In the name of "fiscal responsibility," the coup government of Michel Temer in Brazil has set out on a deliberate campaign to dismantle much of the programs and services established during the years that the Workers' Party was in power that benefitted the working class and the Black communities in the country.
The most visible example is the constitutional proposal known as PEC55, which will limit the growth of government spending for each year to the inflation rates of the previous year, meaning it will no longer be dictated by GDP revenue growth. This will effectively translate into a cap on public spending in key social areas for twenty years.
The country continues to be a deeply unequal society that is divided along socio-economic lines, often overlapping with race.
Brazil received ten times as many slaves as the U.S. and is home to the largest Black population in the world outside of Africa.
The intersection between class and race is undeniable. That means any effort to undercut programs and services aimed at the poor and working class will invariably have a disproportional impact on the country's Black population.
João Feres Júnior, a professor of political science at the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos who has done extensive research on affirmative action in Brazil, told teleSUR that Brazil's low-income and Black population is set to suffer the worst under the Temer government's assault on social programs.
“The non-white population tends to be poorer than the white population so if you cut something like social services and policies for the poor in general you will affect more non-white people than white people,” said João Feres.
“The Brazilian poor depend a lot on public policies, social services … low income people in Brazil rely much more on public services than the middle class.”
Though the parliamentary coup that installed Temer in power has been met with regular protests from a wide strata of Brazilian society, the regime has been able to thus far consolidate its power.
Regional elections held shortly after former President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party was ousted actually appeared to signal a shift to the right.
According to Feres, this is because the impact of the regime's cuts has yet to be truly felt.
“The dismantling of the Brazilian welfare state that has been conducted by the current government will take some time to be felt by the poorest strata of Brazilian society,” Feres told teleSUR.
Those elections were also seen as a broader renunciation of voter frustration with two consecutive years of recession and the giant kickback scandal that has led to the arrest of dozens of political and corporate leaders.
Feres, who also analyzes the role of the media in Brazil, argues that in their drive to harm the Workers' Party, private media outlets have maligned people's perceptions of politics as a whole.
“Media has contributed to deteriorating the image of institutional politics, of political representation before the public eye, they have reduced everything to corruption scandals, to the issue of corruption, people are skeptical about politics in general,” said Feres.
He adds that the media has been “very supportive” of the Temer regime, which has helped them in their quest to consolidate power. He further argues that the bombardment from the media makes it difficult for people see past the idea that the media is trying to construct.
Feres nonetheless remains optimistic.
“Brazilian democracy was pretty vibrant, I don't think this coup will destroy the whole fabric of democracy that has been created over the years,” he told teleSUR.
“I don't think Brazil will become this highly conservative country unless they can destroy the democratic system as a whole.”
That is unlikely as resistance to the Temer regime is persistent and likely to grow as the impact of the government's cuts begins to be felt.
The opponents of the Workers' Party governments often argued that the reason the leftist party was reelected in four consecutive elections was because of clientelism, that the poor vote for the Workers Party only because they stand to gain from wealth distribution programs.
This shows the tremendous contempt they hold toward this segment of Brazilian society. But those in power now — mostly white men — do not represent Brazilian society, which is predominantly non-white.
Brazil's poor, working class, mestizo and Black populations are unlikely to sit idly by while a white elite tries to dismantle the very programs and services that have served to uplift so many.