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Economic Stagnation Is Least of Worries for Brazil's New President

  • VOA News

Brazil's acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Brazil's acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Brazil's interim President Michel Temer begins his new administration Friday as hundreds of supporters of his beleaguered predecessor continue street demonstrations and regional leaders denounce the senate's vote for an impeachment trial as a literal coup.

The former vice president installed a business-friendly Cabinet Thursday, just hours after senators voted to temporarily remove his former ally-turned-political enemy, Dilma Rousseff, from power for alleged corruption.

Temer's government has the daunting challenge of pulling the country out of a deep recession and reforming the pension system.

"We must significantly improve the business environment for the private sector ... and rebalance the government's budget," the 75-year-old Temer said in his first statement as Brazilian leader.

A pro-government demonstrator holds a sign that reads in Portuguese "Coup" during a protest against the impeachment of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 11, 2016.

A pro-government demonstrator holds a sign that reads in Portuguese "Coup" during a protest against the impeachment of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 11, 2016.

However, critics observed Temer's Cabinet in ethnically diverse Brazil does not include any Afro-Brazilians and women, the first time that has happened in years.

"It's embarrassing that most of Temer's Cabinet choices are old, white men," Sergio Pracia, a political scientist, told The New York Times.

Corruption stain

And Temer is also tainted by the stain of corruption. Though not under investigation himself, he remains exposed to the swirling scandal at state oil company Petrobras, which has snared top members of his party, as well as Rousseff's.

Amid such criticism, the new Temer government must also weather regional criticism of the political process that brought it to power.

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's leftist leader, called the vote to remove the country's first woman president a coup.

"I have no doubt that behind this coup d'etat is the bill, 'Made in the USA.’ ... This forms part of the legacy that President Barack Obama aims to leave in Latin America, leaving aside the progressive, democratic and people's movements," Maduro said.

FILE - Dilma Roussef, president of Brazil, speaks during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 24, 2014.

FILE - Dilma Roussef, president of Brazil, speaks during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 24, 2014.

Cuba also described the senate vote as a coup.

"Cuba has denounced the judicial-parliamentary coup d'etat, disguised with legality that has been underway for months in Brazil," a government statement said. "A fundamental step was taken for the objectives of a coup."

It said the majority of the Brazilian senators had "decided to continue with the process of the political trial against the legitimately elected president of Brazil."

Other leaders stopped short of denouncing the vote in South America's largest economy.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, "We vote for the preservation of democratic institutionality, for due process to be respected, and what we want is for stability in Brazil to be maintained."

Street protests

Meanwhile, hundreds of Rousseff's supporters continued street protests in Sao Paulo following her suspension. Many of them gathered around a bonfire on one of the city's streets.

Rousseff has vowed to fight back against the senate vote, insisting she has done nothing wrong.

Supporters of President Dilma Rousseff shout during clashes with the police outside Congress, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 11, 2016.

Supporters of President Dilma Rousseff shout during clashes with the police outside Congress, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 11, 2016.

"What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign will of the Brazilian people and the constitution ... this is a tragic hour for our country. ... I never imagined that it would be necessary to fight once more against a coup," Rousseff said.

She is a former Marxist guerilla who fought against the Brazilian military dictatorship in the 1970s. She is accused of manipulating the size of the budget deficit to make the Brazilian economy look healthier than it was to boost her chances of re-election in 2014.

“As she approached the election in 2014, it was pretty clear that the economy was not doing as well as she hoped, and so she engaged in some creative accounting to try to make the situation look better,” Latin American specialist Sean Burgess of the Australian National University told VOA.

It is still questionable, Burgess said, whether or not her actions were illegal, and the push for impeachment may be fueled by other lawmakers’ desires to deflect attention from themselves.

Two-thirds of the Brazilian senate is needed to convict Rousseff and permanently remove her from office.

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