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Brazil's New All-Male Interim Government Marks Conservative Shift


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer. A massive corruption scandal, an imploding economy, the Zika virus and soon to be the host of the Summer Olympics, Brazil faces some major challenges. The nation's first woman president is out of office and facing an impeachment trial, and a new male president is in. We are noting the sex of the two politicians because gender, among other things, has become an issue for the new government. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro reports from Rio de Janeiro.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Portuguese).

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: With great fanfare on national TV, the new cabinet of right-of-center Michel Temer, the 75-year-old interim president, was announced one by one.


MICHEL TEMER: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Temer then made a speech calling for a government of national unity and salvation after the ouster of leftist Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff has not been accused of corruption but rather fiscal mismanagement. That's in contrast to nine of the new ministers and Temer himself, who are implicated in the massive corruption scandal in Brazil that surrounds the state oil company.

Two of the ministers, planning and tourism, are being formally investigated for accepting bribes. Wags on social media and beyond were quick to note that rather than moving in a new direction to a brighter future, this government seems to look back to an unsavory past in another way, too. All the ministers are white and male.

JULIANA BARBASSA: Brazilian women have made tremendous progress in the last few years. They make up nearly half the workforce. In general, they're better educated than men. And you don't see that represented on there. This isn't even an issue of feminism. It's just an issue of representation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Juliana Barbassa, Brazilian author. Famous musicians and artists are also upset about Temer's actions in his first few days in office.

FERNANDA ABREU: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Renowned singer Fernanda Abreu is among a large group of well-known musicians, like Caetano Veloso, in Brazil who wrote a letter to Temer after he did away with the Ministry of Culture in an attempt to cut the bloated federal bureaucracy here.

ABREU: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She tells me, "the investment in culture and education should be the priority of any government, independent of their political leanings." Leftist movements are also worried about the minister of justice, who has a history of cracking down on activists.

JOAQUIN PINERO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joaquin Pinero is a member of the national board of the Landless Movement, and he spoke to us via Skype. Pinero says, "we have no doubt that the persecution of social movements will intensify."

A few other salient facts about the new cabinet - the new sports minister who will oversee the Olympics has a business that supplies the games, raising questions about conflict of interest. The new minister of trade is an evangelical pastor who believes in creationism and is a former TV exec. He was initially appointed to head the Science Ministry, but because of an outcry ended up with the trade job. The new agriculture minister is nicknamed the soybean king. He's a billionaire whose business interests directly intersect with expanding agriculture.

Despite that, environmentalists are cautiously optimistic over the new environment minister, who successfully oversaw the portfolio under a previous government.

PAULO BARRETO: I think it was an advance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Paulo Barreto is one of Brazil's leading environmentalists. He says Dilma Rousseff's time in office saw environmental protections seriously eroded. That said, interim President Temer's support in Congress, where he will have to lobby to pass much-needed economic reforms amid a massive recession here, comes from the so-called beef caucus. And they are no friends to the environment. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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