Brazil is in crisis. And once again, the poorest will bear the burdenPor Mauro Menezes & Advogados - Assessoria de Imprensa ∙ 05 de dezembro de 2016
Em artigo publicado no The Guardian, a advogada Mariana Prandini Assis, do Conselho Jurídico Administrativo do Roberto Caldas, Mauro Menezes & Advogados, aborda os efeitos da Proposta de Emenda Constitucional 55 (PEC 55), que limita drasticamente os gastos públicos por duas décadas. Um dos principais instrumentos de justiça social do país, os gastos com educação e saúde, está em jogo. E os pobres serão os mais afetados.
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Mariana Prandini Assis*
President Michel Temer is aiming to enshrine 20 years of austerity in the constitution. It amounts to a coup against the poor – and against democracy itself
Poor Brazilians have long counted on a thin welfare state for basic human rights, such as healthcare, education and social security; but this reality may soon drastically change. Brazil’s unelected president, Michel Temer, is seeking to amend the constitution to impose unprecedented austerity measures for the next two decades, effectively disenfranchising ordinary Brazilians, and especially the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
Temer, formerly Dilma Rousseff’s ally and vice president, came to power in August as Rousseff was ousted from office in a highly controversial impeachment procedure many have called a parliamentary coup. The country he has taken charge of is facing a serious economic crisis similar to that confronting many of Brazil’s neighbours; his answer for a stagnant economy is to freeze the federal budget for decades through a constitutional amendment.
PEC 55, as the amendment is known in Brazil, establishes that for the next 20 years, growth in annual public spending will be limited to the previous year’s inflation rate, thereby freezing, in real terms, federal expenditures until 2037 at 2016 levels.
While some countries, such as Germany and the UK, have in the past resorted to expenditure rules as a mechanism to curb fiscal deficit, none of them did so through a constitutional amendment or for such an extended duration. In all other cases, fiscal rules were enshrined in law or in a coalition agreement, leaving enough flexibility for future changes that will be nearly impossible in the Brazilian case; here, it will take a drastic modification of the constitutional framework for the amendment to be overturned.
PEC 55 not only means that public spending on education, healthcare and social assistance will remain constant for years as the population grows and ages, but also that various interest groups will be fighting over the meagre money left over. Quite predictably, during this arm-wrestling match, the more powerful actors, such as the judiciary and military, will be able to secure funding at the expense of public universities and the health system.
What is more, this amendment is fundamentally antidemocratic. The scandal-ridden Temer was not elected to office, and the austere economic agenda he seeks to implement never received a mandate from the people. As it is structured, PEC 55 is an open attack on the voting rights of the poor: no matter who they elect in the next two decades, they will have to endure under an unalterable austerity policy. It’s a case of deja vu: the new regime is making the poor pay, again, for a bill they neither participated in creating, nor will benefit from. It’s an emblematic issue in one of the most unequal countries in the world, where 25% of the country’s total income goes to the top 1%.
Moreover, even IMF economists agree that austerity policies do more harm than good. According to the UN economic commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, reduction of external demand for primary products coupled with deceleration of the local economies that consequently received reduced investment and consumption, are the major factors underlying the South American crisis. Temer’s economic team justifies the proposed new fiscal regime by claiming that the growth of primary public spending is at the heart of the country’s current economic crisis. This is a false argument. The real root of our fiscal problems lies in a highly unequal tax system, one that does not tax the rich proportionally and gives exemptions to the business sector, particularly on dividends for shareholders.
As the amendment process moves ahead, the authoritarian political agenda behind the proposed rolling-back of public spending is ever more apparent. PEC 55 has already made its way through the chamber of deputies without any opposition and was approved on Tuesday in the first round, by the senate. At least 50,000 protesters – among them students, teachers, indigenous people, landless and homeless movements, retired people and union leaders, from all around the country – congregated at the ministry-lined central esplanade of Brasília in an attempt to bar the voting. They were met with teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, leaving at least 40 people injured and many more detained. While the legislative process has thus far been alarmingly expedient and without much substantial deliberation, the warlike scene outside parliament last night provided a glimpse of the tremendous impact of this counter-reform on Brazil’s already weakened democracy.
With this move, Temer is fulfilling the promise he made after replacing Rousseff – namely, to implement severe cuts on social programmes and propel an extensive privatisation plan. If there was no coup against Rousseff, as some still insist, it is now hard to deny the ongoing coup against the poor, and, indeed, against democracy itself.
*Advogada com atuação na área de Direito Internacional e Direitos Humanos, atualmente integrante do Conselho Jurídico Administrativo do escritório Roberto Caldas, Mauro Menezes & Advogados.