What Does Dilma’s Impeachment Mean for Favela Residents?

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For the original article by Miriane Peregrino in Portuguese published by Jornal O Cidadão click here.

On Wednesday August 31, the senate approved the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) with 61 votes for and 20 votes against, despite the fact that there was no crime of fiscal responsibility. The majority of senators that voted for Dilma’s exit are answering their own charges of corruption for involvement in Operation Car Wash. The interim president, Michel Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), is also one of those accused in the operation and was formerly an ally of the PT government.

Recognizing that Dilma’s impeachment is a parliamentary coup that removes a democratically elected president with a majority vote in the 2014 elections (there were 54.5 million votes for Dilma and 51 million for Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, PSDB) and a clean record, thousands of protesters took to the streets across the country to shout: “Out with Temer!”

In Rio, demonstrators gathered at 5pm in Cinelândia and marched through the streets of Centro until they reached the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly (Alerj). Some demanded “direct elections now” and called for a “general strike.” Since May 12 when Dilma was removed from office, interim President Michel Temer has announced a series of unpopular measures such as cutting certain labor rights (Christmas bonuses, holidays, pensions, maternity leave, child care and many others) which directly affect workers’ lives.

Protest against impeachment in Cinelândia. Photo by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil

Resident of the Acari favela, Esteban Crescente, spoke during the protest. He observed that despite the new measures affecting workers, the protest had little participation from favela residents and raising awareness of these issues is needed so that a proposed general strike would work out.

For Mario Cavalcante de Abreu, 30, resident of Complexo do Alemão, some issues that emerged on Wednesday in Rio were pointless: “I hoped that the protest would be more radical but as it was during the whole process of the coup, the left faltered and downgraded to protesting losing issues. Yesterday, some of that was shown asking for a ‘referendum’ and ‘a new constituency.’”

It is worth noting that a “general election” and “direct elections now” were also among the demands of the protesters. However, how can you effectively demand new elections when results of the 2014 elections aren’t respected and a president who has committed no crime has been removed?

Mario remembers that the PT government “broke with the best aspects of their party’s history, policy and discourse and frustrated the expectations of their popular support base.” This increased the demobilization of workers and meant there was much less participation from residents of Rio’s periphery in the demonstrations to defend Dilma’s mandate: “The poorer, black and/or favela population doesn’t come out in the streets to defend democracy, legality and the abstract idea of the State because it is not our reality. In Rio de Janeiro, more than 50% of people live in the periphery of the city and there exists a state of exception.”

"Direct elections now!" Photo by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil

Residents from the Cerro Corá favela, twins Janderson and Jeferson Dias, 26, participated in the demonstration against the impeachment: “The impeachment was a guarantee of privilege for various conservative sectors of the population and the right wing of society. Over the course of the last 13 years, they couldn’t stand and didn’t want to see the inclusion of favelas in policy and we are a large part of the working class,” affirmed Jeferson.

Janderson commented on one of Temer’s pronouncements and its consequence for favelas: “Yesterday I saw an announcement from the coup’s president which caught my attention because it said he was going to pacify Brazil. I recalled the pacification model in Rio’s favelas which only ended up bringing police while basic services such as health, housing and education remain lacking. He is already implementing unpopular measures which will directly affect us favela residents. We know that this government wants to reduce the public health system. The majority of the people who use this service is us. This government wasn’t chosen by popular vote, it has no reason to provide for us. We will have to keep resisting as we have always done.”

Maré residents also position themselves against the impeachment

Gizele Martins, 31, a community journalist from Complexo da Maré says:

“I don’t believe in any government. I don’t think they’ll ever guarantee any kind of rights for all of the population. I believe they’ll only govern for themselves and a rich minority. But if the people stopped to assess the PT government of Lula or Dilma, it was an era which at least guaranteed basic rights to the poor, although not for all poor people and it didn’t guarantee a total move to social equality. The Minha Casa Minha Vida program, affirmative action in university placements, Bolsa Família, scholarships and other social programs made a difference to poorer people during these years. It was the first time we went to university, the first time many got a house, the first time many were able to pay for university, or to have a scholarship so your kids could keep going to school. Remembering these small changes in our rights is a huge thing for those who never had anything. On top of that they were only guaranteed to the poorer population after decades of struggle.

With the impeachment, it looks like these rights are at risk. The PT government at least pretended to act for the masses and gave us the guarantee of basic rights. But now? This new government, ‘guaranteed’ by a coup, and made up of rich men who will never think about the poor, black, favela, or Northeastern people. I think we favela residents will suffer a decline in the basic rights that we fought so hard to obtain. It’s the public universities, public health care, public education and affordable housing that we stand a great risk to lose out on.”

Alan Felix, 29, is a worker, attended university entrance exam classes at night and is now studying geography at Rio’s Federal University (UFRJ). He says:

“The working class will suffer most from this setback, and especially those who live in favelas. The PMDB doesn’t govern for the poor, it governs for the elite. I have many criticisms of the PT, I don’t agree with many bad alliances they made. They paid for this with the impeachment. I always liked the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), but I cannot ignore the fact that the PT did so much for the poor. Bolsa Família is a really important example of this, as is the fact that I, a favela resident from Maré, study at UFRJ thanks to the quotas introduced during Dilma’s presidency. And if I can travel by airplane it’s really thanks to the PT. Who knows what will happen now in the country or if I will be able to fly in a plane again. I’m the son of a semi-illiterate father and my mother will finish first grade now at almost 60 years of age. The increase in affirmative action by President Dilma allowed the son of a Northeastern worker to get into one of the best universities in the country. In my opinion, this impeachment was already being articulated a long time ago. It was their plan B if Aécio didn’t win the elections. PMDB had almost a hegemony in parliament, they just needed the presidency to rule and therefore staged this intervention.”

"Out with Temer" Photo by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil

“Out with Temer” demonstrations happening on September 7

Today, Wednesday September 7, Brazil’s Independence Day, the Grito dos Excluídos (Cry of the Excluded) protests are being marked by “Out with Temer!” Various social movements and left wing parties have come together to demonstrate on this day throughout Brazil ever since 1995.

“The Grito dos Excluídos is an anual movement in Brazil’s protest calendar. In Rio de Janeiro, it represents a resistance movement of the poorest members of society against injustices of the State,” says Mario Cavalcante.

Gizele Martins also asserts the importance of today’s action after an official parade on Avenida Presidente Vargas in downtown Rio: “On September 7 we need the people to occupy the streets, raise their voice and cry out against the coup, against the lack of rights, against all the threats we are suffering from with this change in government.”

The streets were, are, and always will be the main arena where the people can express their dissatisfaction, put pressure on the government and demand change. Throughout history, workers’ rights have always been won through hard fights. Nothing was given as a gift from the masters.