In the Brazil of the Coup, whose death matters?
Photo: Prison in Rio Grande do Norte where 26 people died
Exclusive for Cafezinho by Marianna T Noviello
Only a fortnight into the new year and rebellions in Brazilian prisons have left 134 people dead.
The timeline of media events moves too fast, going from disaster to disaster, scandal to scandal vying for our attention. One day we are concerned with the bombing of children in Aleppo, the next we are talking about Trump’s golden shower in some hotel room in Moscow.
In Brazil, events seem to move even faster. Atrocity after atrocity flash past our eyes without giving us time to digest. The rapid turnover of news not only banalises but normalises everything as we go from news item to news item.
But I am still left mulling over the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. A shocking affair, orchestrated by parliament, the judiciary and the media to remove a president who, so far, has been shown to be honest and replace her with the worst elements of Brazilian politics.
All this because the Workers’ Party (PT), still in power after four consecutive elections, might have been re-elected again if Lula decided to stand in 2018.
The point of an impeachment is to judge the person of the President when he or she commits a crime and not to totally change the course of a government without resorting to the ballot box. Temer, the Vice President who replaced Rousseff, allied himself with those who were defeated in 2014.
Just imagine if when UK’s Conservative Prime Minister Cameron stepped down after Brexit, Theresa May had asked members of the Labour Party to form the government with her? This is effectively what happened in Brazil.
One of Temer’s first actions was to cut welfare policies, education and health. He has changed the Constitution to avoid the need to spend on social programmes now and in the future. And more, he has frozen all social spending for the next 20 years – regardless as to whether Brazil’s economic cycle is of boom or bust.
Now Temer’s government is trying to push through reforms on labour laws and social security; it is in the midst of a privatisation spree, selling our assets and downsizing our national companies, whilst showing complete disregard for diversity, minorities, human rights and the environment.
All this is shocking, but perhaps more outrageous is the fact that the ‘push’ needed for the impeachment was the alleged corruption of the Lula-Dilma Administrations.
What now that we know that Temer’s ‘men’ are the source of this corruption and in eight months, twelve of his Ministers were forced to resign because of misconduct or inappropriate behaviour?
The latest victim was the Secretary for Youth, Bruno Julio.
After the breakout of gang warfare in two prisons in the North of Brazil, where almost 100 people were murdered, some of whom beheaded and disembowelled, Bruno Julio claimed that there should be a massacre like this every week to sort out crime in Brazil.
A despicable statement indeed, but only one of a series of blunders that accompanied these tragic events.
First, Temer took three days before saying anything at all about the massacre. Then, he called it “an accident”. As if government had no responsibility for prisons. As if it was normal for drug factions to manage these institutions from the inside, as if it was ok to blame ‘gang warfare’ for the death of 56 people in one prison, and then 33 in another as retaliation.
And what can be said about the Minister of Justice, Alexandre de Moraes? He blamed the private contractors. He accused them of allowing weapons in. He said the rebellion was the responsibility of the private sector.
Surely, if we are to accept any privatisation of the State at all, rule number one is that however many layers of subcontracting there are, the ultimate responsibility should lie with our elected representatives.
Minister Moraes was also accused of lying. In the wake of the second massacre, it became known that the Governor of the state of Roraima had asked the Federal Government for help prior to the rebellion and did not receive it.
Moraes first denied any request for assistance and when evidence emerged that the Governor had approached him, he simply claimed that he had ‘forgotten’ about the request.
The Minister of Justice should have resigned. Indeed, many Brazilian legal experts are calling for his resignation and in the aftermath of another (as yet unquashed) rebellion in yet another prison that left 26 people dead, this may well come to pass.
It is true that the situation of the Brazilian prison system is the consequence of mismanagement, not only by this government, but by previous governments, as the recent UN report on torture and degrading treatment and punishment shows (http://d2f17dr7ourrh3.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Relatorio-SPT-2016-1.pdf).
Brazil has a serious problem of prison overcrowding (67% over capacity), the result of mass arrests and a judiciary that thinks prisons are the panacea. It has the fourth highest prison population in the world with over 620,000 detainees, where one third are still awaiting trial.
These are serious issues that have not emerged overnight with the removal of President Rousseff.
Yet, despite long standing problems, the apparent lack of concern on the part of this government for the human beings affected, prisoners and their relatives alike, is utterly disgraceful.
But what can we expect?
Once the rule of law is broken and the Constitution disregarded, what does it matter if the Minister of Justice does not take responsibility for his brief or is found to have lied? Who cares if a hundred or so, mainly black, mainly poor young men are decapitated and have their heads used as footballs?
A government that emerges out of illegality, breaks laws and is mired in corruption, holds no moral ground. An unelected government does not worry about what people think, feel or experience.
But it is not just the government that does not seem to care. Only a few months ago, the media whipped up the support of the Brazilian middle-classes to oust the ‘corrupt’ Lula-Dilma administrations. Hundreds of thousands of people came out in the streets.
Who is out in the streets now? Where are the crowds showing their indignation, if not against the endemic corruption and ineptitude of this government, then in face of evidence of criminal factions running our prisons and the truly abhorrent news that over one hundred people were murdered under the very auspices of the State.
Brazilian media has made us accustomed to the judicialisation and criminalisation of politics, never encouraging discussion of the merits of policies – whether right or left, successful or unsuccessful.
This conveyor belt of atrocities and scandals the media serve up make us confused, apathetic and numb. So here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the idea of government ‘without politics and politicians’ is very quickly taking hold.
But sometimes it is necessary to stop, stand back and analyse the magnitude of news that flashes before our eyes. So no, it is not alright to simply disregard the death of so many young men, whether they are criminals or not. It is not alright to stand aside and let a Minister, or in this case, an entire government brush aside responsibility.