Brazil: Amid protests, Senate approves huge spending cuts

Issue 
Student occupation in São Paulo.

Brazil’s constitutional affairs committee in the Senate approved the PEC 55 constitutional reform to create a 20-year ceiling for federal spending on November 9.

The committee voted 19-7 and approved PEC 55, previously called PEC 241, which was proposed by coup-imposed President Michel Temer in a bid to cut Brazil's budget deficit.

The proposal will institutionalise neoliberalism and force all future governments to limit expenditures in health, education, social welfare and public services for the next two decades. The spending ceiling could be revised by another government after 10 years.

The amendment limits the growth of government spending for each year to the inflation rates of the previous year, and will no longer be dictated by GDP revenue growth.

The text was previously approved by the lower house of Congress and will now face two sets of voting, with all members of the chamber, on November 29 and December 13.

The senators rejected an amendment proposal to establish a future referendum to determine whether PEC 55 should be approved by the majority of Brazilians.

Brazil’s public debt last year represented 66.2% of the country's GDP, according to Brazil's Central Bank. This is much lower than many countries, but the Temer government says this is an unsafe level of debt.

The spending ceiling has been met with widespread protests. Students have occupied 1108 public schools and universities across 19 states, to protest against these austerity measures.

About 200,000 students in Brazil have missed their entrance exams for college due to the occupation of educational institutions as part of the huge, months-long student protests.

About 304 schools where exams were recently scheduled are currently being occupied by the student movement.

About 8.6 million Brazilian students were expected to sit for their exams on November 5 and 6, but authorities have given affected institutions additional time to find alternative dates for students to take their exams.

Since he took power in August, Temer, who led the parliamentary coup against President Dilma Rousseff, has introduced a series of comprehensive privatisation proposals and cuts in education, health and other social programs.

In the state of Parana alone, students have occupied 851 schools while 66 have been occupied in Minas, 13 in Rio Grande do Sul and 10 in Rio Grande do Norte. In Rio de Janeiro, there are currently seven occupied schools, while five more have been occupied in Brazil's largest state, Sao Paulo.

On November 8, thousands of protesting public workers occupied the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro in protest against what they call a “package of evil”, referring to the neoliberal austerity measures.

After riots with police, some protesters managed to enter the plenary assembly and climbed the table of the presidency of the legislature with anti-government banners, rejecting the federal government’s decision to freeze the state budget because of Rio’s huge outstanding debt, which according to the government totals US$53 million.

The Temer government’s measures will result in a suspension of salary readjustments, which were already granted. It will also lead to an increase in social security contribution rates, mass dismissals across the public sector, as well as cuts to social programs and benefits intended for public workers.

Unions have stressed that workers are acting “at the limit of their resources in their fight against the state’s criminal actions”.

Temer faces very low approval ratings. However, he is scheduled to complete Rousseff’s presidential term until the next scheduled election in late 2018.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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