Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s last quarter 2018 saw the election of Jair Bolsonaro, who began immediately to act as if he were already President. Lame duck Michel Temer, the least popular President in Brazil’s history, readily acquiesced to doing Bolsonaro’s bidding upon request.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

Two of Temer’s lame duck actions have already had adverse consequences.

Lame Duck 1: the extradition of Cesare Battisti. Battisti is a convicted Italian terrorist who has been in Brazil since 2007; he had escaped from prison in Italy almost thirty years ago and had lived, more or less clandestinely, in France and Mexico.

After his arrest in Brazil, Brazil’s Justice Minister granted him refugee status; however, this decision was overturned and in 2010 Brazil’s STF held, 5-4, that extradition was possible. The court further stated that, even though extradition was legally possible, Brazil’s President could decide whether to extradite or not.

On December 31, 2010, his very last day in office before Dilma’s inauguration, lame duck President Lula chose not to extradite Cesare Battisti, on the grounds he would be subject to persecution if imprisoned in Italy. Battisti was eventually released.

Upon the election of Jair Bolsonaro, of partial Italian descent, the Italian government began to pressure him to extradite Battisti after taking office. He announced he was favorable to extradition. On December 13th, STF Justice Luiz Fux decided that extradition was possible as an exercise of presidential power, and a day later lame duck President Temer issued a decree for Battisti’s extradition.

Battisti has gone into hiding while he appeals the new decree as a form of illegal double jeopardy.

Lame Duck 2: the “Mais Médicos” project. Cuba’s government has long exported doctors (“more medics”) to other countries that need them. President Dilma knew that numerous poor areas, urban and rural alike, had no resident doctors – most Brazilian doctors prefer to live and work in wealthy areas.

Dilma instituted the Mais Médicos project, which recruited Brazilian doctors and those from other countries, as long as they would agree to work three years in poor areas. She also approached Cuba to supply many of these doctors, and Cuba readily agreed. Under the terms of the agreement, Brazil paid an international organization, which sent the funds to Cuba, almost US$4,000 per month per doctor.

The Cuban doctors received around thirty percent of the total payment, as well as local housing and transportation. Almost without exception, they fit well into their new communities, where the local residents were pleased to have them.

Early in November, Bolsonaro signaled his intention to curtail Cuban involvement in Mais Médicos. His justification was not lack of competence, or taking jobs away from Brazilian doctors: rather, it was the payments made to Cuba’s communist regime, coupled with ludicrous crocodile tears for the Cuban doctors themselves. He characterized their plight as being akin to slave labor.

This is utter nonsense. The Cuban doctors are volunteers, not slaves – no one forces them to join the program. The amount they receive (around R$3,500 per month) is almost ten times greater than their salaries in Cuba, and fifty percent more than the average salary Brazilians earn.

Cuba itself pulled the plug on its participation, which left thousands of Brazilian communities, once again, without resident doctors. The lame duck Temer administration sent out calls for Brazilian volunteer doctors.

Unsurprisingly, thirty percent of those who volunteered have failed to report for work, and the poor continue to suffer.

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