Brazil’s coup government aims to complete Rousseff’s removal, targets environmental regulations

This week, the drama of the attempted removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will reach its most dramatic stage. The Senate is now debating whether to permanently remove Rousseff from power. A vote is expected mid-week. Opponents of her removal, including labor unions, the Movement of People without Land (MST), and the left, are congregating in Brasilia, the national capital, and in state capitals starting on Monday August 29. On that day, Rousseff herself addresses the Senate.

A vote will be taken shortly thereafter, perhaps as early as Wednesday August 31. To remove Rousseff and permanently replace her with the right-wing Acting President, Michel Temer, requires a vote of 54 of the 81 senators; 48 have confirmed that they will be voting for her removal.

What will be the implications for Brazilian society if the right wing triumphs and Rousseff is removed?

What if they succeed in ousting Dilma?

The main force within the Brazilian congress which has been working for her ouster is often referred to as the BBB group. “BBB” stands for “Bala, Biblia e Boi” – “Bullet, Bible and Ox.” The “Bullet” refers to legislators who are tough on law and order themes but also big supporters of gun ownership. The “Bible” part refers to a large right-wing Evangelical Christian presence that is particularly down on advances in fields such as women’s right to choose and LGBT rights. And the “ox,” or “cattle,” part refers to the disproportionate number of legislators and members of Temer’s government who are connected to large agribusiness concerns.

To please both national and transnational investors, the Temer government is announcing efforts to change key aspects of the country’s constitution and laws seen as too friendly to the interests of the working class and the poor, and thus inimical to big business.

Out will go the constitutional requirement that a specific portion of the national budget each year must be dedicated to schools and health services; implying plans to cut both. On the chopping block also are laws determining workers’ rights. If the Temer crowd get their way, labor rights would largely be a matter of collective bargaining agreements between workers and employers rather than a matter of law and regulation. Brazilian unions are up in arms about these proposed changes and are totally opposed to the removal of Rousseff. In this, they are receiving much international labor support, including from U.S. unions and the AFL-CIO.

Many innovative government programs that have pulled millions of Brazilians out of poverty over the past 13 years are scheduled for sharp budget cuts, elimination, or privatization. Environmental protections and the rights of Brazil’s indigenous population are also targeted for gutting by two proposed constitutional amendments.

Temer’s government ramps up environmental danger

Brazil’s policies since the election of the Workers’ Party President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2002 have mixed developmentalism with the expansion of the people’s rights and the improvement of living standards, especially of the poor. This means that while some environmental protections have been improved, major infrastructural projects such as dams and highways have also gone ahead. Lula’s and Rousseff’s governments have been criticized by environmentalists because of the developmentalist aspect. But what the Temer administration proposes represents a far greater danger to the environment than anything that happened under Lula and Rousseff.

Interim President Temer’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, and Supply is Blairo Maggi. He has a billion-dollar fortune which is the result of the fact that he is the biggest soybean agribusiness tycoon not only in Brazil, but in the world. His soybean operations have done so much environmental damage, especially in forest clearances, that Greenpeace awarded him the “Golden Chainsaw” award in 2005 for environmental destructiveness. He is promoting a constitutional amendment, PEC 65, which if approved will “simplify” the process of getting approval for possibly environmentally-damaging infrastructure projects.

Currently, companies contracting to construct dams, highways, and other infrastructure have to do environmental impact studies and reports in three stages: First, at the inception, then at the installation phase, and finally at the phase of starting operations. PEC 65 would eliminate the second two phases. In other words, once an initial approval was given, there would be no way to stop its implementation, not even with a court order, even if it turned out that the impact study was seriously erroneous.

Brazilian environmental official Sandra Cureau points out that “In the way it is phrased, the judicial power could not issue an injunction no matter how badly the [initial environmental impact] study was done or how damaging it was for the environment, for the traditional populations and communities [i.e. indigenous communities], [a court] could not issue an injunction to suspend [a project, or] carry out deeper studies, because the constitutional amendment would not allow this.”

Alarm at the potential danger of constitutional amendment PEC 65 was expressed by Brazilian and international environmentalists, including Philip Fearnside of Brazil’s National Institute for Amazon Research. Fearnside, in an article in Science magazine (summary here), writes, “A spokesperson for the nongovernmental Brazilian Institute of Environmental Protection compared PEC 65 with allowing a student who passes the entry exam for an undergraduate medical program to immediately begin performing surgery.” Fearnside points out that under the cover of the uproar surrounding the Rousseff impeachment crisis, such legislative proposals may easily be passed.

Indigenous rights also targeted

A second dangerous constitutional amendment, PEC 215, takes aim at constitutional protections for Brazil’s beleaguered indigenous communities, by taking the right to designate new protected tribal territories away from the president and transferring it to Congress. There is a constant problem in Brazil of agricultural and other business interests encroaching on the lands of indigenous people; this often leads to violent clashes and the driving of traditional communities off their lands.

The Lula-Rousseff governments have been hard put to control this dynamic, but given the power of the BBB gang in Congress, passage of PEC 215 could make the situation much worse.

These are more reasons why the actual removal of Rousseff from power this week is opposed by all progressive sectors in Brazil.    

Photo: Indigenous supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff march to Congress in Brasilia. | Felipe Dana / AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.