Brazil’s new interim president, Michel Temer, held his first official Cabinet meeting today after vowing the new team would try to rescue the country’s plunging economy at a moment of profound political confrontation.
The gathering at the government headquarters followed a chaotic day that saw the Senate vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, suspending her from office and abruptly ousting nearly her entire government, a move she branded “a coup.”
Temer moved quickly to announce his new team, whose star appears to be Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, widely respected for serving as Central Bank chief during the boom years from 2003 to 2010.
“Our biggest challenge is to staunch the process of freefall of our economy,” Temer said at a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday for his 22 Cabinet ministers. “First of all, we need to balance our public spending. The sooner we are able to balance our books, the sooner we’ll be able to restart growth.”
He also promised to support the widening investigation into corruption at the state oil company that has already ensnared leading politicians from a variety of parties and even implicated Temer himself as well as several members of the new Cabinet.
His choice of ministers also raised criticism for its makeup:
All its members are middle-aged or elderly white men a particularly sore point in this majority non-white country. Six women, including one black, were included in the 39 members of Rousseff’s Cabinet when she began her second term last year.
Temer made a bid for peace with Rousseff, offering his “institutional respect” for the suspended leader, who continues to live in the presidential residence even as her replacement holds down the government offices.
“This is not a moment for celebrations, but one of profound reflection,” he said. “It’s urgent to pacify the nation and unify the country. It’s urgent for us to form a government of national salvation to pull this country out of the serious crisis in which we find ourselves.”
Rousseff, however, vowed to fight her ouster, calling it “a coup” led by a social and economic elite that had been alarmed by the policies of her leftist Workers’ Party, which had held power for 13 years.