When the incoming populist Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the “Donald Trump of the Tropics,” presented his cabinet shortly after being sworn in last week, there was a notable absence: the minister of culture was nowhere to be found.
That’s because, according to Brazilian daily newspaper O Globo, the new president disbanded the ministry of culture just days into his tenure. Instead, he has folded it into the newly created ministry of citizenship, a portfolio that now includes social policy, sports, and culture. The new ministry will be led by former federal deputy Osmar Terra, who also served in ex-president Michel Temer’s government as minister of social development.
The paper reports that during his tenure in Temer’s administration, Terra became involved in a number of controversies relating to recreational drug policy and the country’s war on drugs. He has vehemently defended punishments for drug users and has been accused of distorting data on criminal indices in countries where marijuana use is legal. He also attracted controversy by advocating for new rules on the consumption of alcohol in violent areas. The former physician and politician has little expertise in culture or cultural policy, according to the paper.
In an email to artnet News, Brazilian dealer Pedro Mendes of the São Paulo, New York, and Brussels-based gallery Mendes Wood DM said none of this comes as a surprise. Streamlining the government by reducing 29 ministries to 15 was one of Bolsonaro’s key campaign promises, and it was always likely that culture would get the axe due to the right’s hostile attitude toward the arts in Brazil. “It’s very sad,” Mendes said. “But he is doing exactly everything he claimed he would. It’s a very dark time in Brazil.”
Fernanda Brenner, of the São Paulo-based art non-profit PîVO, agrees. “He turned the ministry [of culture] into a small secretariat,” she told artnet News. “Among so many disastrous measures in such a short time, this almost went unnoticed.”
In his first week in office, the new Brazilian president has introduced proposals to privatize airports, issued decrees that would lessen protections for indigenous people and the environment, and assembled a cabinet aligned with his far-right agenda.
“Bolsonaro’s debut was so bombastic that apparently this became a minor issue and the dissolution [of the ministry of culture] was only quoted [in the press] among a batch of things he cut,” Brenner said. “The fact that nobody is mentioning it says a lot.”
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