Corruption Festers as Neoliberalism Takes Root in Brazil
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Michel Temer's ministers are dropping like flies: he's lost a total of six since taking office. The latest to go is Minster of Government Geddel Vieira Lima, one of his closest allies.

A demonstrator holds a banner with a drawing representing Brazil

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Four out of six stepped down for the same reason: corruption accusations swirled around them. Meanwhile, the former attorney general of Brazil said he believed the government of Michel Temer removed him from his post in order to sink the ongoing corruption probe.

And the sixth? He left because he couldn't stand the corruption surrounding him.

But wait, didn't Temer come to power because of corruption allegations against the government of Dilma Rousseff? 

You'd be forgiven if that's what you believed. It is becoming more obvious by the day that Temer was installed into power for precisely the opposite reason, to protect the corrupt.

Supporters of Rousseff said as much when right-wing politicians began conspiring against her. They've been proven right.

The latest scandal, however, may prove costly for the Temer government.

Culture Minister Marcelo Calero recently resigned because he claimed the minister of government, Geddel Vieira Lima, had pressured him to approve a property development.

Temer at first tried to protect Geddel but then Calero gave a statement to police that Temer also pressured him. Eventually, it became clear that keeping Geddel might prove too costly and he submitted his resignation in an effort to save Temer's government.

Temer played down the incident in an interview with Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, calling it a “minor episode.” But the departure of Geddel is a huge loss for Temer as the two were extraordinarily close allies. With his resignation, Temer also loses his point man in negotiations with Congress.

The whole Geddel episode serves to highlight the absurdity of the machinations of Brazilian politicians.

Geddel had purchased an apartment in a luxury oceanfront building but it needed approval by a culture ministry agency because it would be built in a historical preservation district, so he leaned on the culture minister and got the president to allegedly pressure him as well.

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In other words, Geddel wanted the government to act entirely out of concern for his personal interests.

This is the logic of a government that acts with impunity, one that shields the worst offenders in the name of fighting corruption.

And Geddel likely won't be the last of Temer's ministers to fall.

Brazil's political establishment is bracing for more turmoil as Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of the construction company at the center of the Petrobras corruption scandal, is set to finalize his leniency deal with prosecutors that could incriminate as many as 200 lawmakers.

Numerous figures in the Temer government, including the president himself, are likely to be pegged as having received millions in illegal campaign contributions. 

Another of Temer's key allies, Foreign Minister Jose Serra, is accused of receiving US$7.2 million, which was then deposited in a bank account in Switzerland and was used to help fund Serra's failed presidential campaign in 2010.

Temer himself has cause to worry. The Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported that Calero secretly recorded his conversations where Temer allegedly pressures him into approving the property development.

There are already calls for a congressional inquiry into Temer's role in the matter, and some are even calling for his impeachment.

With Temer's party, the PMDB, and its allies firmly in control of Congress, it is unlikely they will oust Temer but even if they did, his work is done.

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Brazil is close to institutionalizing 20 years of neoliberalism and austerity with the Congress set to approve a constitutional amendment freezing government spending.

Despite having consistently voted against that kind of program, it has been imposed on the Brazilian people thanks to a parliamentary coup.

Meanwhile, corruption continues to fester.

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