Brazil’s President Michel Temer promised he would step in should legislators under suspicion of corruption make an attempt to grant themselves any sort of amnesty.
This was perceived as a move by the Executive to sweep away much of the untrustworthiness it has brought upon itself as scandals kept surfacing in recent months.
Temer, a center-right veteran who took power after the impeachment of his leftist predecessor Dilma Rousseff, explained his mission was to save Brazil from its worst recession and corruption scandal in decades in order to be able to restore an economy that he predicted will see an upturn in the second quarter of 2017.
But for that he would need congressional approval to some of his proposed measures such as the 20-year spending freeze to be voted on by the Senate Tuesday. It would be the first of several deep reform bills.
Seated alongside the speakers of the Senate and lower house of Congress during the televised conference, Temer projected the image of a president who still retains enough political capital for now to proceed with his economic reforms, as he responded to public outrage over an attempt in the lower house to vote on a bill apparently including an amnesty for the previous acceptance of undeclared funds – often suspected to be bribes – in political campaigns.
Temer’s last cabinet crisis involved the resignation of Government Secretary Geddel Vieira Lima on Friday after being accused by the former culture minister of traffic of influence to intervene in a real estate business deal.
Although reports that Temer’s own voice has been recorded by the culture minister as proof of his involvement in the obscure deal have not been confirmed. Temer said he had never misused his influence and blasted the use of secret recordings. “For a minister to record the president of the republic is extremely serious.”
He promised recession-weary Brazilians that they would notice positive changes. “We’re not standing still, we’re working to build growth, and this will come little by little,” he said, predicting results in the second quarter.
“We will propose reforms so that Brazil can exit the recession,” he added. “We will boost industry, business and agribusiness.” But the 20-year spending ceiling – to be followed by proposed cuts to social security, pensions and other politically sensitive areas – has already prompted fury in some quarters.
In downtown São Paulo, thousands of people gathered Sunday for a rally that organizers said attracted 40,000 demonstrators, although police did not provide any official figures.
Meanwhile, Temer and the elite in Brasilia face a potentially devastating new storm on the corruption front. Numerous members of Congress and political parties have already been linked to the alleged receipt of bribe money and campaign slush funds as part of the giant Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal.
That could soon expand with accusations stemming from a mass plea bargain struck with dozens of executives at the construction giant Odebrecht, the company at the core of the Petrobras scheme.
Odebrecht systematically bribed politicians and parties, partly to win inflated contracts with Petrobras. Now, Brazilian media reports indicate that the executives may name as many as 150 politicians in the plea bargains struck with investigating prosecutors.
Temer said it would be “naive” not to be worried about the coming revelations. “When you’re talking about… 150 people from the political class, of course there’s concern, in an institutional sense.”
Calls for Impeachment
A Brazilian minister resigned on Friday amid allegations that he enlisted President Michel Temer’s help to pressure a fellow Cabinet member to approve a luxury apartment development project in a preservation zone.
The announcement feeds a growing scandal over alleged misuse of power that threatens Temer’s presidency only six months after he replaced a predecessor ousted from office by Congress — and at a time corruption investigations have tarred many senior politicians.
At least one opposition party says it will submit a motion to impeach the new president.
Temer, who is deeply unpopular with many Brazilians, has been struggling to push through an ambitious austerity agenda he says will pull Latin America’s largest economy out of its worst recession in decades. Since May, his administration has lurched from one scandal to the next, but until now, none had directly implicated the president.
Temer’s administration “just turned six months and it already looks old,” Fabio Zanini, political editor of the daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, wrote Friday. “The strategy to win popular legitimacy with an economic recovery and political stability is quickly sinking for a president who was not supported by the popular vote.”
The latest crisis started when former Culture Minister Marcelo Calero told federal police that Temer’s legislative affairs minister, Geddel Vieira Lima, pressured him to allow construction of a luxury building in a historic preservation area in the city of Salvador, Bahia, 1,000 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. Lima had bought a unit in the planned development.
Calero, who resigned last week, testified that Temer himself suggested that he use a method to avoid the normal oversight process for such a building.
Calero said Temer invited him to the presidential palace last week to suggest “a way out,” indicating that the building restrictions had created “operational difficulties” in his administration, according to Calero’s testimony.
“Politics has these things, that kind of pressure,” Temer said, according with Calero.
Temer’s spokesman said Thursday night that the president simply intervened to arbitrate a dispute between Cabinet members.
In his resignation letter, Lima said the accusations of wrongdoing were merely “interpretations.” He said he was stepping down because he and his family were suffering due to the accusations.
Lima is the sixth minister in Temer’s government to resign amid allegations of corruption.
Several Brazilian news outlets reported Friday that Calero had made recordings of conversations with Temer, Lima and presidential Chief-of-Staff Eliseu Padilha.
“I never acted in bad faith or in deceitful ways,” Calero said on his Facebook page. “I fulfilled my duties as a Brazilian citizen not to comply with illegalities and acts with respect to the institutions.”
The left-leaning Socialist and Liberty Party pledged it would submit a measure to Congress to impeach Temer. But to move forward, it would have to be accepted by Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies and a Temer ally.
Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, said the scandal makes Temer’s future unpredictable. “The damage can grow,” Stuenkel said. “There will be speculation about the future and that will also delay attempts to pass reforms.”
The political scene was embittered by the impeachment trial and ouster of former President Dilma Rousseff, who was found guilty by the opposition-led Senate of breaking budgetary laws. Temer was vice president and replaced her, making him a target for Rousseff allies who called her ouster a legislative “coup.”
Temer is pushing to pass a major overhaul of the pension system and to impose a spending cap on government spending. The country’s economy is expected to contract by 3% this year after a similarly bad 2015.