Brazil’s new interim president, Michel Temer, has held his first official cabinet meeting, after vowing the new team would try to rescue the country’s plunging economy at a moment of profound political confrontation.
Friday’s gathering at the government headquarters followed a chaotic day that saw the Senate vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, suspending her from office and abruptly ousting nearly her entire government – a move she branded “a coup”.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Temer moved quickly to announce his new team, including Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, who is respected by some for serving as Central Bank chief during the boom years from 2003 to 2010.
“Our biggest challenge is to staunch the process of freefall of our economy,” Temer said at a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday for his 22 cabinet ministers. “First of all, we need to balance our public spending. The sooner we are able to balance our books, the sooner we’ll be able to restart growth.”
He also promised to support the widening investigation into corruption at the state oil company that has already ensnared leading politicians from a variety of parties and even implicated Temer himself – as well as several members of the new Cabinet.
His choice of ministers also raised criticism for its makeup: All its members are middle-aged or elderly white men – a particularly sore point in this majority non-white country. Six women, including one black, were included in the 39 members of Rousseff’s cabinet when she began her second term last year.
Temer made a bid for peace with Rousseff, offering his “institutional respect” for the suspended leader, who continues to live in the presidential residence even as her replacement holds down the government offices.
Rousseff, however, vowed to fight her ouster, calling it “a coup” led by a social and economic elite that had been alarmed by the policies of her leftist Workers’ Party, which had held power for 13 years.
Rousseff warned that Temer plans to dismantle government social programmes that benefit around one-fourth of the Brazilian population. He insisted the programmes would be maintained and “perfected” under his leadership.
But his choice to lead the Social Development Ministry, Osmar Terra, acknowledged that could be tough.
“What President Michel is proposing is that those programmes be the most sheltered [from cuts]. But if the budget hole is very big, we’ll see,” he said. “The country is bankrupt.”
Rousseff will be suspended for as long as 180 days pending a trial in the Senate. If two-thirds of the 81 senators vote to find her guilty, Temer would serve out the remainder of her term, which ends in December 2018.
Temer, the longtime leader of the centrist Democratic Movement Party, had been Rousseff’s vice president as part of a coalition of convenience that broke down under the strains of economic woes and corruption scandals. He is known less for a specific ideological stance than for its skill at backroom deal making.