What should we make of the change of leadership in Brazil? What are the implications for the agency of the global south in this long battle to decolonise world affairs?
We have watched as the political drama in Brasilia unfolded towards the removal of Ms Dilma Rousseff from the presidency.
The opposition was emboldened by the defection of the biggest party from Rousseff’s government to the opposition as its leaders were named in corruption investigations.
There was pressure to bring Rousseff down over allegations that she manipulated the national budget. She was finally suspended last Thursday after the senate vote led by her nemesis and former deputy in government Michel Temer.
Having taken over, Temer has surprised many by appointing a cabinet of white males in a country where 52 percent of the population is women and 53 percent is mixed-race. The new finance minister has indicated the intention to shift economic policy to the right, a neo-liberal turn that takes Brazil to the pre-Lula years.
Brazil, which has been an example of a social, multi-ethnic democracy, now seems to have transformed all of a sudden to a neo-liberal, white men’s democracy.
To make matters worse, the world-famous whistle-blower Wikileaks revealed that Temer is fingered in leaked US cables of July 2015 showing extensive US spying on Rousseff and other key leaders in her government, in what was widely read as part of decades-old US regime change efforts in Latin America.
The 2012 leaks of intelligence by Edward Snowden showing US spying on the Brazilian president caused a diplomatic row.
There was alarm elsewhere that the US had not abandoned the old imperialist designs that had turned Latin America into what Greg Grandin calls “The Empire’s Workshop”, where in the name of democracy promotion, anti-democratic and often secret interventions installed “friendly” governments.
In the shadow of this history, suspicions of US involvement in replacing people-friendly governments with market-friendly ones is not far-fetched.
It might be that Temer was innocently sharing views with embassy officials, not knowing that they were actually intelligence officers.
It may be that there was nothing secret about how he felt about power that the then governing party allocated to members of his party in the coalition.
It may well be that Temer stopped talking to US officials about his concerns about the Lula, or later the Rousseff, government after the first furore three years ago.
He might have realised that he was being drawn into the notorious US moves under the cover – as usual – of nice-sounding democratic peace or soft power.
But we don’t know. His decision on the cabinet suggests a regression on an important front for the desired south – the dethroning of white supremacy, the push against patriarchy and the installation of true diversity.
The commitments made towards neo-liberal orientation are likely to make the cause of the workers and the poor a little more difficult. But we don’t know if this is just right-wing rhetoric to please the “markets” and economic elite, or if it is a genuine commitment. We have to wait a bit for Temer to outline in detail his economic, social, security and foreign policies.
Brazil has been a crucial voice in global debates about the reform of global governance, including the IMF and World Bank, and about fair and just outcomes for the developing world in world trade negotiations.
Brazil has spoken out on the agenda of decent work, food sovereignty, a greater Western contribution to the global response on climate change, ecological justice and the end to ecological imperialism. Brazil has also been an advocate of the responsibility to protect. We may miss this now.
Brazil is an important part of the effort today to shift global power from the former colonial powers and their diaspora in North America to all regions of the world. It is a key partner in South-South co-operation.
A weaker Brazil, one that is consumed by narrow domestic elite agendas, and one that is sidetracked to the political right, is a major setback for the agency of the developing countries.
The Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa platform (Brics) has become the most powerful platform for the pursuit of global reform.
It represents 42 percent of the world population. Despite the global financial crisis sparked by US banks in 2008, Brics accounts for 20 percent of the gross world domestic product. It holds foreign reserves to the tune of R56 trillion.
With the New Development Bank set up two years ago taking shape, having allocated its first tranche funding in energy initiatives in Asia, Africa and Latin America, Brics cannot weaken without dashing hopes of new funding without political conditions.
Brazil is one of the champions of the social agenda within the South generally, and Brics in particular, on account of the remarkable successes of its social security programmes like Bolsa Familia.
It is a key part in evolving co-operation through Brics ministerials on health, education, science and technology.
Experts on Brazil’s foreign policy have painted a bleak picture of Brazil in the past couple of years as a result of the economic crisis since 2010, and the major corruption scandal over its Petronas energy giant.
The impeachment debates since last year have diminished Brazil’s international role even more.
This means Brics has had to contend with a troubled Brazil for a while; whether it can cope with one committed to a conservative agenda with a president who may travel less due to investigations, and fear of having the notorious Speaker of Congress head the state in his absence.
What will Brics do to prepare for the likelihood of a limping Brazil in the context of South Africa and Russia battling an economic slowdown, and China experiencing lower growth than planned?
It seems that what will be best is to strengthen Brics structures and institutions to cushion the platform from a spillover of domestic problems of one or two of its members.
It has to fortify its ministerials and platforms for senior officials, and ensure that countries implement the agreed agenda.
l Zondi is the director of the Institute for Global Dialogue