Bolsonaro government dismantles key sectors of the fight against hunger in Brazil

Employees of the secretariat of food security are exonerated without receiving explanations

The management of Jair Bolsonaro began the mandate dismantling important sectors for the fighting against hunger in the country. Officials of the former Secretariat of Food and Nutritional Security (Sesan), which had ceased to exist after the redesign of the ministries with the inauguration of the new president, were exonerated in the first days of government.

A new round of dismissals is expected and this measure accompanies another one: the abolition, on January 1st, of the National Food and Nutrition Security Council (Consea), a channel linked to the Presidency of the Republic to dialogue with civil society and to formulate public policies against hunger.

In Sesan, at least seven officials ,among examined –  that have been relocated – and commissioned, ended up removed in the last weeks by Osmar Terra, head of the recently created Ministry of Citizenship, as the Official Union Diary (DOU) shows. These people were responsible for conducting government food and nutrition security programs.

Some of them, heard under secrecy by Joio, talk about persecution. These dismissals happen without prior notice and without communicating directly responsible heads. The decisions are taken unilaterally by the minister, they say. And there are two cases stated in the DOU that are really emblematic. One employee was exonerated retroactively, while another one had her demission published twice in the Diary.

Researcher Carmen Priscila Bocchi, former coordinator for Monitoring of Food and Nutrition Security Actions, exercised her functions when she learned from the DOU, in February 8th, that she had been exonerated in January 30th. In the gap between these two dates, she continued working normally and was not informed about her situation. Nor did her bosses know that she would be dismissed.

Nutritionist Kathleen Sousa Oliveira Machado, former general coordinator for the Public Equipment of Food and Nutritional Security, in turn, had her dismissal announced in two different dates. First, in January 29th. Then, in February 8th.

Besides them, names like the lawyer’s Lara Menezes Bezerra Sampaio, former coordinator for Promotion of Production for Self-consumption, and the sociologist’s Lilian Rahal, the last official to occupy the post of national secretary of Food and Nutritional Security, were dismissed, as the Official Diary shows. The substitutes of all the functions were not defined yet, and it is speculated that empty positions may be extinguished.

This game of musical chairs remove some of the pieces of the civil service that were essential to organize initiatives to combat hunger and malnutrition in Brazil. Sesan – one of the pillars of the National System of Food and Nutritional Security – emerged linked to the old Ministry of Agrarian Development and then was incorporated to the Ministry of Social Development in Michel Temer’s management (2016-2018), but ended up extinguished by an act signed on January 1st of this year by President Bolsonaro.

The measures follow the ordinance published in the DOU last Wednesday (6), with order from the minister of the Civil House, Onyx Lorenzoni, who appointed an official with no experience to take over the Secretariat for Productive Inclusion and Development, inheritor of the erstwhile Sesan. José Roberto Carlos Cavalcante, former general coordinator for Ministry of Tourism’s agreements, will lead the sector.

The change in the team’s profile raises doubts about the continuity of the actions performed by the body. Its officials were key players in moving the actions of hunger combat of the public machine at all three branches of government. They were also important in bringing these policies closer to the demands of civil society.

This year, officials would initiate the reformulation of the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy and would be responsible for organizing the National Conference on Food and Nutrition Security, bringing together social and political actors from all over Brazil to discuss actions to combat hunger and malnutrition.

This uncertainty reminds us of something important: Sesan used to conduct an agenda of articulation with the third sector and governmental entities, maintaining a certain autonomy. That is, when the secretariat guys were in the game, it was no thought of an action that favored the X or Y government, but lasting decisions were taken, that would later become state policies – as happened with Bolsa Família.

The secretariat articulated the Interministerial Chamber of Food and Nutritional Security (Caisan), a forum for formulating intersectoral public policies, capable of bringing together various ministries, secretariats and autarchies. In addition, Sesan was the Union’s interlocutor with state and municipal level bodies responsible for fighting hunger and malnutrition.

The officials exonerated or threatened to leave their work were some of those responsible for taking Brazil out of the Hunger Map of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA) in 2014. It is a list where the countries that have 5% or more of the population ingesting an inferior quantity of calories than the levels considered healthy. In practice, a nation outside this list can be considered a land free from hunger – something that, however, is in danger of changing.

Sesan’s officials also directed policies to promote agriculture and food distribution, such as the National Food Acquisition Program, foreseen in the last edition of the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security. They also played a central role in drought-fighting initiatives, coordinating, among others, the federal government’s Cistern Program.

In the corridors of the Ministry of Citizenship, they say that the change of the secretariat staff should not affect these policies overnight, but can, on the one hand, make their agendas gradually outdated; on the other hand, this exhaustive switching may remove the articulation nature of the ministry, moving away the autarchy that assumed the functions of Sesan, other public entities and third sector groups.

In the view of people accompanying the case, the course that the actions of the extinct Sesan will take will depend on the fate of Consea, which remains in an impasse. If the council is recreated by the Legislative Power, the food and nutrition security agenda may gain strength. In the opposite case, the future is nebulous for the policies of this area.

Joio questioned the Ministry of Citizenship about the exoneration of the officials and the posts that could be extinguished. We also requested an interview with Carlos Cavalcanti through the press office, but we did not receive a return until the publication of this report. We tried, further, to contact his superior, the secretary of Social Development Lelo Coimbra. There was no return of any of the requests.

Consea adrift

Nevertheless the government’s attacks on food and nutrition security policies are not today’s news. Signed in the first day of mandate, Provisional Measure 870 extinguished Consea, the main channel of civil society for dialogue with the government on food and nutritional security policies. Add to this a series of poorly explained decisions that made the fate of the collegiate script for an endless novel.

In practice, it is not clear whether the council actually ceased to exist or whether it would be redesigned in another government body.

Between the comings and goings of Bolsonaro, the last decision was that the destination of Consea would be responsibility of the Ministry of Citizenship, which until the moment only made clear that it has a tough nut to crack and does not know what to do. Since the beginning of the year there has been no forceful response to the case.

“Consea, as well as the other councils linked to the Presidency of the Republic, has been extinguished, and all the responsibilities that were on the councils have been maintained, but now in other bodies. From this form of organization, government commitment will become more celebrated”, said in a statement the Ministry of Citizenship, led by Osmar Terra, who assumed, in theory, the attributions of food security policies.

The ministry did not explain what happened with the counselors, who will carry out the duties that would fit them, who will appoint those people, how will society exercise control over those activities, who will present national priorities in terms of food security and who will organize sectoral conferences. These were some of Consea’s assignments.

Attorney for the Rights of the Citizen Deborah Duprat, from the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), sent in January 17th a letter questioning the Ministry of the Citizenship about Consea. The document established 48 hours for response, and what came was the purest silence. In January 28th, eleven days after, the ministry requested an extension of the deadline for sending the response in five business days. The request was accepted by MPF.

The new deadline expired last Monday (4), and the return was almost nil. “The Ministry of Citizenship sent a reply stating that the request for information should be made directly to the Presidency of the Republic, since it was an act issued by the head of the Executive Power”, says a note from the Public Ministry.

Behind the scenes, during the voting of Provisional Measure 870 in the National Congress, federal deputies articulate with colleagues an amendment to recreate Consea. The MP is expected to be taken to the Civil House plenary in the next few days.

For a president like Bolsonaro, that says to carry out a kind of “direct democracy”, the impasse on the council sounds contradictory. The body had two-thirds of the members indicated by society and guaranteed a rare dialogue with the most vulnerable populations in terms of food and nutritional security.

Add up to the end of Consea an emptying of Funai’s functions, responsible for politics for indigenous peoples, and enormous uncertainty in INCRA, the institute in charge of agrarian reform in the national territory.

Translation: Andréia Cirota Brancatto

(Image: Reproduction)

Matérias relacionadas