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EL ESPECTADOR

The Brazilian Sexism That Ensured Dilma's Impeachment

A clearer picture is emerging of the socio-political profile of those who recently voted to oust Dilma Rousseff from the Brazilian presidency: right-wing males with a penchant for more "traditional," submissive women.

Rousseff supporters during a protest against her impeachment in Sao Paulo
Rousseff supporters during a protest against her impeachment in Sao Paulo
Arlene B. Tickner

-OpEd-

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's now departed president, was sacked by the Senate for having patched up the country's fiscal shortfalls by some unusual means that were inappropriate certainly, but hardly criminal nor deserving of impeachment.

Beyond whether or not we too perceive the Senate vote as effectively a coup, clearly its protagonists were not moved in their vote by a desire to protect democracy so much as their own interests. And foremost among these were the need to assure their immunity against investigations into the suspected corruption of most Brazilian politicians.

But while many have denounced Dilma's ouster as the work of an alliance of neo-liberal and capitalist interests against the party of the poor, many of the latter actually backed the move in a setting of extensive public anger against recession, job losses and corruption. Congress could thus shield itself behind the popular will, not to mention the Constitution, to justify its unpopular decision.

This selective and discriminatory use of the law has become common among both the Left and the Right in Latin America, to retain or block access to power as cases have shown in Paraguay and Honduras (ousted presidents), and Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela (holding onto power).

Vulgar jokes

Yet in Brazil, the overthrow of the country's first female president also had clear overtones of misogyny. This rowdy chapter was the last of a long history of discrimination that included vulgar jokes against her "unfeminine" style and criticisms of her supposed harshness, hysteria and emotional instability. It had even arrived at the point that prompted the women's rights office of the United Nations to publicly condemn the "sexist political violence" against her.

In contrast with the somewhat "tough" figure presented by Dilma, a former leftist guerrilla, the Brazilian magazine Veja introduced the new First Lady Marcela Temer, a 43-year-old former model, as "pretty, discreet and homey."

The entire maneuver smacks of a parliamentary coup, not for the reaction shown by Rousseff's regional allies — the "Bolivarian" states — but for those of other countries. The United States and Canada expressed concern over the impeachment, while regional countries have greeted the new government cautiously.

Efforts by newly confirmed President Michel Temer and his colleagues to present the situation as routine clash with the picture of a new cabinet that is white, male, elitist and corrupt. Another sign that something is amiss is the type of people you now hear about as possible presidential candidates in 2018 — one is congressman Jair Bolsonar, known for his misogynistic, anti-gay and militaristic comments, who dedicated his vote against Rousseff to Brilhante Ustra, one of the torturers of the last military regime.

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