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President keeps a tenuous grasp on power in troubled Brazil

Michel Temer rides out corruption storm as lack of replacement plays in his favour

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by Tom Hennigan

Considering the trouble he currently finds himself in, Michel Temer’s continued occupancy of Brazil’s presidential palace is something of a minor political miracle.

It is now 10 days since the latest in a growing list of corruption crises engulfed Temer’s administration, when a leading businessman directly implicated him in bribery and the obstruction of justice. And yet a week that saw the army deployed on the streets of Brasília after protesters attacked government buildings, setting fire to one ministry, ends with the president vowing to hang on.

“Brazil has not stopped and will not stop,” he said in a video released on Thursday night in which he pledged to continue with his unpopular reforms to Brazil’s labour laws and pension system, which led to Wednesday’s violent protests in the capital.

In a bid to ride out the political storm, Temer has played for time by questioning the veracity of the evidence against him. He has claimed a recording made by Joesley Batista, whose family company JBS is the world’s largest meat processor, of a conversation with Temer was doctored to implicate him in obstruction of justice. Technicians from the federal police say it could take a month to work out if that is the case.

But that still leaves open the larger question of why Temer was holding late-night meetings with a powerful business figure being investigated for corruption – and who, unbeknown to him, had already decided to work with federal prosecutors as part of a plea-bargain agreement – in his official residence. Or why he failed to officially register the visit or, apparently, report to police that Batista told him of his scheme to buy the silence of a jailed party colleague of the president.

Doubts about the tape also do nothing to explain how federal police came to film one of Temer’s aides accepting a briefcase with $500,000 Brazilian real (€135,000) in cash from one of Batista’s executives, which according to the businessman was the first instalment of a $15 million bribe for Temer.

Tom Hennigan is The Irish Times’s correspondent for South America. Previously based in Buenos Aires, he is currently located in São Paulo from where he covers the region’s political, social and economic developments.