Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

The End of the Line

Written by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro

June 6, 2017 Folha de São Paulo

Published in Folha de São Paulo (em português), May 19, 2017

Just when we thought the endless crisis haunting the country had already reached overwhelming proportions, the revelations coming from the recordings made by the JBS meatpacking company JBS have caused tensions to rise to yet another level.

The direct participation of President Michel Temer in a conversation that suggests the payment of sum of money to buy the silence of Eduardo Cunha, the former Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, not only offers proof of obstruction of justice, but also confirms a picture of absolute decomposition of the coalition governing the country.

As a bonus, we also received news that one of the most eminent leaders of the government’s support base, Senator Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), solicited and received R$ 2 million in kind from executive Joesley Batista, owner of the JBS meatpacking company, to pay for his defense in the Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) investigations.

In the course of the investigations, Aécio has been suspended from his parliamentary activities by the Federal Supreme Court and has stepped down from the presidency of PSDB. The Federal Police also arrested the senator’s sister and one of his cousins.

The members of the pro-government coalition that acted as obliging pawns for the economic lobbies have completely lost their already weakened legitimacy. The crisis calls not only for Temer’s removal from the government, but also for the immediate convocation of elections for the executive branch.

The impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, orchestrated by Temer and Cunha in collaboration with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) and the PSDB and with funding from the economic elites, now reveals its costly consequences.

The implosion of the tenuous balance struck between progressive forces and the most retrograde – and often criminal – sectors in the legislative branch severely affected democracy and the rule of law in Brazil.

The aggravation of conflicts between farmers and indigenous people in the last few days indicates that the federal government is, at the very least, willing to accept violence, pure and simple, in silence.

In the cities, the police attack nonviolent demonstrators with pepper gas and rubber bullets. The black residents of Brazil’s metropolitan peripheries live under a de facto apartheid, secured by the repressive forces.

It is now clearer than ever that the labor and pension reform proposals – which were constructed without the participation of the civil society, within cabinet meetings protected by security agents, and orchestrated only by congressmen and businessmen – need to stop.

The accelerated dismantlement of the 1988 Constitution’s achievements and of human rights policies must be interrupted.

In this tragic and unique moment in the history of the republic, it is imperative to construct an alliance that rises above the minor divergences between the democratic forces capable of sustaining the precarious journey towards governmental legitimacy. To begin with, we need to make direct elections viable. There is no time to lose.

It is intolerable for us to accept a government committed to corruption in order to avoid economic shocks. It is grotesque to imagine that any reforms, miraculous as they may seem, will be sustainable when conducted by a group in power that has its back turned to humanity and acts against the law.

The damage caused to the institutional structures and to the rule of law must be stopped. We have reached the end of the line.

Translated by Gabriela Naibeborin, Brown ’19


Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro has been a Visiting Scholar at the Watson Institute. He was Secretary of Human Rights during the Presidency of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. He is currently the Chair of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.