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The impeachment request against Brazil’s Education minister

. Feb 06, 2020
The impeachment request against Brazil’s Education minister Demonstration against cuts to the education budget. Photo: Alf Ribeiro/Shutterstock

In today’s intensely polarized Brazil, political consensus is near impossible to come across. Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, however, has managed to attract criticism and calls for his head from all sides of the political spectrum. On Wednesday, a group of 26 representatives and two senators from ten different parties—including the far-left Socialism and Liberty Party to the right-wing Social Democracy Party—filed an impeachment request against the embattled cabinet minister.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the government’s disastrous management of the National University Entrance Exam, or Enem. Lawmakers say that the minister committed an offense against public administration—which is not strictly a crime—by not complying with the goals laid out by the National Education Plan.

</p> <h2>The Enem debacle</h2> <p>The problems began when the company that printed the exam’s tests and answer sheets went bankrupt in April 2019. Under Mr. Weintraub’s watch, the Education Ministry bypassed traditional bidding processes to hire a new contractor, choosing a firm with no prior experience in endeavors of this magnitude—more than 5 million students took the Enem last year—leading to a mix-up of answer sheets that affected the final grades of thousands of participants.</p> <p>The government says the error affected less than 1 percent of tests and even floated the—unsubstantiated—idea that it may have been a result of sabotage. But the ministry’s lack of transparency had already compromised an exam used as an admission evaluation by all federally-run universities, including some institutions in Portugal, Ireland, and the UK, most notably the University of Oxford.</p> <p>But the Enem debacle was by no means the only time in which Mr. Weintraub found himself at the center of controversy. His ten months in office have been defined by social media rants that border on the obscene, attacks on the press, ridiculous mistakes of basic knowledge—such as calling novelist Franz Kakfa “Kafta,” a type of skewered beef—the spreading of fake news, and the absence of any positive results to show for.</p> <h2>Abraham Scissorhands</h2> <p>In 2019, Mr. Weintraub froze at least BRL 5.8 billion of the education budget, sparking waves of <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/05/16/anti-government-protests-uncertainties-bolsonaro/">protests from students, teachers, and researchers</a>. The money represents one-third of federal universities’ budget on non-mandatory expenses such as salaries and pensions.&nbsp;</p> <p>For this year, the cuts continued. The overall budget will be 17 percent lower, with funds available for education infrastructure—which the government had presented as one of its priorities—being slashed by 54 percent. In a recent statement, the Education Ministry said that the fact that previous administrations had allocated more funds to education projects doesn’t mean the money was spent responsibly—without giving concrete evidence to prove this point.</p> <p>Mr. Weintraub’s office was entitled to an additional BRL 1 billion in funds recovered by anti-corruption probe Operation Car Wash, but hasn’t spent a single dime of it. However, that did not prevent President Bolsonaro from gloating on social media about raising extra funds for education. The Education Ministry initially planned to use the money on a system of vouchers to pay for private daycare centers for underprivileged families, but the proposal faces numerous legal hurdles.</p> <p>According to the National Campaign for the Right to Education, around 80 percent of the Brazilian National Education Plan’s goals have stalled. While not all the blame can be laid at Mr. Weintraub’s doorstep—in 2015 and 2016, former presidents Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer promoted their own radical cuts—but the lack of transparency has undermined the credibility of the Education Ministry.</p> <h2>Obscenity and crudeness</h2> <p>The members of Congress who request Mr. Weintraub’s impeachment also mentioned his behavior on social media as a cause for removal. On one occasion, the minister started an online brawl with one user, saying the man’s mother was a “scabby toothless mare.”&nbsp;</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">Uma pena, prefiro cuidar dos estábulos, ficaria mais perto da égua sarnenta e desdentada da sua mãe.</p>&mdash; Abraham Weintraub (@AbrahamWeint) <a href="https://twitter.com/AbrahamWeint/status/1195384227870789634?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>Mr. Weintraub also lashed out at French President Emmanuel Macron, calling him an &#8220;opportunistic cretin&#8221; after Mr. Macron criticized the Brazilian government’s environmental stances.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">A França é uma nação de extremos. Gerou homens como Descartes ou Pasteur, porém também os voluntários da Waffen SS Charlemagne. País de iluministas e de comunistas. O Macron não está a altura deste embate. É apenas um calhorda oportunista buscando apoio do lobby agrícola francês.</p>&mdash; Abraham Weintraub (@AbrahamWeint) <a href="https://twitter.com/AbrahamWeint/status/1165608907424903168?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 25, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>The minister also said in an interview that federal university students used chemistry labs to “cook crystal meth” and that they grew “extensive marijuana fields,” to the point of “needing pesticide sprayers.” For that line, he was summoned by the House’s Education Committee to prove his claim.</p> <h2>What will happen</h2> <p>Mr. Weintraub’s impeachment seems like a longshot. And President Bolsonaro seems keen on keeping him around—with supporters (with the help of bots) promoting social media campaigns in his support.</p> <p>This means that Mr. Weintraub should remain in charge of Brazil’s Education Ministry, without offering solutions for what has been one of Brazil’s major development hurdles: the <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2018/12/07/brazil-education-productivity/">lack of a properly-educated workforce</a>.

 
Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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