Brazil, the World’s Second-Largest
Black Nation, Has Been Taken Over
by an All White Male Cabinet
Here’s What’s at Stake for Its
"The 1988 Constitution states that the
quilombos — the settlements founded by
escaped formerly enslaved people — are
entitled to collective ownership and the
title to the land they have occupied for
generations. A reparations movement to
force the government to make good on
its constitutional promise has grown."
has the fifth-largest population and the sixth-largest economy in the
world. And if the nation’s new government of all white men has
its way, Black power will be erased. Brazil’s majority
African-descended population will be shut out of the process, losing
the socioeconomic and political gains they have made in recent years.
Nigeria, no other country has as many Black people as Brazil. And yet,
one would not know this solely by looking at the recently installed
cabinet. Although this is a story unto itself, it is only the
beginning of the story.
Brazil’s Senate voted to impeach leftist President Dilma Rousseff of
the Worker’s Party — who was imprisoned and tortured in 1970 under the
nation’s former military regime — it used charges of corruption as a
pretext, a smokescreen for what has been called a coup d’etat,
observers say. Rousseff is accused of manipulating the
government’s financial accounts and hiding a budget deficit for
political gain, as the BBC reported.
Vice President Michel Temer — who is of Lebanese descent and served as
a U.S. diplomatic informant, according to Wikileaks — has replaced
Rousseff and appointed a cabinet of 22 white men. Temer and six
of his new ministers also face corruption charges in connection with a
scandal at Petrobas, the state-owned oil company, according to The
“There is a
deep economic, political and institutional crisis,” said Marcelo J. P.
Paixão, Associate Professor, Department of African and African Diaspora
Studies at the University of Texas. “The situation in Brazil is
very confusing,” Paixão told Atlanta Black Star, noting that “strong
social conflict could be produced” as a result of recent changes in the
Brazilian government. He emphasizes that the new Temer alliance
represents interests that are opposed to affirmative action, and want
to reverse the gains made in the areas of racial and economic justice
by Brazilians of African descent. As the new president, Temer needed a
new coalition in order to seize power, Paixão said.
priorities of the new administration are clear, and Black people and
the poor are not among them. Michel has eliminated the Ministry of
Culture and the Ministry of Human Rights, Women’s Rights and Racial
“Yes, it is
telling that this new right-wing cabinet has no Afro-Brazilian or
female members. It marks a step backward in a country that has only
very recently started to pay some public attention to the issues of
inclusion and the disproportionately low representation of
Afro-Brazilians in universities, in government positions, and in the
middle and upper classes,” Hendrik Kraay, professor and head of the
Department of History at the University of Calgary, told Atlanta Black
concern than the perhaps symbolic matter of the cabinet’s composition
is the incorporation of the former Ministry of Women, Racial Equality,
Youth and Human Rights into the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship,
which signaled President Dilma Rousseff’s concern about these issues,”
teleSur reported, Jose Serra, the new foreign minister, seeks to close
17 embassies opened since 2003 in the Caribbean and Africa, purportedly
as a cost-saving measure.
Meanwhile, Black power and the gains made by Afro-Brazilians are at stake.
“African descendants are at risk in terms of affirmative action and the quilombo land,” said Paixão.
Constitution states that the quilombos — the settlements founded by
escaped formerly enslaved people — are entitled to collective ownership
and the title to the land they have occupied for generations. A
reparations movement to force the government to make good on its
constitutional promise has grown. Further, in 2012, President
Rousseff enacted a most sweeping affirmative action program known as
the Law of Social Quotas, or “Lei de Cotas Sociais,” which mandates
that public universities reserve half of their admissions spots to poor
public school students. The goal of the quota system is to
increase the number of Brazilian students of African descent from 8,700
to 56,000 in a decade.
addition, at a time of a severe economic recession, Temer intends to
cut government spending. Rousseff and others accuse the
neo-liberal government of targeting two social welfare programs for
budget cuts. These include Family Allowance — which gives money
to poor families — and the social housing scheme My House, My Life,
according to Time. The programs are credited with lifting one-fifth of
Brazil’s population — 40 million — out of poverty, as Barron’s reported.
Franca, a Brazilian journalist and activist living in São Paulo, the
new government represents a “worrying setback” — a backlash against
Black people, women, LGBT people, workers and indigenous people.
thing they did was [appoint] to the Ministry of Justice the former
Secretary Public Safety of São Paulo, Alexandre Moraes,” she told
Atlanta Black Star. Until two weeks ago, Franca noted, Moraes, a
supporter of police repression, was part of the military police that
kill Brazilian civilians and “has acted with ferocity against the high
school students, who are [waging] an important fight in São Paulo in
defense of public education.”
addition, Temer’s new minister of education is Mendonça Filho, whose
far-right-wing DEM party is, Franca said, “known to wage the fight
against the demands of the Black population, and one of the
organizations that made up our military dictatorship.”
in Brazil, and the Black-led movement that began in the U.S., is
resonating and taking hold in Brazil, a nation of rampant, race-based
police violence. According to Amnesty International, between 2010
and 2013, more than one of every six homicides in Rio de Janeiro was
committed by the police. Black anti-violence activists in Brazil
have responded to this reality through protest.
“The consequences for the struggle of the Brazilian Black movement are
many,” Franca said, as the element “who now rules the country is
against racial quotas, police demilitarization and demarcation of
quilombo land. They also believe in the need for mass incarceration as
the main outlet for public safety.”
The policy changes underway in Brazil — which underlie the optics of an
all-white cabinet — come as people had been encouraged to embrace their
Black racial identity.
“The Black and brown population is about 53 percent of the total
population, and whites are about 47 percent. It is a very interesting
movement because 10 or 15 years ago, the ratios were the opposite,”
“This was an orchestrated effort to turn the clock back,” said Bill
Fletcher Jr., former president of TransAfrica Forum, and Senior Scholar
with the Institute for Policy Studies. “The coup is a coup against the
workers the poor and Black folks. This is what this is against.
And it is illustrated in what the cabinet looks like, who is in the
cabinet, and the elimination of programs that targeted the poor and the
Black,” Fletcher told Atlanta Black Star.
He argued that what is taking place in Brazil today is a continuation of what occurred decades earlier.
“In the 1960s, Brazil embarked on a progressive direction, and the
progressive direction was undermined by a coup in 1964. Very
reactionary forces took over, and there was a high level at
repression,” Fletcher said. “And the U.S., in collaboration with
reactionary forces in Brazil, moved the coup. So the fight since then
has been to expand and restore democracy, which led to the Worker’s
Rights Party. The victory of Lula as president was the result of a
coalition — that coalition which also extended with Rousseff.
What we’ve been seeing ever since democracy has been restored is
reactionary forces chomping at the bit,” he added.
Brazilian social justice movements agree with Fletcher. In a
statement, the Landless Workers Movement condemned the impeachment of
Rousseff and installment of Temer as a “social backlash” that “intends
to apply a recessive and neo-liberal program” that was rejected by most
voters at the polls.
“This is an institutional and anti-democratic coup that disrespected
the will of 54 million voters and was orchestrated by the most
conservative sectors of society, particularly the neo-liberal business,
subservient to the interests of U.S. companies. A coup supported by a
permanent campaign of mass media…and by a selective action of the
sectors of the judiciary,” the group said. “Unable to live with
democracy and submit to the popular will, the elites withdrawn the
President without any evidence of crime, just so their project of
social cuts, unemployment and privatization is taken into place.”
“You have a country in denial about race. They have paraded
themselves as a democracy, which is bulls**t,” Fletcher offered. “What
developed is an Afro-Brazilian movement received legitimacy. There was
a recognition that the Afro-Brazilian question and issues of race had
to be addressed. The reactionaries in Brazil want to deny the
issue of race and pretend it is fine, and the leftists are trouble
“In the Lula-Rousseff era was an effort to openly talk about race and
acknowledge African descendants were speaking out and were present,”
Fletcher said. “The thing about it is there is not a lick of
evidence of corruption on her part. The thing that can’t be
debated is that past presidents did it and weren’t brought to trial.”
What does the future behold for Brazil?
“There are a number of potential outcomes, some more unnerving than
others,” Fletcher believes. “There could be a military coup because the
extent of the actual corruption in Brazil is significant. The right
wing is democratically more corrupt, and you have this issue of
corruption that is pissing people off. There could be a military coup
ostensibly to clean things up and return things to civilian rule,” he
posited. “There could be a breakdown that leads to one form or
another of civil war. It could be something like we see in Egypt,
with military operations and repression.”
Meanwhile, even in the midst of Brazil’s political turmoil and the
moves against racial inclusion, professor Kraay sees signs of progress.
“However, the public questioning of interim president Michel Temer’s
choice of cabinet members, the fact that many Brazilians have noticed
these absences, indicates that Brazil has changed in the last 15 or 20
years. It wasn’t too long ago that such absences would have gone mostly
unremarked,” he said.
David A. Love, JD - Serves
BlackCommentator.com as Executive Editor.
He is journalist and human rights advocate
based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to
theGrio, AtlantaBlackStar, The
Progressive Media Project,
McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
In These Times
and Philadelphia Independent Media Center.
He also blogs at davidalove.com,
Salon. He is the Immediate Past Executive Director of Witness to Innocence,
a national nonprofit organization that empowers exonerated death row
prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the
movement to abolish the death penalty. Contact Mr. Love and BC.
| is published every Thursday
David A. Love, JD
Nancy Littlefield, MBA