Brazilian Film 'Aquarius' Latest Casualty of Political Crisis

The director and cast of the highly-celebrated film "Aquarius" protested the "coup" against Dilma Rousseff while representing Brazil at Cannes.

The country’s embattled Oscar’s selection committee nominated David Schurmann’s “Little Secret” as Brazil's offering for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in February 2017. At least two films dropped out of the running for the prized spot in protest of the appointment of film critic Marcus Petrucelli to the selection team.

Petrucelli has publicly criticized Aquarius director Kleber Mendonca for his denunciation of Brazil's unelected President, Michel Temer, who was part of the cabal of conservative politicians who spearheaded the removal of the twice-elected Rousseff.

In social media posts, Petrucelli previously accused Mendonca of embarrasing Brazil at the Cannes Film Festival. Mendonca and the cast of Aquarius had staged a protest on the red carpet at Cannes in May just days after Rousseff's was suspended from office on allegations of corruption. She would subsequently be impeached on Aug. 31. Cast members held up signs with messages such as “Brazil is experiencing a coup d’etat.”

Onlookers at Cannes responded to the protest with applause, while Petrucelli dubbed the claim of a coup a “lie.”

OPINION: A Flimflam Impeachment: The Overthrow of Dilma Rousseff

Schurmann, director of the Oscar submission “Little Secret”, told Variety that Brazil’s Oscar selection process fell victim to the country’s political climate, which elevated pressures to single out a film with “a political angle and agenda,” which may not necessarily the best film.

Previously, Mendonca told Variety that there was a great deal of speculation that “Aquarius” would be “sabotaged by the illegitimate government.”

“Aquarius” tells the story of an aging music critic, played by Sonia Braga, who resists pressure from a bullying property developer to sell her apartment with a stubborn and humorous air that spikes tension through the course of the film.

Ccritics have described the film as a metaphor for some of Brazil’s deep-seated problems, such as corruption.

Though pushed out of the Best Foreign Language Film category, “Aquarius” could still have a shot at making it to the Oscar’s with Sonia Braga as a nominee for best actress in a leading role after her performance was highly celebrated at Cannes.

The controversy over the Oscar’s selection comes less than two weeks after the vote in the Senate to definitively remove Rousseff from office and install Michel Temer as unelected president.

One of the first contentious moves by Temer’s interrim government was to axe the Ministry of Culture, folding it into the Ministry of Education for the first time since the offices were separated in 1985 after the fall of the dictatorship.

  • Published in Culture

Brazil Coup Plotter Eduardo Cunha Impeached in Lower House

Lawmakers approved a June congressional ethics committee recommendation in favor of impeaching Cunha.

Former president of the chamber of deputies and mastermind of President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment, Eduardo Cunha, lost his seat in the lower house Monday night that had so far given him immunity against judicial proceedings over corruption charges.

IN DEPTH: The Coup That Ousted Brazilian Democracy

Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of his removal with 450 votes for impeachment, nine abstentions and 10 votes against, when the approval required only 257 deputies, with a minimum of 420 attending the vote.

At the end of the vote, Cunha left the assembly surrounded with guards while opposition representatives chanted "Cunha Out!"

Cunha has been investigated for lying about hiding over US$5 million in laundered money in secret Swiss bank accounts. He denied having money offshore, but accounts tied to him were repeatedly confirmed by Swiss officials.

According to surveys issued Monday, on the day of the vote by local media, at least 298 deputies—out of a total of 513—declared they would vote in favor of his impeachment. Only four said they would vote to absolve him, 183 said they would abstain and 26 said they would not attend the session.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on a June congressional ethics committee recommendation in favor of impeaching Cunha.

In May, he was suspended from his position as head of the lower house by the Brazilian Supreme Court over accusations of intimidating lawmakers and hampering investigations, one month after the lower chamber voted in favor of Rousseff's impeachment. He faces an eight-year ban from elected office.

Cunha is notorious for using stalling tactics as the issue of his suspension stood before the council of ethics for months after having been initiated in October, making it the longest process in the history of the council.

RELATED: Brazil Coup Plotter Eduardo Cunha Hosts Lavish Goodbye Barbecue

Supporters of the Rousseff said Cunha initiated impeachment proceedings against Rousseff as payback after members of her party voted to look into corruption allegations against him.

Rousseff has said that despite the fact that Michel Temer is the acting president, Cunha is really the person in charge in Brasilia, the federal capital. Both Cunha and Temer are members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party.

Cunha was a key architect in painting the impeachment process as a campaign to root out government corruption, despite himself facing multimillion dollar bribery and fraud charges.

  • Published in World

Declaration of the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba

The Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba strongly rejects the parliamentary and judicial coup d’état perpetrated against President Dilma Rousseff.

The Government’s estrangement from the President, without presenting any evidence of corruption or crimes of responsibility against her, as well as from the Workers’ Party (PT) and other left-wing allied political forces, is an act of defiance against the sovereign will of the people who voted for her.

The governments headed by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff implemented a socio-economic model that made it possible for Brazil to take a step forward in areas such as production growth with social inclusion, the creation of jobs, the fight against poverty, the eradication of extreme poverty among more than 35 million Brazilians who used to live in inhumane conditions and income increase for another 40 million; the expansion of opportunities in the areas of education and health for the people, including those sectors who had been previously marginalized.çDuring this period, Brazil has been an active promoter of Latin American and Caribbean integration.  The defeat of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), the celebration of the Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development (CALC) which led to the creation of CELAC and foundation of UNASUR are transcendental events in the recent history of the region which show the leading role played by that country.

Likewise, Brazil’s approach to the Third World nations, particularly Africa; its active membership in the BRICS Group (made up by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa); and its performance at the United Nations Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); and the World Trade Organization, among others, are an acknowledgement of its international leadership.

Equally praiseworthy has been Brazil’s performance under the Workers’ Party governments in crucial international issues for the defense of peace, development, the environment and the programs against hunger.

The efforts made by Lula and Dilma to reform the political system and organize the funding of parties and their campaigns as well as in support of the investigations started against corruption and the independence of the institutions responsible for such investigations are too well known.

The forces that are currently exercising power have announced the privatization of deep water oil reserves and social programs curtailments. Likewise, they are proclaiming a foreign policy focused on the relations with the big international centers of power. Quite a few among those who are impeaching the President are currently under investigation for acts of corruption.

What happened in Brazil is another expression of the offensive of imperialism and the oligarchy against the revolutionary and progressive governments of Latin America and the Caribbean which threatens peace and stability of nations and is contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed at the Second CELAC Summit in January, 2014, in Havana by the Heads of State and Government of the region.

Cuba reiterates its solidarity with President Dilma and comrade Lula as well as with the Worker’s Party, and is confident that the Brazilian people will defend the social achievements that have been attained and will resolutely oppose the neoliberal policies that others may try to impose on them and the plundering of its natural resources.

Havana, August 31, 2016.

  • Published in Now

Majority of Senate That Impeached Rousseff Under Investigation

49 of 81 Brazilian senators who ousted the president for corruption charges are themselves the targets of criminal inquiries. 

More than half of the Senate voting to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Wednesday are themselves facing legal proceedings on charges of corruption.

RELATED: Dilma Warns of Democracy's Death in Impeachment Testimony

According to news reports and official sources, 49 of Brazil's 81 senators face crimes ranging from money laundering to illicit enrichment and electoral fraud.

By a margin of 61 to 20, the Senate voted Wednesday to remove the twice-elected Rousseff from office for doctoring the federal budget to influence voters in her successful 2014 election campaign. The contentious impeachment hearings had to be postponed following several altercations between senators, who each have accused each other of corruption and even drug use.

Rousseff is not accused of corruption or embezzlement. Instead, she was forced to step down over allegations that she cooked the federal budget books in the runup to her 2014 reelection to hide a government shortfall and woo voters. However, a June Senate report proved the allegations were false.

Conservative senators are trying to prove that she committed a “crime of responsibility,” the only charge for which a president can be impeached, but the president’s defenders consider that the predominantly opposition-held senate has no moral authority to judge her.

Many of the 81 senators have already spoke, most of them against Rousseff. The trial was resumed on Wednesday morning for the final vote on removing her.

IN DEPTH: The Coup That Ousted Brazilian Democracy

Testifying in her own defense, Rousseff recalled how she had endured torture as a dissident fighting the military dictatorship to articulate her belief in democracy. She had committed no impeachable offenses, she said, and urged the Senate to uphold their constitutional duty and vote against her impeachment.

She will be replaced by the interim President Michel Temer, who led the parliamentary coup and will continue to govern until 2018, despite his broad unpopularity with the electorate and pending corruption charges of his own.

  • Published in World

Temer to Push Privatization, Cut Social Spending in Brazil, Warns ITUC

Michel Temer has proposed several proposals that would cut federal spending in education, health and other social programmes.

The interim government of President Michel Temer is in the process of introducing sweeping privatization proposals and cuts in education health and other social programs, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) warned on Friday.  

The ITUC cited a constitutional amendment, known as PEC 241, which is currently under review by Brazilian lawmakers that aims to eliminate constitutional clauses guaranteeing minimum federal spending in the area of health and education.

RELATED: Booed at Olympics, Temer Still Thinks Govt Is 'Extraordinary'

“Determined to oust President Dilma, her opponents have already introduced a bill in Congress for a 20-year austerity program, which will have catastrophic consequences for the poorest in particular and which will cause lasting damage to the economy,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary

The Brazilian constitution currently stipulates that in 2016 a minimum of 13.7 percent of the country’s total federal tax budget be allocated towards health services, with 18 percent going towards education. 

If approved, PEC 241 would limit government expenditures over the next two decades so that it is reduced in proportion to country’s GDP, which critics argue would translate into a tremendous sacrifice for the poor in exchange for a reduction in public debt.

RELATED: Brazil Coup and Political Crisis: How Did We Get Here?

“An offensive against workers’ rights is just around the corner, along with cuts to crucial social spending, handing over of key energy assets to corporations and privatization of other state assets,” Burrow stated. 

In recent weeks Brazil’s largest labor unions have take to the streets in major cities across the country to demand more jobs and stronger workers’ protections as conservative legislators prepare to reverse 20 years of positive gains in the labor sector. 

  • Published in World

Brazil Coup and Political Crisis: How Did We Get Here?

Dilma Rousseff's 2014 re-election marked the fourth consecutive victory for the PT, a fact that did not sit well with the country's right-wing politicians.

Accused of mishandling the nation's fiscal budget, the Senate began the process against President Dilma Rousseff in December 2015.

But Brazil's political crisis dates back to 2014 when Rousseff was reelected as president for the second time in October 2014 amid a recession, with high inflation and unemployment rising in the country.

At the same time, the biggest corruption scandal in Brazilian history, "Operation Car Wash," shook the Brazilian political elite including members of both parties in the ruling coalition, the Workers’ Party (PT) and Michel Temer's Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).

Despite no proof existing that Rousseff had any role in the Petrobras scandal, during her first year reelected in office this confluence of factors saw Rousseff's approval rating take a nosedive as millions held anti-corruption protests across the country.

Brazil’s right-wing seized the moment, launching a campaign to implicate high-profile members of the PT—including Dilma and Lula—in the graft.

And they had good reason. Under successive PT government’s wealth in Brazil was widely redistributed as social programs were implemented to help the nation’s poor. 

Public spending on education grew from US$17 billion in 2002 to US$94 billion in 2013, a rise from 10.4 percent of total government expenditure in 2004 to 15.6 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, spending on health grew from US$28 billion in 2002 to US$106 billion in 2013, increasing from 7.0 percent of GDP in 2004 to 9.7 percent in 2013.

In fact poverty fell from 35.8 percent in 2003 to 15.7 percent in 2013, whereas extreme poverty fell from 11.5 percent in 2003 to 4.5 percent in 2013.

These programs were funded in part through taxation on the wealthy and a redistribution of wealth to the poorer sections of Brazilian society.

Coup Leader Cunha 

One of the most high-profile figures implicated in Operation Car Wash is Eduardo Cunha, the former Speaker of Brazil’s Lower House whom media have billed as the “arch-nemesis” of Rousseff.   

The evangelical Christian was a key architect in propelling the impeachment process against President Rousseff forward, so much so that he is often referred to as the “coup leader.”

“They can say what they like: Eduardo Cunha is the central person of the Temer government,” Rousseff said in the interview published by Folha in May. “Cunha not only commands, he is the Temer government.”

Cunha and pro-impeachment supporters accuse Dilma of manipulating the national budget prior to her 2014 reelection in order to conceal a government shortfall. An investigation by the Federal Prosecutor's office in July concluded that Rousseff did not violate any fiscal laws. 

In another twist, Cunha was himself forced to step down from his position as house speaker in July after he was suspended amid corruption and perjury allegations.

He has been accused of hampering investigations, intimidating lawmakers, currency dealing and has even been implicated in the Panama Papers for receiving bribes of US$5 million linked to offshore companies involved in the country’s Petrobras scandal.

The Left's Response

In December 2015, Rousseff denounced Cunha's move against her as an attempted coup. “For the sake of the health of our democracy, we must defend it against this coup,” she said.

Government supporters allege the efforts to oust Rousseff via impeachment is a thinly-veiled attempt to overturn the results of the 2014 presidential election, where the suspended president defeated her right-wing rival in the second round.

Leftist movements, even those critical of some of the more conservative policies of the PT, quickly pledged to defend the Rousseff government and the country's democracy through street mobilizations. The president of the Workers Party, Rui Falcao, said the party was now entering into a period of “permanent mobilization.”

The Latin American left has expressed strong support for the democratically elected Rousseff. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recalled his ambassador to Brazil the day after the decision to suspend Rousseff, calling the attempted coup a “painful page” in the country’s history.

Similarly, Bolivia rejected the Brazilian Senate’s decision to suspend Dilma, calling the process a “legal and political farce."

Cuba released a statement condemning the impeachment bid against Rousseff as a move by the country’s oligarchy to “overthrow the legitimate government and seize the power that they could not win with an electoral vote."

Nicaragua, Chile and Uruguay were just some of the other nations who released statements expessing concern over the coup.

What's at Stake      

The final stage of Brazil's impeachment process is set to begin on August 25 and the stakes are high.

The cabinet of the new Senate-imposed President Michel Temer, who will succeed Rousseff should the latter be impeached, is the first Brazilian cabinet since 1979 without any women. It is also composed exclusively of white men, no one who identifies as gay, lesbian or transgender, nor anybody representing social movements or minority groups.

As for Temer himself, he immediately reduced the size of the cabinet to 22 ministries, completely eliminating the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of Racial Equality and the Ministry of Human Rights, among others.

Among the new, coup ministers include Alexandre de Moraes, who served as secretary for security in Sao Paulo for the right-wing government of the state, where he was responsible for a series of brutal crackdowns on protesters.

Furthermore, O Estado de S. Paulo said de Moraes served as a lawyer for Transcooper, a company accused of running a money laundering operation on behalf of PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital), the largest criminal organization in Brazil.

Of the 80 members of Senate who voted to impeach Rousseff, 60 percent have cases against them for bribery, money laundering and other crimes. Five face criminal charges and 24 have been placed under investigation by the Supreme Court.

As for Temer himself, last year his PMDB party launched a new economic plan which the Financial Times described as a “new liberal economic policy platform… that represents a radical break with the left-leaning program of Dilma Rousseff.”

The FT added it was “like a wishlist for markets and investors with proposals to liberalize industrial relations and reform pensions and government spending.”

An economist who helped draft the Bridge to the Future told Reuters in March that the PMDB are “considering former central bankers Henrique Meirelles and Arminio Fraga, both widely respected on Wall Street, to lead the future economic team as finance minister.”

What this is likely to result in is the further targeting of social programs introduced by the PT, including “Minha casa, minha vida” (My home, my life), which was launched in March 2009 and contributed to over 2.6 million homes being handed over to low income families.

  • Published in World

Suspended President Dilma Rousseff Lashes Out at Elite's Practices in Brazil

Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff lashed out at what she termed the practices of her country's elites and said citizens want a "profound transformation" of Brazil's political system.

Rousseff called on the senators responsible for giving the final vote on the impeachment case against her to be just.

"I have no secret bank accounts abroad, never stole a penny of public patrimony, and I didn’t receive bribes from anyone,” argued the suspended president in a letter. She calls the process of impeachment “fragile, legally inconsistent, unfair and unleashed against an honest and innocent person."

The Brazilian Senate begins the final phase of the impeachment process against Rousseff on August 26, a process that is expected to last several days and will conclude with either her permanent dismissal or her being reinstated as president.

If the committee rules that Rousseff is guilty, interim President Michel Temer will continue in power. If acquitted, Temer will return to the vice presidency, a scenario analysts believe would lead to his resignation.

Rousseff also said that if she is absolved from the impeachment process against her, she will promote a referendum so Brazilians can decide whether they want a new general election.

The next general election in Brazil is scheduled for 2019, but during the announcement at a press conference at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Rousseff said she would commit to organizing new elections.

  • Published in World

Brazil: Thousands Demand 'Out Temer, the People Should Decide'

Social movements took to the streets to demand respect for democracy in Brazil and the resignation of the coup government.

Just days before the Olympic Games begin, thousands of members of various Brazilian social movements took to the streets against coup-imposed President Michel Temer and the impeachment process against democratically-elected President Dilma Rousseff.

RELATED: Brazil's Temer Says He Expects to be Booed During Olympics

Under the slogan of "Out Temer, the people should decide," the nationwide protests took place in 24 states to demand the resignation of Temer. The protests were called by the leftist grassroots organization People’s Fearless Front, which called on other activists, leftist movements and progressive organizations to join its protests.

Thousands of people dressed in red from at least 30 different progressive and leftist organization took to the streets of Sao Paulo in support of Rousseff and to demand new elections.

"It is true that the PT (Workers' Party) is not at its best, in every part there is corruption, but the Temer government is even worse," Eunice Mariano told AFP at the protests.

He added that he considered the interim government illegitimate and accuses Temer of wanting to implement repression and to roll back Rousseff’s progressive policies. "We are already seeing how we are losing our rights."

Suspended from office on May 12, Rousseff was replaced – on an interim basis – by her vice president, Temer. If Rousseff is successfully ousted, he would finish out her mandate, which runs until the end of 2018.

Meanwhile anti-Rousseff protests also took place demanding her ouster and impeachment, which the country’s senate is expected to rule on in late August or early September. A two-thirds majority vote by the Senate would remove her from office.

RELATED: Dilma Rouseff Won't Attend the Olympics Opening Ceremony

Other protests will be held during the inauguration of the Olympics, which will take place in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on August 5. Organizations will also march on August 9, which is when the final vote of the impeachment process against Rousseff could take place.

According to the president of the PT, Rui Falcão, the coup government has set out to destroy the achievements and social gains that occurred under the administrations of Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva before her.

For example, new Health Minister Ricardo Barros has said that access to public health should not be universal while announcing planned cuts to the social security system. Meanwhile, Education Minister Mendonça Filho has announced he will privatize all public universities and charge a monthly fee to students.

Minister of Labor Ronaldo Nogueira has also expressed support for flexible labor laws and announced plans to implement a project in which companies can outsource their services, leaving workers without protection.

  • Published in World
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