Brazil’s Unelected President Cuts Successful Literacy Program
With Brazilian Senators preparing to vote this week on whether to oust President Dilma Rousseff from office, interim President Michael Temer’s unelected government last week has axed a popular nationwide educational program that has shaved nearly a quarter from the country’s illiteracy rate in little more than a decade.
The Ministry of Education confirmed that it had discontinued the literacy initiative to a citizen who requested an update on the program through the country’s Access to Information Act, the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported Sunday.
The initiative, known as Literate Brazil Programme, was launched in 2003 in the first year of the President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva–popularly known simply as “Lula”– of the Workers’ Party or PT. Brazil is historically one of the world’s most economically and social unequal countries in the world and the program was one of several redistributive efforts undertaken by Lula’s administration in his two terms in office.
But the interim Education Ministry, headed by right-wing politician Mendonca Filho, who faces investigation over major accusations of corruption, has dissolved the program, cutting off funding to state and local governments, even while continuing to deny publicly that the program has been revised in any way. State and local officials, however, say that they’ve been unable to enroll anyone in the literacy program, Folha reported Sunday.
Since it began in 2003, the literacy initiative has served an average of 1.3 million learners aged 15 and older, managing to reduce illiteracy rates from 11.6 percent to 8.3 percent in 2014. The Unesco Institute for Statistics estimated the 2015 adult illiteracy rate at 8.2 percent, while less than 2 percent of youth are illiterate.
According to Unesco, the program has shown “real-life success stories” of how literacy skills can improve “future prospects” for Brazilian citizens.
Despite the improvements in the literacy rate, Brazil still ranks behind many countries in the region, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, among others.
There also remains a great regional disparity in Brazil’s overall literacy rate, which ranges from 2.7 percent in the Federal District and 3.2 percent in the state of Rio de Janeiro to 22 percent and 20.2 percent in the poor, service-economy states of Alagoas and Piaui, according to government data reported by Folha.
Immediately after his administration was installed in May, Michel Temer’s all-male, corruption-ridden cabinet of neoliberal ministers moved swiftly to roll back social programs and implement an aggressive state austerity program that includes sweeping privatization efforts. Lula’s protegee, the twice-elected Rousseff is scheduled to testify Monday in her impeachment trial, with a final vote expected Tuesday.
Temer government’s has also cut other key programs and ministries, including the Ministry of Culture, which was absorbed into the purview of Minister of Culture, Mendonca Filho. The move represents the re-joining of the culture and education ministries for the first time since 1985, following the fall of the country’s brutal military dictatorship.
Filho is being investigated for receiving millions of dollars in bribes and illegal donations to fund his successful 2014 reelection campaign to represent the state of Pernambuco in Congress. If convicted, Filho would likely be forced to step down from his post, which would make him the fourth member of Temer’s cabinet to resign following accusations of bribery or fraud. Temer and his Foreign Minister Jose Serra are also embroiled in bribery scandals linked to fraud in the state oil company, Petrobras.
In just three months of “interim” government, Temer’s administration has moved toward privatizing state oil reserves, making cuts to popular social programs including the housing initiative Minha Casa Minha Vida, and hinted at plans to chip away at the country’s longstanding and cornerstone universal health care program. The country has also pivoted away from its left-wing allies in South America toward the United States and conservative governments in the region.
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