister and made no mention of the unconstitutional efforts to remove Rousseff. The signal to Brazilians was unmistakable: Washington supported what many considered an illegal coup d'etat.
Though Brazil has largely disappeared from the news in the U.S., the dire political and social situation there is still of great concern to a number of members of Congress.
On Jan. 18, 12 members of the House, including four of the five top Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, and leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, sent a letter to Brazil's ambassador in Washington, denouncing the repression of peaceful protests in Brazil and the criminalization of the Landless Workers' Movement and other groups opposed to the Temer government. The letter also denounces the ongoing judicial persecution of da Silva:
"Since the beginning of , Lula has been targeted by a judge — Sergio Moro — whose biased and unwarranted actions have severely jeopardized Lula’s due process rights. For instance, Moro ordered the arbitrary arrest of the former president simply to serve a subpoena, although there was no indication that the former president was unwilling to provide testimony. Media outlets were on site as the arrest occurred, suggesting that the primary purpose of the detention was to create the perception that Lula was implicated in criminal activity despite the lack of charges against him at the time."
The letter describes Moro's open participation "in political events opposing Lula" and his endorsement of a sensational book lionizing him and presenting da Silva as guilty of alleged criminal charges. It notes that Moro leaked phone intercepts to the media, a violation of Brazilian law.
The letter, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and endorsed by the AFL-CIO, Friends of the Earth and other organizations, goes on to say:
"Even following testimony against Lula obtained through plea bargains, there is not yet any credible evidence implicating Lula in criminal activity. We are concerned that the true goal behind the proceedings is to severely tarnish Lula’s image and disable him politically by any means, as occurred with former President Rousseff."
Despite these attacks, the Workers' Party announced on Jan. 17 that da Silva would be its candidate for president in Brazil's 2018 elections. suspicious given that Zavascki had been analyzing testimony implicating many powerful Brazilian politicians in corruption., Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki died in a plane crash seen by many as
Zavascki had been widely considered to be the most independent and principled member of the court. He had been identified in the leaked Jucá tape as the one justice "closed off" to making a deal to help remove Rousseff. And he had firmly objected to Moro's leaks of tapped phone recordings of da Silva in early 2016, earning him vicious attacks in the right-wing press and protests in front of his home in São Paulo.
With Zavascki gone, it appears unlikely that any higher judge will step in to counter the excesses of Moro and others who use their judicial or political power to arbitrarily target opponents.
Given this alarming situation, it's more important than ever for members of Congress and others in the international community to shine a bright light on the attempted demolition of democracy and basic rights that is taking place in Brazil.
This story first appeared in Al Jazeera. By Luisa Torre.
Photo courtesy of Chris Yutzy
This story first appeared in The Intercept. By Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fishman, and David Miranda Mar.
Brazil Is Engulfed by Ruling Class Corruption — and a Dangerous Subversion of Democracy Glenn Greenwald Andrew Fishman David Miranda Mar. 18 2016, 9:31 a.m. (Para ler a versão desse artigo em Português, clique aqui.)
THE MULTIPLE, REMARKABLE crises consuming Brazil are now garnering substantial Western media attention. That’s understandable given that Brazil is the world’s fifth most populous country and eighth-largest economy; its second-largest city, Rio de Janeiro, is the host of this year’s Summer Olympics. But much of this Western media coverage mimics the propaganda coming from Brazil’s homogenized, oligarch-owned, anti-democracy media outlets and, as such, is misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete, particularly when coming from those with little familiarity with the country (there are numerous Brazil-based Western reporters doing outstanding work). It is difficult to overstate the severity of Brazil’s multi-level distress. This short paragraph yesterday from the New York Times’s Brazil bureau chief, Simon Romero, conveys how dire it is: Brazil is suffering its worst economic crisis in decades. An enormous graft scheme has hobbled the national oil company. The Zika epidemic is causing despair across the northeast. And just before the world heads to Brazil for the Summer Olympics, the government is fighting for survival, with almost every corner of the political system under the cloud of scandal. Brazil’s extraordinary political upheaval shares some similarities with the Trump-led political chaos in the U.S.: a sui generis, out-of-control circus unleashing instability and some rather dark forces, with a positive ending almost impossible to imagine. The once-remote prospect of President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment now seems likely. But one significant difference with the U.S. is that Brazil’s turmoil is not confined to one politician. The opposite is true, as Romero notes: “almost every corner of the political system [is] under the cloud of scandal.” That includes not only Rousseff’s moderately left-wing Workers Party, or PT — which is rife with serious corruption — but also the vast majority of the centrist and right-wing political and economic factions working to destroy PT, which are drowning in at least an equal amount of criminality. In other words, PT is indeed deeply corrupt and awash in criminal scandal, but so is virtually every political faction working to undermine it and vying to seize that party’s democratically obtained power. In reporting on Brazil, Western media outlets have most prominently focused on the increasingly large street protests demanding the impeachment of Rousseff. They have typically depicted those protests in idealized, cartoon terms of adoration: as an inspiring, mass populist uprising against a corrupt regime. Last night, NBC News’s Chuck Todd re-tweeted the Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer describing anti-Dilma protests as “The People vs. the President” — a manufactured theme consistent with what is being peddled by Brazil’s anti-government media outlets such as Globo: That narrative is, at best, a radical oversimplification of what is happening and, more often, crass propaganda designed to undermine a left-wing party long disliked by U.S. foreign policy elites. That depiction completely ignores the historical context of Brazil’s politics and, more importantly, several critical questions: Who is behind these protests, how representative are the protesters of the Brazilian population, and what is their actual agenda? THE CURRENT VERSION of Brazilian democracy is very young. In 1964, the country’s democratically elected left-wing government was overthrown by a military coup. Both publicly and before Congress, U.S. officials vehemently denied any role, but — needless to say — documents and recordings subsequently emerged proving the U.S. directly supported and helped plot critical aspects of that coup. The 21-year, right-wing, pro-U.S. military dictatorship that ensued was brutal and tyrannical, specializing in torture techniques used against dissidents that were taught to the dictatorship by the U.S. and U.K. A comprehensive 2014 Truth Commission report documented that both countries “trained Brazilian interrogators in torture techniques.” Among their victims was Rousseff, who was an anti-regime, left-wing guerilla imprisoned and tortured by the military dictators in the 1970s. The coup itself and the dictatorship that followed were supported by Brazil’s oligarchs and their large media outlets, led by Globo, which — notably — depicted the 1964 coup as a noble defeat of a corrupt left-wing government (sound familiar?). The 1964 coup and dictatorship were also supported by the nation’s extravagantly rich (and overwhelmingly white) upper class and its small middle class. As democracy opponents often do, Brazil’s wealthy factions regarded dictatorship as protection against the impoverished masses comprised largely of non-whites. As The Guardian put it upon release of the Truth Commission report: “As was the case elsewhere in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, the elite and middle class aligned themselves with the military to stave off what they saw as a communist threat.”
Other news sources on Brazil:
The New York Times reports: "Dilma Rousseff Is Impeached by Brazil’s Lower House of Congress," which states: "After three days of impassioned debate, the lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, voted to send the case against [President Dilma] Rousseff to the Senate. Its 81 members will vote by a simple majority on whether to hold a trial on charges that the president illegally used money from state-owned banks to conceal a yawning budget deficit in an effort to bolster her re-election prospects. That vote is expected to take place next month."
MARK WEISBROT, via Dan Beeton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and has written extensively about Latin America. He recently wrote the piece "Brazilian Coup Threatens Democracy and National Sovereignty," which states: "there is no evidence that [Rousseff] is linked to the 'Lava Jato' scandal, or any other corruption. Rather, she is accused of an accounting manipulation that somewhat misrepresented the fiscal position of the government -- something that prior presidents have done. To borrow an analogy from the United States, when the Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling in the U.S. in 2013, the Obama administration used a number of accounting tricks to postpone the deadline at which the limit was reached. Nobody cared.
"The impeachment campaign -- which the government has correctly labelled a coup -- is an effort by Brazil’s traditional elite to obtain by other means what they have not been able to win at the ballot box for the past 12 years."
CECILIA MacDOWELL SANTOS, email@example.com
Director of the Latin American Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, Santos is among the Latin America scholars to sign the petition "Brazilian Democracy is Seriously Threatened," which states: "The combat against corruption is legitimate and necessary to improve the responsiveness of Brazilian democracy. But in the current political climate, we find a serious risk that the rhetoric of anti-corruption has been used to destabilize the current democratically-elected government, further aggravating the serious economic and political crisis that the country is facing.
"Instead of retaining political neutrality and respecting due process, sectors of the Judiciary, with the support of major media interests, have become protagonists in undermining the rule of law. ... The violation of democratic procedure represents a serious threat to democracy. When the armed forces overthrew the government of President João Goulart in 1964, they used the combat against corruption as one of their justifications."
MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mendonça is director of Brazil's Network for Social Justice and Human Rights. She is also professor in the international relations department at the University of Rio De Janeiro.
She highlights the role of social movements against the impeachment. For example, see the website of the MST, the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, which features “Ten Facts that Brazil and the World Should Know," which states: "This is precisely why the request for impeachment constitutes a coup d’etat, because a president can only be removed if he or she is found to have committed a crime -- and as a crime did not occur, so far, Dilma’s name has not been presented in any corruption investigations: not even the slightest suspicion against her exists.
"Unlike President Dilma, the politicians calling for her dismissal are corrupt and are as dirty as they come. Eduardo Cunha (PMDB-RJ) who, as chairman of the House is responsible for the impeachment process, has received more than 52 million Brazilian Rs. (BR$) from corrupt schemes undertaken in Petrobras, plus he has millions deposited in secret accounts in Switzerland and other tax havens. Of the 65 members of the Parliamentary Commission that will investigate the request for impeachment 37 (more than half!) are under the watchful eye of the Justice Department and are being investigated for corruption. If they manage to depose the president, in exchange they expect to see the charges against them for the fraud they have committed dropped."