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  • A demonstrator holds a Brazilian national flag during a protest turned violent, in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

    A demonstrator holds a Brazilian national flag during a protest turned violent, in downtown Rio de Janeiro. | Photo: AFP

Published 13 May 2017

Austerity, low approval ratings and mass protests mark unelected Brazilian President Michel Temer's administration.

One year after the parliamentary coup that ousted former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a senator has proposed to remember that date as the "Day of Infamy." The proposal comes amid declining approval ratings for the incumbent right-wing government.

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"The impeachment vote in the Senate, I remember it as the day of infamy — they ripped the Constitution and promoted an attack on democracy," said Fatima Bezerra, from the Workers Party, or PT in its Portuguese abbreviation, during an interview with Sputnik.

On May 2016, the democratically-elected president was ousted without any proof of wrongdoing. Michel Temer, who then served as vice president, was placed as interim president. On August 31, Rousseff was formally removed from office.

Temer has acknowledged that the former head of the lower chamber, Eduardo Cunha, began the impeachment trial because Rousseff's party, the PT, began a process to investigate him over corruption charges. Following this, Cunha was given a 15-year sentence on corruption charges involving the state oil company Petrobras.

Lawmakers called the impeachment "the greatest farce in recent history" after 55 senators voted in favor and only 22 voted against it. Votes were held to determine whether Rousseff should be removed from office for allegedly covering up a budget deficit, which opponents deemed a "crime of responsibility."

Since then, the government of Temer has faced constant criticism for its neoliberal policies and revanchist acts against social organizations. As soon as he took office, he announced his cabinet, which was entirely composed of older white men. He also removed all women and Black people from top government positions.

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Temer and several of his main allies, including eight ministers, are under investigation for fraud and corruption connected to the country's largest political scandal involving Petrobras and construction company Odebrecht.

He proposed and achieved the approval of a constitutional reform called PEC 241, and later PEC 55, intended to freeze public investments for 20 years, including key sectors such as health and education. The same 61 senators who voted in favor of the coup supported Temer's project.

Temer's government also reduced the minimum number of doctors for each emergency care unit from four to two. It suspended the national literacy program created by former President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva. It also abolished a national program against hunger that benefitted impoverished areas.

Other areas that saw budget cuts were women's advancement, agrarian reform, mitigation of the effects of climate change, children's and adolescents' rights and Indigenous rights.

Meanwhile, the government announced a hike in the country's military budget by 36 percent, which hit nearly $US3.1 billion.

"Brazil is still suffering from this parliamentary coup. We have a government without legitimacy that nobody voted for and that also brings an agenda of withdrawal of rights," said Bezerra.

The current president also closed the Bureau of Racial Equality, the Secretariat of Human Rights, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agrarian Development and closed the Ministry of Social Security, which was incorporated into the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Culture was closed but later reinstated after nationwide protests.

Temer placed a supporter of the coup government in the Amnesty Commission to prosecute crimes. He also delivered a speech on Woman's Day that was criticized as "sexist" and "misogynist" by social organizations.

35 Million-Strong Stike Against
Temer’s Neoliberal Reforms Brings Brazil to a Halt

The government also ordered to close Brazilian embassies in Africa and the Caribbean region and decided to privatize the country's offshore pre-salt assets and allow multinationals to own exploration rights in the country.

Temer's government also saw one of the country's worst prison crises, as more than 130 people have been killed inside jails this year alone. These deaths are largely attributed to prison riots protesting overcrowding.

Currently, the Senate is discussing a new unpopular reform that sets a minimum age of retirement at 65 years, reduces death pension benefits, raises social security contributions by civil servants and could end labor rights in the countryside, allowing practices considered by the penal code as equal to slavery. Under Temer, for the first time in 15 years, Brazil didn't have a real increase in the minimum wage for workers.

"Brazil is going downhill, we have to end this government and bring democracy back," said the senator.

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