Demonstrators clash with police during a protest in front of the National Congress in Brasilia on December 13, 2016.

Story highlights

Brazil approves a constitutional amendment that caps public spending

Protesters take to the streets in 15 cities over the amendment

CNN  — 

Fierce protests erupted in 15 Brazilian cities Tuesday as the country’s Senate approved a controversial 20-year austerity plan.

Known as PEC 55, the constitutional amendment imposes a cap on public spending that will limit federal investment in social programs for the next 20 years.

Brazil’s Senate approved the spending bill 53 to 16, and it is expected to become law Thursday.

Brazilian President Michael Temer – who assumed office in late August – praised the move, referring to the bill as the “first amendment aimed at getting the country out of recession.”

The government hopes that the spending cap, combined with a proposed pension reform, will lure investors back to Brazil, bringing an end to the worst recession in decades.

Expenditure cap, a breach on human rights

Students set buses on fire during a protest in front of the National Congress in Brasilia on December 13, 2016.

Plans to slash public spending are incompatible with Brazil’s human rights obligations and place the country in a “socially retrogressive category of its own,” according to Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“It is completely inappropriate to freeze only social expenditure and to tie the hands of all future governments for another two decades,” said Alston, in a statement.

“It will hit the poorest and most vulnerable Brazilians the hardest, will increase inequality levels in an already very unequal society, and definitively signals that social rights are a very low priority for Brazil for the next 20 years,” Alston added.

A police officer is knocked down during clashes with demonstrators protesting in front of the National Congress in Brasilia on December 13, 2016.

Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy and has a well-developed agricultural, manufacturing, and service sector. But the country has suffered its deepest recession in decades.

Since the beginning of 2015, the unemployment rate has doubled to more than 11% and as many as 12 million Brazilians are currently unemployed.

A recent poll from Datafolha showed that 60% of Brazilians are opposed to the amendment over fears that crucial education and health budgets will be affected.