BRAZIL

Brazil’s interim president faces embarrassing Olympic opening ceremony

Deeply unpopular Michel Temer has come to symbolize widespread ambivalence about hosting Games as economic recession deepens

Opponents of interim president Michel Temer make their point.
Opponents of interim president Michel Temer make their point.AFP

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On Friday evening, Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, will be expected to say no more than: ““I declare open the Rio Games, celebrating the 31st Olympic Games of the Modern Era,” but the likelihood is that his words will be drowned out by a sea of boos from thousands of opponents who plan to attend the ceremony at Rio’s Maracaná stadium.

Officials are working to minimize the embarrassment, according to Brazilian media reports, by keeping his statement extremely brief and following it immediately with loud music.

Temer, who came to power in May when leftist president Dilma Rousseff was suspended for an impeachment trial and whose popularity ratings are 14%, says he is "totally ready" for boos, joking that the famous Maracana football stadium has always been an unforgiving place.

Rousseff is also deeply unpopular. But her impeachment and the rise of Temer and his swift introduction of market-oriented reforms have stoked anger on the left

Adding to the political tension, neither Rousseff nor her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will attend the ceremony, even though Rousseff oversaw most preparations for the Olympics and Lula was key in Rio's winning bid back in 2009.

Rousseff is also deeply unpopular. But her impeachment and the rise of Temer and his swift introduction of market-oriented reforms have stoked anger on the left over cuts to social programs and what is seen by many as an Olympic Games riding roughshod over the poor to benefit the rich.

Temer has already begun to roll back the demarcation of indigenous land, trim housebuilding programs and sell off state assets in airports, utilities and the post office. Newly appointed ministers also are talking of cutting healthcare spending and reducing the cost of the bolsa familia poverty relief program. Four thousand government jobs have been cut. The culture ministry has been subsumed into education.

For the interim government and its supporters, these austerity measures represent sound fiscal management as they attempt to rein in the government’s budget deficit and restore market confidence in Brazil, which has seen its sovereign debt rating downgraded to junk status. For critics, however, they represent a shift toward a neoliberal economic policy by the old elite that ousted elected president Dilma Rousseff

Rousseff has been suspended for 180 days and is waiting for the final decision by the Senate in the impeachment process against her. If she loses the trial she will be permanently removed from office. Meanwhile, a report by the Public Prosecutor’s office found that she is not guilty of any crime.

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The International Tribunal for Democracy ruled there is no legal basis for impeaching Rousseff, who had not been found guilty of any criminal act or in violation of the constitution.

A recent survey revealed that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the favorite for the 2018 presidential election.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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