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Brazil’s Lula stands by finance minister but rejects spending cuts targeting the poor

By Thomson Reuters Jun 15, 2024 | 8:43 AM

(Reuters) – Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Saturday he is open to analyzing Finance Minister Fernando Haddad’s spending cut proposals but emphasized that fiscal adjustments would not be made at the expense of the poor.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy, leftist Lula said unnecessary spending should be avoided amid growing pressure from investors for the government to reduce expenditures and balance public accounts.

“Haddad will never be weakened as long as I am president because he is my finance minister, chosen by me and kept by me,” he said. “If Haddad has a proposal, he will seek me out this week to discuss the economy. I want to make it clear that we are not going to make adjustments on the backs of the poor.”

His remarks came after Haddad said he was focused on intensifying the spending cuts agenda, citing areas like excessive public salaries and unlawful benefits.

The Senate’s rejection of a contested revenue-raising measure earlier this week had caused market prices to plummet amid growing concerns that Haddad was losing influence in his position.

Lula also said the media frequently mentions Brazil’s fiscal deficit, but no one talks about high interest rates “in a country with 4% inflation.”

“On the contrary, they celebrate with the central bank chief in Sao Paulo. Again, those attending the celebration must be profiting from the interest rate,” he said.

Central bank chief Roberto Campos Neto, appointed by former President Jair Bolsonaro, was honored on Monday at the Sao Paulo State Legislature and later attended a dinner hosted by state governor Tarcisio de Freitas, who is viewed as a potential right-wing candidate for the 2026 presidential race.

Since August, Brazilian interest rates have fallen by 325 basis points to 10.50% while annual inflation reached 3.93% in May, compared with the 3% official target. The next rate-setting meeting will take place on June 18-19.

(Reporting by Marcela Ayres in Brasilia; editing by Diane Craft)