Celebrated by President Jair Bolsonaro (no party) even before his election in 2018, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes – at the time, called by the code name “Posto Ipiranga”, in an allegory that referred to the idea of those who have solutions for everything – today sees its reputation dehydrate on the political scene.
With the Brazilian economy in shambles, high inflation and record unemployment, the chief executive’s economic guru is accumulating multilateral criticism and is currently trying to save his own skin amidst an erosion in the relationship with the political world.
The difficulties currently faced by Guedes were accentuated with the accusation that the minister is a partner in an offshore company located in the British Virgin Islands. Published on March 3 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (CIJI), the revelation inaugurated yet another scandal in the Bolsonaro administration and placed the president on the hot seat of Congress.
See too: What is offshore and how tax havens affect your life
As a result, the Senate and Chamber approved last week requests to summon the minister to explain to the two houses about the suspected conflict of interest.
In the case of the Chamber, where the government now has more political ground compared to the situation it faces among senators, the request was endorsed by the plenary on a scoreboard of 310 to 142, which shows broad support for the hearing by members of the own allied base on the Plateau. A minority among deputies, the opposition bloc has a limit of 130 parliamentarians.
The leader of the government in the Chamber, Ricardo Barros (PP-PR), tried to negotiate a conversion of the summons request into an invitation. The practice is commonplace in political negotiations and aims to avoid further strain on the management, but it did not work.
“The fact that the government leader did not achieve this shows the minister’s political weakness within the Chamber. You see, there were 310 votes in favor of the call. Even if it were a PEC, which requires a qualified quorum of 308 votes, it would have passed. This demonstrates the Chamber’s de facto dissatisfaction with Guedes, and there are some reasons that justify this”, assesses political scientist Leonel Cupertino, a consultant at Queiroz Assessoria in Institutional and Governmental Relations.
He points out that the president of the Economy is seen by lawmakers as a “technocrat” because of the excessive prioritization of numerical arguments to the detriment of more humane aspects when it comes to signing or blocking an agenda.
The behavior generates frustration in parliamentarians because it makes bills discussed – often exhaustively – and approved by Congress go through an ordeal when they reach the Presidency of the Republic, where Bolsonaro blocks the proposals under disputed fiscal justifications voiced by Guedes.
The conduct results in the set of sequential vetoes that have eroded the relationship between the head of the Executive and the parliament. The most emblematic recent example we have is the issue of sanitary pads for schools, vetoed by Bolsonaro on the grounds of the Ministry of Economy that the project did not bring the sources of income to be put into practice”, illustrates Cupertino.
Despite having arrived in the government with political clout in front of Bolsonaro and having won the so-called “superministry” – the Economy started to house folders and bodies before under the baton of other areas –, Guedes today has been losing space at the top of the federal public administration.
One of the most recent examples is the transfer of part of the bureaucratic, political and budgetary structure of the Economy to the newly recreated Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE), in July, which is in charge of Onyx Lorenzoni.
The change comes amid the political world’s dissatisfaction with Guedes’ performance. Proclaimed since 2018 as a PhD by the University of Chicago (USA), a hotbed of economists who stimulated liberal reforms in different parts of the world, the minister was drowned in damage caused by the fiscal tightening agenda that he continues to impose on the country.
Under a speech about the need to clean up the Union’s accounts, the president managed to approve a series of unpopular measures that cost dearly to the government’s image. The initiatives were accompanied by promises of job creation and economic improvement. The agenda, however, failed.
“Deputies voted on the Social Security reform, the so-called emergency PEC (PEC 186), the privatization of Correios, and what did the National Congress receive in exchange for Paulo Guedes’ administration? Gasoline at R$7 and cooking gas at R$100, to name two examples. It is evident that these values are very annoying to parliamentarians”, observes Leonel Cupertino, while highlighting the current weight of inflation on workers.
On Wednesday (13), during an interview with CNN radio, the president of the Chamber, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), when trying to shield the government and avoid criticism of the minister, stated that the summoning of Guedes does not exactly mean that he is isolated or who has lost strength in management.
Behind the scenes in the political world, however, the reading is that the dehydration of the president is slowly getting worse, increasing the criticism surrounding the minister. Speculation grew due to the scandal surrounding the offshore.
“I think ‘isolation’ is exactly a very strong word to define his situation today, but that he is politically weakened is clear. There’s no doubt. It is difficult to know what will come ahead, but if the explanations that Guedes gives to the parliamentarians are not satisfactory, the pressure for his replacement tends to rise a lot”, concludes the legislative consultant.
Edition: Vinícius Segalla