Brazil's new neoliberal government is set to push through the most socially retrogressive austerity package in the world, a United Nations official warned on Friday, calling the proposed 20-year freeze on social spending a "radical measure, lacking in all nuance and compassion."
Under President Michel Temer, who seized power after a coup ousted the democratically elected Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president, the spending freeze would be locked into the country's constitution.
The senate will hold a final vote on the measure Tuesday.
In response to the news, Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, decried the bill known as PEC55.
"This is a radical measure, lacking in all nuance and compassion," he said in a statement, calling the package an attack on the poor. "It is completely inappropriate to freeze only social expenditure and to tie the hands of all future governments for another two decades. If this amendment is adopted it will place Brazil in a socially retrogressive category all of its own."
Many feared that Temer's rightwing policies would revert Brazil back to a state of extreme inequality. In September, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the coup against Rousseff was not "just against Dilma. It is against Latin America and the Caribbean. It is against us. This is an attack against the popular, progressive, leftist movement."
Brazil is Latin America's largest economy and is currently undergoing its deepest recession in decades. Its unemployment rate has doubled since 2015. Nonetheless, Temer has targeted social welfare programs since coming into office. In November, TeleSUR described the bulk of PEC55's policies:
The reform, previously known as PEC 241, freezes public spending rates for the next 20 years by tying any increase to social assistance programs to the previous year's inflation rate rather than GDP rates. This effectively limits what all future governments can spend on health, education and social welfare. Critics argued that the poor and marginalized in Brazilian society will disproportionately bear the burden of the cuts that will significantly undermine rights enshrined in the constitution.
Alston echoed that warning on Friday, stating, "If adopted, this amendment would lock in inadequate and rapidly dwindling expenditure on health care, education, and social security, thus putting an entire generation at risk of social protection standards well below those currently in place."
"It clearly violates Brazil's obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1992, not to take 'deliberately retrogressive measures' unless there are no alternative options and full consideration has been given to ensure that the measures are necessary and proportionate," he said. "Immediate negative effects need to be balanced with potential longer-term gains, as well as efforts to protect the most vulnerable, especially the poorest in society."
The austerity package comes amid massive protests on the streets of Brazil. Jorge Darze, the president of the Doctor’s Union of Rio de Janeiro, told the Guardian, "The situation is very serious. It is very difficult to discuss, because the legislative militarizes its entrance and the public prosecutors office has turned its back. This austerity package is far from solving the economic crisis, and I think it will worsen the social crisis."