Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s last speech as president of Brazil on Dec. 29, 2010, was marked by tears of sadness from his supporters. Da Silva was seen off by throngs of supporters in his home state of Pernambuco, inspired by the optimism he had instilled in Brazil’s working class. Almost six years later, the support that his successor, Dilma Rousseff, received when she was removed from office was dismal in comparison. Fewer than 200 people attended her resignation speech. In a country now plagued by corruption scandals, slowing growth and threatened by a recession, people look to the new president, Michel Temer, to make a difference.
Following Temer’s inauguration in 2016, Brazil’s economic outlook is largely positive. As a pro-trade member of the Democratic Movement Party, Temer has succeeded in stimulating economic growth by reversing the policies of his leftist predecessor. Temer encourages investors with promises of privatization and deregulation. His emphasis on fiscal discipline inspires confidence in a new era after the corruption scandals that plagued Rousseff’s presidency.
Since Temer’s changing policies, the Brazilian stock market and the real, Brazil’s currency, have strengthened since he has taken office, returning to the highest levels since 2012. The budget deficit, which more than doubled during Rousseff’s presidency from 5 to 10 percent of GDP, has started to decline.
The government has also shifted toward more market-friendly policies, including the removal of red tape surrounding much of Brazil’s importation business and the enlisting of private businesses to build roads, highways and airports. However, the economic promise of the new government should not overshadow the socio-political threats presented by the early days of Temer’s presidency.
Despite the new administration’s open economic policies and pro-business approach, troubling signs for Brazil’s disenfranchised minorities have emerged. Temer’s presidency marks the first time since the 1970s that there have been no women in cabinet positions. Succeeding Brazil’s first female president, Temer’s presidency represents a step back in political representation for women. With only 53 out of the 513 Brazilian congressional seats held by women, the disparity in representation will cause future decisions to be made by a homogenous cabinet.
The budgetary plan enacted by Temer to curb the country’s deficit also has some troubling implications. Together with his largely successful privatization policies, Temer has begun restructuring the government in an effort to increase efficiency. His plan for doing so, however, has centered on folding existing bureaus into each other, leading to the slashing of the Ministries of Racial Equality, Human Rights and Women. Such a move alone is a cause of concern for women’s and minority rights groups, as it eliminates their organ of government representation. This removal is compounded with the scrapping of all policy proposals that the Ministry of Women had previously developed.
Temer must be held to the same rigorous standards that Rousseff was during her impeachment. While fostering Brazil’s economy and providing hope to investors, Temer’s government must not neglect its social obligations. Doing so would risk the country slipping into greater social unrest, further destabilizing the already fragile peace achieved after Rousseff’s removal.
Rather than close down bureaus of women’s and minority rights, Temer’s government should focus on promoting inclusion. Inclusion would likely aid Temer in reducing the budget deficit and pulling the country out of recession. According to a 2013 government report, women in Brazil are on average more educated than men and make up 44 percent of the workforce. In addition, minority workers are the largest group in Brazil’s manufacturing industries. Including both groups in political decision-making, therefore, would aid in maximizing their respective abilities to contribute to Brazil’s economy.
If Temer fails to craft a more inclusive government, he runs the risk of exacerbating the drastic gender and racial inequalities Brazil has only recently begun tackling. He owes it to the entire country — and not just those represented by his all-male, all white cabinet — to bring about the prosperity that Rousseff could not.
Gabriel Katsuya is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.
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