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Brazil's new cabinet is high on white men, low on sense

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

When Justin Trudeau formed his Cabinet, a reporter asked the Canadian Prime Minister why it was so important to him that the Cabinet have an equal number of men and women. "Because it's 2015," Trudeau responded instantly.

While the rest of the world has moved forward into 2016, Brazil seems to have gone back in time, at least as far as their new Cabinet goes. With a grand total of zero women, Brazil's Cabinet has ditched any pretence of progressiveness for a sausage fest spiced liberally with terrible, terrible appointments.

Also read - Dilma Rousseff impeachment: Brazil threatens to descend into a disguised police state

It's an appalling step backward for the South American nation who, until just last week, were led by Dilma Rousseff, someone who referred to herself in Portuguese as 'presidenta', rather than the gender neutral 'presidente'. In fact, the Cabinet, assembled by interim president Michel Temer after Rousseff's impeachment, is the first Brazilian Cabinet with no women since 1979.

When asked why the new Cabinet had no women whereas Rousseff's recently dissolved one had seven, Brazil's new chief-of-staff Eliseu Padilha blamed it on a shortage of time. Yes, the highest authorities in Brazil, when questioned on matters of gender parity in the most powerful decision making body in the country, resorted to an excuse that would be embarrassing had it come from a fourth-grader who didn't do his homework.

Reason? They 'tried to seek women and discussed it but it wasn't possible'

Speaking to the press, Padilha said they'd "tried to seek women and discussed it but it wasn't possible."

Yeah, it was absolutely impossible for the stand-in President to find any woman suitable for a Cabinet office in a country that is 51% female. Somehow though, given the 'short time' Temer had, he managed to find an all-white, all-male Cabinet in a country where less than 25% of the population comprises white males.

Rousseff could be considered guilty of complicity or at least turning a blind eye to financial irregularities by her government. However, her successor's Temer-ity in forming an all-male Cabinet adds some credibility to Rousseff's claims that criticism of her government was motivated by her gender.

While gender has been one casualty of the new regime, race seems to be another. In a country where about 51% of the population identify as being of African descent, Temer's Cabinet is entirely white. This comes as a blow to the racially progressive image Brazil has been cultivating with several affirmative action programs meant to bring parity between its black and white communities.

Also read - President Rousseff may have to go. But where is Brazil headed?

But Temer's Cabinet decisions do not become any better post all of this. While yes, he has appointed some popular and credible candidates like former central bank chief Henrique Meirelles as finance minster, some of his other decisions have been downright bizarre.

Soon after taking power, Temer attempted to make an evangelical Christian pastor, Marcos Pereira, the head of the country's science ministry. While someone's faith shouldn't disqualify them from the post of science minister, his/her belief in the distinctly unscientific idea of creationism, should. When that didn't go through, Temer made Pereira minister for trade, maybe because prayer is the best solution to Brazil's trade woes.

Brazil got a new Cabinet, but it's a horror show

As if Temer wasn't already done attempting to desecrate the country's science ministry, he then demoted it from ministry status altogether. By merging it with the ministry of communications, Temer managed to outrage the Brazilian research community.

Temer's beef with science though, may come from his apparent opposition to logic. Temer, in another sterling appointment, appointed an agriculture minister whose claim to agricultural fame is a soybean empire that has deforested large tracts of the Amazon. It's so counter-intuitive it almost hurts the mind to think of it.

Counter-intuitive appointments though, are just what Temer loves. How else does one explain the appointment of José Serra as minister of foreign relations and foreign trade. After all, Serra is experienced in foreign relations and trade, but at the expense of Brazil. He was implicated by WikiLeaks for secretly trying to undermine Brazil's state-owned Petrobras, in favour of large foreign petro giants Exxon and Chevron.

But Temer isn't one to be bogged down by facts. Despite leading the charge to oust Rousseff for financial misdoings, Temer seems impervious to the fact that he's also implicated in the same corruption scandal. After all, while from a rival (larger) political party, Temer was Rousseff's vice president in the previous "corrupt" dispensation. As if leading by example, a large portion of his Cabinet also stands accused of corruption.

For a country that was hoping for brighter days after having been bogged down by corruption and mismanagement at the highest levels, Temer certainly hasn't given the country much cause for hope.

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First published: 17 May 2016, 10:45 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.