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Interim president Michel Temer (center) quickly showed his conservative instincts with a mostly white lineup of ministers that included a creationist in the top education post, a soy baron in charge of agriculture, and a finance minister who immediately declared the need for sweeping cuts.Interim president Michel Temer (center) quickly showed his conservative instincts with a mostly white lineup of ministers that included a creationist in the top education post, a soy baron in charge of agriculture, and a finance minister who immediately declared the need for sweeping cuts. Photograph: Antonio Lacerda/EPA

Brazil’s image as a socially liberal, multi-ethnic democracy may always have been more myth than reality, but any lingering illusions of this type have been swept away by interim president Michel Temer’s appointment of the country’s first all-male cabinet since the end of dictatorship in1985.

After conspiring to suspend Brazil’s first female president, his former running mate Dilma Rousseff, the 75-year-old patrician quickly showed his conservative instincts with a mostly white lineup of ministers that also included a soy baron in charge of agriculture, and a finance minister who immediately declared the need for sweeping cuts.

As was evident by the scrum of white men in suits who surrounded the grinning leader during his inauguration speech, Brazil’s old elite are once again at the helm – and they feel little obligation to represent the 52% of the population who are women or the 53% who are of mixed race.

It was a stunning contrast to Rousseff’s departing cabinet and government team, which was far more diverse in gender and race.

Temer made no apologies for harking back to traditional values. Just as many impeachment protesters have wrapped themselves in the national colours, he declared the motto of his new government would be “order and progress” – the Positivist slogan that spans the country’s flag.

Progress, however, does not appear to include improvements in the rights of women, who were long treated as second-class citizens in this macho culture.

A recent cover story, Veja magazine – the mouthpiece of the conservative right – paid tribute to such ideals, describing Temer’s wife, Marcela – a beauty pageant contestant who is 43 his junior – as “Bela, recatada e do lar” (Beautiful, demure and homely). In the interview inside, the first lady – who has her husband’s name tattooed on the back of her neck – said she felt lucky that he still found time to take her out for dinner every couple of weeks.

Rousseff – a former Marxist guerrilla who was once arrested with a gun in her handbag and withstood torture during the military dictatorship, yet went on to lead Latin America’s most powerful country – was the antithesis of the right’s vision of femininity.

In her parting address, Rousseff said she was the victim of treachery and misogyny. During the rowdy lower house impeachment vote, many conservative congressmen and their wives and girlfriends posed with patronising placards reading “Tchau querida” (Bye bye darling).

Ultra-conservative lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro went a step further by dedicating his vote to the dictatorship-era torturer-in-chief Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra. Despite condemnation from the left for this comment, Bolsonaro has not been punished. Among the right, he has surged in popularity, adding more than half a million Facebook “likes” in the two weeks that followed.



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