By Arkady Petrov
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The MPF (Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office) advised yesterday, May 30, that it filed a civil action against Minister Abraham Weintraub (Education) and the federal government for collective moral (punitive) damages.
Grounds for the action are the minister’s speeches since he took over the portfolio in April, making offensive statements about students and teachers.
The MPF is asking for R$5 million damages. The 10th Federal Court of Mossoró, Rio Grande do Norte state, will now examine the case.
Although it includes the Federal Government, the MPF ensures that there is “direct accountability of the minister, because once intent has been proven, there is no need to prosecute only the public body.”
In the action, prosecutors quote statements by the minister that, according to them, are prejudiced. Among these is a statement given in an interview on April 30th, when he said that “universities which, instead of seeking to improve academic performance, are muddled, will have reduced budgets.”
According to the MPF, the speech demonstrates “a clear discriminatory intent by the accused, as the universities initially reviled by the MEC achieved excellent performance”, based on rankings of higher education evaluation, such as the Times Higher Education survey.
On May 20th, the MPF recalled another incident and claimed that, in a meeting with university rectors and members of the Rio Grande do Norte congressional delegation, Weintraub proposed to “call the CA and the DCE” to perform certain services.
The CAs (academic centers) and DCEs (central student directories) are representative bodies of students. According to the prosecutors, for members to provide these services would be illegal.
“Cleaning and maintenance activities are not compatible with education, research, and extension activities. The proposal is based on the questionable premise that, for His Excellency, students are idle, not satisfactorily carrying out educational, research and extension activities to the point where they have free time to illegally perform the task that falls to the Administration,” states the complaint.
Two days later, at a hearing before the Education Commission in the Chamber of Deputies, the MPF recalled that the minister refused to apologize for using the term “turmoil” when referring to federal universities. “I have no problem apologizing, but not this time,” he said.
The MPF’s action has come on the same day that a string of protests has been scheduled across Brazil against the blockage of funds for federal institutions of higher learning.
The MEC is the target of another action, taken by the Federal Public Defender’s Office, calling for the suspension of the blockage of university funds.
“The playful tone used, clearly aimed at humiliating students, can only be understood by analyzing the overall context in which the speech was delivered, in the context of the troubled relationship with educational institutions,” says the MPF.
For prosecutors, the Weintraub speeches pose a risk of “gradually poisoning democracy”, since “when such speeches are made and considered normal in society, they can generate a climate of animosity against institutions.”
News agency UOL contacted the MEC and awaits feedback from the ministry’s advisors in order to include its position in the report.
When Weintraub appeared before the Chamber on May 22nd, to account for the blockage of funds, he said he wanted to relieve tension in schools.