Brazil’s Petrobras crisis strikes again for new president

Controversial Michel Temer already one minister down following secret recording

Acting Brazilian president Michel Temer (right) and Romero Jucá, a former minister of planning: Jucá’s lightning fall caps a rocky start as president for Temer who was the target of widespread criticism after he unveiled Brazil’s first all-male cabinet in more than three decades.  Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Acting Brazilian president Michel Temer (right) and Romero Jucá, a former minister of planning: Jucá’s lightning fall caps a rocky start as president for Temer who was the target of widespread criticism after he unveiled Brazil’s first all-male cabinet in more than three decades. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

 

After less than two weeks in office the new administration of Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer is already in trouble.

On Monday, just 11 days after he controversially replaced the suspended Dilma Rousseff while she faces an impeachment trial, Temer lost one of his closest colleagues, planning minister Romero Jucá, after he became the latest casualty of the two-year-old corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras.

He was forced to step down after a recording made in March emerged in which he said it was necessary to remove Rousseff from office “in order to staunch the bloodletting” caused by the Petrobras probe.

Jucá was Temer’s chief lieutenant in pushing for Rousseff’s removal, ostensibly over charges she broke Brazil’s budgetary laws. Rousseff’s ousted Workers Party immediately seized on the tape as proof that she had been unseated by a “coup” whose real goal was to end the Petrobras probe.

Temer’s first crisis was widely seen as the inevitable outcome of his controversial decision to nominate six politicians being investigated for their role in the Petrobras scheme as ministers, despite the scandal being one of the main reasons for the widespread public anger at Rousseff that led to her removal.

Leniency

In the recording he and Jucá discussed “a grand national pact” involving the supreme court which would halt the Petrobras probe “where it is”, thus freeing dozens of leading politicians named in the investigation from the risk of prosecution.

Jucá’s lightning fall caps a rocky start as president for Temer who was the target of widespread criticism after he unveiled Brazil’s first all-male cabinet in more than three decades on his first day in office.

He then immediately earned the enmity of Brazil’s artistic community by announcing the axing of the ministry of culture as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Artists, musicians and their supporters occupied public buildings across Brazil to protest the move, forcing a quick climbdown.

Vulnerable to revelations

It also denies Temer the services of one of his most able interlocutors with congress just as he seeks to pass an adjustment programme designed to stabilise the country’s ballooning debt pile.

Yesterday, finance minister Henrique Meirelles announced a cap on public spending, limiting increases to the annual inflation rate, as well as capping subsidies for government programmes such as housing and assistance to small farmers.

The measures announced will require getting Bills passed through an increasingly unruly congress where Temer’s own allies have forced him to accept as his floor leader in the lower house André Moura, who as well as being accused of participating in the Petrobras scheme also faces trial by the supreme court over claims he attempted to murder a political rival.

The downfall of Jucá though does allow Temer the chance to correct one of his initial mistakes if, as rumoured, he appoints a woman to take over the powerful planning ministry. Senator Simone Tebet has been tipped for the job, despite facing two corruption investigations of her own.

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