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Brazil's New President Loves Appointing White Men Accused of Corruption and Attempted Murder

Interim President Temer has caused controversy in Brazil with his appointments, especially that of lower chamber leader André Moura who faces an accusation of attempted murder in his home state.

by Eva Hershaw and Leandro Melito
May 20 2016, 7:55pm

Photo via Cadu Gomes/EPA

Michel Temer's first week as the interim president of Brazil has provided abundant ammunition to those who have questioned the legitimacy of his government — including the woman he replaces.

Temer took the reigns of the country last Thursday from the country's first female President, Dilma Rousseff, after she was impeached by the senate in order to face trial over accusations she manipulated national accounts to hide deficits after her 2014 reelection.

The 75-year-old constitutional lawyer, who was Rousseff's vice president, appeared to court controversy from his first day in office, when he appointed an all male and all white cabinet.

It only looked worse when it emerged that seven of his 24 ministers are implicated in the Lava Jato, or Car Wash, investigation into bribes paid in return for inflated contracts from the state-run oil company Petrobras.

President Temer himself is named in two plea bargains pertaining to the Lavo Jato. He is also facing impeachment charges that are very similar to the ones that brought down Rousseff in last Thursday's senate vote.

The new president has also infuriated many Brazilians by making major cuts to arts and human rights programs, and appointing a new lower house leader who faces charges of attempted murder in his home state.

Rousseff, meanwhile, has kept a relatively low profile throughout her first week on mandatory leave, though she has maintained her public image as the president of the republic.

Her Twitter account still describes her as president of Brazil. The impeached leader has also uploaded several videos onto Facebook, discussing national policies with advisors and current ministers.

"This coup has a leader, and it is not the interim president," Rousseff told The Intercept, in her first interview since being impeached — a process she has long insisted is anti-democratic. "The leader is the president of the chamber of deputies, who has since been removed... he works in the shadows, he is very skilled at working in the shadows."

Rousseff was referring to Eduardo Cunha, the deposed president of the chamber of deputies who promoted the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff in the house of representatives. He was removed from his position on May 5 by the supreme court.

Related: Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff to Face Trial After Senate Votes to Impeach Her

Allegations that Cunha is still running things from behind the scenes have been fuelled by the choice of André Moura for his replacement.

Moura — who is from the small Social Christian Party that has only nine members of a total of 513 lower house deputies — is a known ally of Cunha. His nomination is widely viewed as a sign of the residual power that Cunha exercises in the chamber.

The ruling PMDB party, led by Michel Temer, did not support the nomination in the lower house, which speaks to ongoing divisions between the executive branch and the house, as well as divisions within the party that Cunha also belongs to. But given the amount of support Moura had, Temer confirmed his appointment on Wednesday.

Moura's appointment also speaks to the tainted pool from which the interim government is assembling its cast of leaders.

The main point of controversy is not that Moura is also listed in the Lava Jato probe. This now appears almost the norm, given that the investigation has also named Temer and nearly a third of his cabinet, as well as many former collaborators of Rousseff. It also led to the sentencing this week of the former chief of staff of ex-president Inázio Lula da Silva to 23 years for corruption, money laundering, and conspiracy.

The issue is rather that the new head of the lower house also faces unresolved charges of attempted homicide rooted in his term as the mayor of the city of Pirambu in his home state of Sergipe that ended in 2004.

A conflict with his successor, Juarez Batista dos Santos, allegedly arose when the new mayor tried to end monthly payments that both Moura and his wife had continued to receive from the city, although they no longer worked as employees. Santos received threats and, in 2006, during Moura's election campaign for his current position as national deputy, four men opened fire on Santos' home.

The case has dragged on and, in 2014, the highest court in Sergipe, ruled that Moura could not stand for a new election because of the charges. An injunction filed by deputies on Wednesday overrode this decision, and allowed him to take up the presidency of the lower house.

Moura, however, remains the target of three lawsuits before the national supreme court and three additional investigations in state courts not related to homicide.

"The court in Sergipe has already called for this case to be dismissed," Moura told reporters on Tuesday, referring to charges that he had ordered the attack on his political rival. "The prosecutor appealed that request, which is normal."

Meanwhile, Cunha himself was obliged to testify for seven hours this Thursday before the House Ethics Committee on charges that he broke parliamentary procedure.

Related: Savior or Villain? A New Leader Steps Into the Scandal-Plagued Brazilian Presidency

The hearing came two weeks after Brazil's supreme court unanimously ordered Cunha to step down as president of the lower house, concerned that his position could impede ongoing investigations against him and damage the "dignity" of the institution.

Cunha has been accused of lying before a parliamentary commission in 2015, when he denied having any foreign bank accounts.

"There is no existing evidence," Cunha told the ethics commission. "I do not have a foreign account under my name – in effect, there is no proof that I have any ownership over the account."

He maintains that any movements that took place were made by a trust fund.

"I never hid the existence of a trust fund, but the assets are not mine," Cunha said. "To act like this is a bank account like any other, where you sign a check or make a withdrawal... it's absurd."

Brazilian media has reported that a lobbyist called João Augusto Henriques first facilitated the sale of an oil field in Africa to Petrobras and then deposited about 1.3 million dollars, in Swiss francs, to an account linked to Cunha in 2011. The money stayed there until January 2014, when 328,000 francs were converted to dollars and invested as shares of Petrobras on the New York Stock Exchange.

Bank statements sent by Swiss authorities to Brazil's attorney general last November showed that there was movement of assets in accounts linked to Cunha in 2014.

Closing his testimony before the ethics commission, Cunha claimed that his forced removal as president of the lower house obeyed a "shady objective." Although he has been suspended as acting as a federal deputy, he promised to return to his congressional office to work on Monday.

As political intrigue ramps up in the lower house, the interim president has also been ruffling feathers for his controversial cuts.

Temer has indicated there will be a revision of the health care system, which many worry will lead to cuts to public services. He has also cut the total number of ministries by 10, causing particular controversy with his decision to disperse the ministry of culture and the ministry of human rights across other government offices.

The elimination of the culture ministry prompted artists around Brazil to occupy government buildings, playing orchestral pieces to highlight what they charge is the interim government's disregard of the importance of diversity and culture.

On Friday, in response to criticism over the dissolved ministry of culture, Temer announced Marcelo Calero as the new head of the division, which will reside within the ministry of education. He also issued a word of warning to his newly appointed cabinet, in the face of backlash over their proposed policies, which are expected to push Brazil to the right.

In an interview on Sunday night with Fantástico, Temer tried to calm fears that his interim government would reverse social programs implemented by the Workers' Party.

"We cannot abandon those who are having a hard time living and surviving," Temer said. "If it is necessary, I will cut from other sectors, but I will not take away from those who are in the greatest need."

During the interview, people across Brazil took to their balconies and windows, banging on pots and pans to protest the interim president.

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Follow Eva Hershaw and Leandro Melito on Twitter: @beets4eva and @leandromelito

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