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Joaquim Barbosa Brazil's former chief justice criticizes austerity reforms

Joaquim Barbosa -- a former Supreme Court justice seen as a potential heavyweight in Brazil's presidential race this year -- sharply criticized austerity reforms in Latin America's biggest economy Thursday.

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Former Supreme Court judge Joaquim Barbosa is seen as a potential heavyweight in Brazil's presidential race play

Former Supreme Court judge Joaquim Barbosa is seen as a potential heavyweight in Brazil's presidential race

(AFP/File)

Joaquim Barbosa -- a former Supreme Court justice seen as a potential heavyweight in Brazil's presidential race this year -- sharply criticized austerity reforms in Latin America's biggest economy Thursday.

Barbosa rarely gives interviews, so there was immediate interest in his comments to Estadao newspaper, in which he called austerity reforms "social engineering" and "purely speculative."

"I'm not in favor of ultraliberal positions in a country as socially and structurally fragile and imbalanced as Brazil, with its deep and historically rooted inequalities," he said.

"You only need to glance at the so-called deep Brazil or at the margins of our big cities to be convinced of the inadequacy" of the reforms, Barbosa added.

Barbosa, 63, has yet to decide publicly whether he is running, but this month he took the important step of joining the centrist Brazilian Socialist Party, beating a deadline for would-be candidates to list their party affiliation.

There are growing calls for him to declare his candidacy for the October 7 election.

He became the first black chief justice on the Supreme Court, which he left in 2014, and earned a reputation as a major anti-corruption fighter.

In today's climate, where important figures from President Michel Temer on down are embroiled in an ever-expanding embezzlement and bribery scandal, that gives Barbosa major political credibility.

The Estadao interview appeared to respond to pressure for him to flesh out where he stands on the economy and other big issues.

"It's obvious that (austerity) is not a solution for the mass misery that is our trademark and we apparently insist on ignoring," Barbosa said.

The comments were a rebuke to Temer, who is the most unpopular president on record and is battling so far unsuccessfully to push through cuts to the costly pension system, as well as labor market reforms.

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