Crash ex­poses gulf be­tween Brazil­ians and their lead­ers

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

As Brazil­ians mourned the re­cent plane crash that killed 71 peo­ple, in­clud­ing al­most an en­tire soc­cer team, Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer spent days pub­licly wa­ver­ing about whether to at­tend the me­mo­rial ser­vice in the south­ern city of Chapeco. His al­lies in congress were even less tact­ful: They launched an around-the­clock ses­sion seek­ing to gut anti-cor­rup­tion leg­is­la­tion on the same day peo­ple learned of the dis­as­ter, spurring vi­o­lent protests in the cap­i­tal of Brasilia.

Com­ing from an al­ready deeply un­pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment, the bun­gled re­sponse to what is seen as a na­tional tragedy has an­gered Brazil­ians to the point where an­a­lysts say it has put Te­mer’s am­bi­tious plans to cut spend­ing and over­haul the pen­sion sys­tem in jeop­ardy. And there are in­creas­ing calls, mostly from op­po­si­tion politi­cians but also or­di­nary cit­i­zens, for Te­mer to be im­peached just like his pre­de­ces­sor. “The tragedy of the Chapecoense team was not only a missed op­por­tu­nity for the pres­i­dent, it was also dam­ag­ing,” said Car­los Man­hanelli, chair­man of the Brazil­ian Association of Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­tants. “Once more it gave the im­pres­sion that politi­cians don’t care about nor­mal peo­ple.”

The plane crashed out­side Medellin, Colom­bia, late on the night of Nov 28. The next morn­ing Brazil­ians woke up to the shock­ing news, in­clud­ing that 19 play­ers on the Chapecoense soc­cer club were among the dead. Te­mer, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent who took over the top job in Au­gust af­ter Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff was re­moved from of­fice for break­ing fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity laws, called for three days of na­tional mourning. But Te­mer’s solemn words were not heeded by his leg­isla­tive al­lies.

That night one cham­ber of congress rushed through an un­pop­u­lar spend­ing-cut mea­sure, while the other moved to weaken anti-cor­rup­tion leg­is­la­tion and even add penal­ties for pros­e­cu­tors and judges who over­step their power. The mea­sure on cor­rup­tion was par­tic­u­larly galling for many Brazil­ians as about 60 per­cent of sit­ting law­mak­ers are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion or al­ready charged with wrong­do­ing - mostly graft, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal watch­dog groups. A sweep­ing probe into a kick­back scheme at state oil com­pany Petro­bras has snared dozens of top politi­cians and busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives in re­cent months.

Tele­vi­sion sta­tions, which had been broad­cast­ing the lat­est news on the crash all day, switched to the rowdy protests that erupted out­side congress dur­ing the ses­sions. Sev­eral thou­sand demon­stra­tors over­turned and burned cars dur­ing an hours-long stand­off with riot po­lice. “The pub­lic wasn’t so dis­tracted by the tragedy that they missed that un­sa­vory act,” said James Bos­worth, a Wash­ing­ton-based risk an­a­lyst. “In fact, the con­gres­sional vote strength­ened the pub­lic’s view that the coun­try’s politi­cians are more in­ter­ested in help­ing them­selves than help­ing the coun­try.”

Pres­i­den­tial aides ini­tially said Te­mer, who has been booed the rare times he ap­peared in pub­lic, would not at­tend the me­mo­rial in Chapeco on Dec 3. Then, un­der heavy pres­sure, they said he would go to the city but only meet with griev­ing fam­i­lies at the air­port. Os­mar Machado, a shoe sales­man whose soc­cer player son Felipe was killed in the crash, be­came a na­tional hero when he blasted Te­mer and other politi­cians for their re­sponse.

Fam­i­lies and the vic­tims

“What are th­ese politi­cians think­ing? The im­por­tant peo­ple here are the fam­i­lies and the vic­tims,” a tearful Machado said at the sta­dium where the me­mo­rial was to take place. “This Te­mer guy wants fam­i­lies to go to the lo­cal air­port of Chapeco to see him and get some medal. But he is the one that had to come here and talk to us.”“Doesn’t he get that?” Machado said. Te­mer, a 75-yearold ca­reer politi­cian nick­named the “but­ler” for his dour man­ner, even­tu­ally did at­tend the me­mo­rial. But the pres­i­dent, Cabi­net min­is­ters and al­lies who ac­com­pa­nied him were largely ig­nored by the 22,000 peo­ple in the sta­dium.

Lead­ing colum­nist Clo­vis Rossi called on Te­mer’s of­fice to re­veal which ad­viser per­suaded him to at­tend. “That way we would know that there is at least one per­son in the pres­i­den­tial palace who un­der­stands the stature of the job and the obli­ga­tion of not hid­ing,” Rossi wrote in the news­pa­per Folha de S Paulo. The day af­ter the me­mo­rial, in more than two dozen ci­ties, hun­dreds of thou­sands protested against Te­mer’s and congress’ at­tempts to de­fang the anti-cor­rup­tion leg­is­la­tion.

So great was the up­roar that the mea­sure has been put on hold, at least for now. Po­lit­i­cal risk con­sul­tancy Eura­sia has raised from 10 per­cent to 20 per­cent its es­ti­mate on the like­li­hood that Te­mer will not last in of­fice through the end of his term in 2018. Te­mer is fac­ing al­le­ga­tions that he re­ceived il­le­gal cam­paign do­na­tions - some­thing he de­nies - and his ad­min­is­tra­tion has lurched from one scan­dal to the next, los­ing six Cabi­net min­is­ters amid a steady stream of ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing.

The tur­moil in Brasilia, cou­pled with Te­mer’s in­abil­ity to con­nect with or­di­nary Brazil­ians, makes his prospects of win­ning sup­port for con­tentious leg­is­la­tion like pen­sion re­form all the more un­likely. A poll pub­lished Sun­day by DataFolha said 63 per­cent of Brazil­ians want Te­mer to re­sign. The sur­vey in­ter­viewed 2,828 peo­ple Dec. 7-8 and had a mar­gin of er­ror of two per­cent­age points. “We need some­one who can fix things, not cre­ate more prob­lems,” taxi driver Marcelo Veloso said.

“I had some hope af­ter Rouss­eff was re­moved, but now I think we need a man of the peo­ple to sort this out.” — AP

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