The legendary bolsa (for Bolsa familia), which would have lifted 28 million Brazilians out of poverty, may soon be a thing of ancient history. This social program, created in 2004 and emblematic of the Lula years, remains a pillar of the country’s wealth redistribution system. Today, 43.7 million people benefit from it (or one in five), earning an average of 168.75 reais per month (around 26 euros). At least for the moment, because the extreme right-wing power in place in Brasilia wants to put an end to this symbol of the left of the Workers’ Party (PT) as quickly as possible, and to replace it with a new social program stamped by Jair Bolsonaro.
The original idea? Replace the Bolsa with a very patriotic Renda Brasil (“income from Brazil”), adding several other existing social aid to it and increasing its budget by 30 billion reais. The measure would allow the most modest to face the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, and would take over from the monthly emergency aid of 300 reais paid since the start of the epidemic by the government to more than 53 millions of citizens in precarious situations.
The International Monetary Fund predicts a 5.8% gross domestic product contraction for 2020, and debt is expected to exceed 95% of GDP by end-December
However, the project quickly derailed, victim of the chaos inherent in Bolsonarist power, but also of the ultra-rigid standards governing national finances. In Brazil, public accounts have been subject to a “golden rule” since 2016, imposing a strict freeze on state spending for twenty years. To make matters worse, the economy is in dire straits and the finances are dry. The International Monetary Fund projects gross domestic product (GDP) to contract 5.8 percent for 2020, and debt is expected to exceed 95 percent of GDP by the end of December.
“Demonstrate that Brazil is a reliable country”
From then on, the search for the funds necessary to finance “income Brazil” turned into an ordeal for the Minister of the Economy, Paulo Guedes, ultraliberal and hostile to “aid” policies. In mid-September, the press reported that his team was studying the possibility of freezing retiree pensions for two years. The measure, very unpopular, immediately triggered an outcry.
Jair Bolsonaro sensed the danger coming. On September 15, he expressed his opposition on social media. “ If by any chance someone came and offered me something like this, I would give them a red card! “the president said furiously, explicitly targeting his own economy minister. “ Until 2022, the government will be banned from using the words “Renda Brasil”. We will continue with the Bolsa familia, period! “, he concluded.
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