Meet Brazil’s new Education Minister, economist Abraham Weintraub

. Apr 09, 2019
weintraub bolsonaro Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Abraham Weintraub

The last time we spoke of Brazil’s Ministry of Education, internal power struggles and public criticism had pushed Minister Ricardo Vélez-Rodríguez to the brink, with GloboNews reporting that his firing was imminent. On that occasion, President Jair Bolsonaro—unwilling to give the satisfaction of a scoop to his adversaries in the media—denied that he was about to make his second cabinet dismissal in less than 100 days in office. However, even Mr. Bolsonaro admitted that “things weren’t going well” within the Education Ministry.

Almost two weeks later, Jair Bolsonaro decided to pull the trigger after all and relieved Mr. Vélez-Rodriguez of his duties on Monday afternoon. In his place, the government has appointed Abraham Weintraub, a name which has drawn more than a few raised eyebrows among pundits.

</span></p> <h2>No experience</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">First and foremost, Abraham Weintraub is an economist, and has no experience in education administration. With a master&#8217;s degree in administration in the area of finance, Mr. Weintraub spent most of his career working in banks, most notably at Banco Votorantim. More recently, he worked as a professor at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), the closest he has ever gotten to experience in the education field.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Weintraub comes into the role having already been a part of the new government. He was brought into the fold last year by Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni to work as his number two, and collaborated with Economy Minister Paulo Guedes&#8217; team in the construction of the pension reform proposal.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The choice of Abraham Weintraub is likely based on his experience managing teams, with the Bolsonaro government seeing him as someone who can settle the Education Ministry ship in what appears to be a devastating typhoon.</span></p> <h2>Meet the new boss, same as the old boss</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In ideological terms, Mr. Weintraub is not set to be much of a departure from his predecessor. Like Ricardo Vélez-Rodríguez, the new Minister of Education is a follower of the teachings of Olavo de Carvalho, the <a href="">far-right savant of the Bolsonarism movement</a>. Being an &#8220;Olavist&#8221; (or an &#8220;Olavette,&#8221; as critics call them), Abraham Weintraub is a firm believer that Brazil&#8217;s education is being contaminated by &#8220;cultural Marxism,&#8221; and subscribes to the <a href="">conspiracy theory</a> that the left introduced <a href="">crack cocaine</a> to Brazil. After Mr. Vélez-Rodríguez, this is nothing new.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, as was warned back at the beginning of the new government, so-called &#8220;cultural Marxism&#8221; is not the problem with Brazil&#8217;s education. The situation in the country&#8217;s schools remains dire, despite having increased spending on education before the 2014 recession at a rate five times higher than that of OECD countries. These resources are clearly being applied incorrectly, as <a href="">Brazil remains with 70 percent of high school graduates leaving with unsatisfactory grades</a> in both Portuguese and mathematics.</span></p> <hr /> <h2><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-12482" src="" alt="Brazil's education problem, in charts" width="1024" height="700" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></h2> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-12484" src="" alt="Brazil's education problem, in charts" width="1024" height="671" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1220w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-12487" src="" alt="Brazil's education problem, in charts" width="1024" height="681" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1264w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <h2>With Weintraub, the pendulum swings right</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Beyond his inactivity and frankly laughable measures, Ricardo Vélez-Rodríguez&#8217;s time as Education Minister was severely harmed by a power struggle in progress within the department.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Olavo de Carvalho, the ideological mentor of Messrs. Vélez-Rodriguez and Weintraub, is a vocal critic of the high command of the Armed Forces, in particular Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s vice president, General Hamilton Mourão. The Ministry of Education, being split between representatives of the military and Mr. Carvalho&#8217;s disciples, therefore became the ideal stage for this squabble to play out.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Carvalho claimed at the end of March that he had been &#8220;betrayed&#8221; by Ricardo Vélez-Rodríguez, and that he had told him &#8220;to stick his ministry up his ass&#8221; after some of the ideologue&#8217;s followers within the department were dismissed. Now, with Mr. Weintraub in charge, there is an expectation that the military will be purged from the Ministry of Education—including lieutenant brigadier Ricardo Machado Vieira, appointed as the ministry&#8217;s second in command just ten days ago. In their places, the new Minister is set to bring back the Olavists dismissed under Mr. Vélez-Rodríguez.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Of course, the raging internal politics of the Ministry of Education are nothing but a sideshow, playing out to the public while Brazil&#8217;s school system remains an ungodly disaster. Part of the reason for Ricardo Vélez-Rodríguez&#8217;s firing was the public dressing-down he was given by 25-year-old Congresswoman Tabata Amaral during a hearing at the House of Representatives. On that occasion, Ms. Amaral demanded results, projects, and objectives. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The spotlight will now be on Mr. Weintraub to some progress.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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