I write this article following the announcement that the Minister of State for Education, Abraham Weintraub, has stepped down from his position: the second such occurrence in the first year and a half of President Bolsonaro’s administration. It has been revealed that he is to take on the role of an Executive Director at the World Bank, with a generous corporate and family healthcare plan and a tax-free annual income of $258,570 USD. He has been implicated in multiple instances of misconduct, including participating in the production and publication of fake news, public threats against democratic institutions and the rule of law, blatant and persistent disregard for social distancing measures and incompetence in government management, among other improprieties.
By coincidence, this happened the same day that former military police officer Queiroz was detained. He was linked to a corruption case involving a senator, the president’s son, and Queiroz was sheltered for a year by the family’s lawyer, where he enjoyed free rein of the presidential palaces. This reflects the acute and accelerated decline in conditions of governance, already made more precarious by the worsening social, economic and political crisis that has continued to make its presence felt since the coup against the government of Dilma Rousseff, who was removed from office without evidence of responsibility for any crime.
This comes after 50 days under an interim Minister of Health, a military figure who replaced the Ministry’s main technical leadership with military cronies adept at denying science for the purpose of maintaining economic activity at any cost.
Brazil has approximately 3.3 million workers in the education sector who work daily to meet the needs of more than 57 million students in primary, secondary and higher education establishments. Education is undoubtedly the only public service to have penetrated every area of the country, whether rural or urban: from hinterland settlements, known locally as quilombos, to indigenous villages and riverside communities. In many cases, education is the only solid link between public authorities and the community, between the family unit and other social actors.
Though popular democratic governments have made progress in expanding and increasing universal access to compulsory education and in creating successful policies improving access to higher education and to professional and technological training, we have yet to resolve issues of low pay, disproportionate workloads, increasingly precarious contracting practices and outsourcing of services.
Ultra-liberalism is now entering its fifth year. There are an increasing number of restrictions arising from the labour reform, which are linked to the freezing of public expenditure until 2036, the detrimental consequences of which are added to existing financial constraints, the significant downgrade of the so-called “new secondary education” system, and the “new social welfare” system, in addition to the dismantling of national research programmes and of basic and continuous training, and budget cuts that cripple universities and public institutions for education, science and technology.
We are currently less than six months from the cut-off date for the Fund for the Development of Primary and Secondary Education and the imminent drying up of sector funds and complete abandonment of the provision of the resources required for maintaining and developing education. We are in the midst of a financial emergency, with economic forecasts predicting reduced working hours and wages, job cuts, privatisation of services and the direct transfer of public funds to private institutions, and the suspension of salary adjustments and career progression until December 2021.
Brazil is once again facing hunger, record unemployment rates, unregulated or under-the-table practices, despondency and declining wage share of GDP, with devastating effects in terms of the proliferation of poverty, increased inequality and destabilisation of community life.
The situation is further compounded by the spread of hatred and prejudice, culture wars, proliferation of fake news, normalisation of violence, legitimisation of paramilitary militias, and the criminalisation of critical thinking, freedom of association, demonstrations, and political pluralism.
We are conscious of our role in society. There is no doubt in our minds that it falls on us to fight to guarantee the universal right to education. There will never be victory without the decisive participation of teachers and educators. There will never be participation without democracy. There will never be democracy without struggle. There will never be struggle without life. Defending life is now our most important endeavour in order to be able to build a future in which there is a place for all of us.