Everything You Need To Know About The Outrageous, Surreal and Tragicomic Impeachment Of Brazil’s First Female President, Dilma Rousseff
Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, is being impeached and faces permanent removal from office. She and her predecessor belong to the Workers Party. During their combined administrations, 29 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty.
Here are some numbers of a different kind. According to the corruption monitoring group, Transparency Brazil, 60% of the 594 members of Brazil’s National Congress face serious criminal charges, mostly involving graft, bribery, and electoral fraud, but also illegal deforestation, kidnapping, and murder.
As president, Rousseff did nothing to stop the now numerous investigations into these politicians. She herself has never been accused of corruption and is not charged with it now.
The impeachment charges leveled against her are that she used money from public banks to temporarily cover budget gaps. The practice is widely used at all levels of Brazilian government, including by her two predecessors. No specific, well-defined law against it exits either in the constitution or the penal code. If congress wanted a tenable law against it, it could have created one.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to approve impeachment. In the House, the atmosphere was raucous, sexist, and tinged with homophobia. Most of the pro-impeachment congressmen cited “Family, God, and Country” as their motivation for impeaching their president. One spoke approvingly of the man who tortured Rousseff during the dictatorship she fought, and indeed the dictatorship itself. (The 22 year-old Rousseff was imprisoned for three years, endured extreme torture, but gave up no names. )
The Senate process was more dignified, though it included a brief pro-impeachment speech from ex-president Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned in 1992 after being impeached for personal corruption, and is now facing new corruption charges.
Almost none of the pro-impeachment politicians spoke of the actual charge.
The Senate now assumes a judicial function. But this is not a legal process in any normal sense, but a political one. There is little time for the accused to prepare. There is no presumption of innocence. There is no impartial jury. A two thirds majority vote by a Senate riddled with corruption can end Dilma Rousseff’s presidency.
Since she has been suspended from office, the character and intentions of those who impeached her have become clearer by the day. This is indeed a “white coup” in all senses of the word.
As soon as Vice President Michel Temer, a principal architect of the impeachment, became Interim President, he replaced a progressive administration representative of a diverse nation with one that contained only white males. No Afro-Brazilians, no women. He tried to close the Ministry of Culture and seeks to dismantle vital social programs. He tried to appoint an evangelical pastor who does not believe in evolution to head the Ministry of Science and Technology, then merged it into, and made it subordinate to, the Ministry of Communications. He appointed as minister of agriculture a man who advocates opening up vast stretches of the Amazon to farming. According to Folha de Sao Paulo, one of the leading newspapers in Brazil, he intends to close TV Brasil, the Brazilian equivalent of PBS.
A number of covertly recorded phone conversations have been anonymously leaked. In them, several of the chief instigators openly talked about impeaching the president as a means to stop or at least impede corruption investigations. After a recording surfaced in which mention was made of speaking to the military and the Supreme Court to get their approval for impeachment and how there was a need to “slow down” the investigations, the Minister of Planning was forced to resign.
On a similar recording, the new Minister of Transparency, (the anti-corruption czar!) was heard giving advice to the president of the Senate on how to dodge corruption investigators. He resigned. In total three ministers have been fired or resigned, some within days of being appointed, all in connection with corruption.
The man who began the impeachment process, Speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, was found to have millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts and has been removed from office by the Supreme Court. Cunha, an evangelical radio host believed to have laundered money through a megachurch, faces many corruption charges and could end up doing serious time.
Michel Temer, the new president, has already been found guilty of campaign finance violations. Once he leaves office, he is banned from running for any political office, including the one he now holds, for 8 years. Other more serious allegations are being investigated.
In conclusion, though the impeachment may have the appearance of legitimacy, it lacks both the spirit and substance of law. It is motivated by corrupt politicians trying to protect themselves from prosecution. It will result in the implementation of policies not sanctioned by the electorate when they voted for Dilma. It will lead to the weakening of human rights and environmental laws. While it is true that the economy has recently taken a serious turn for the worse and that Dilma doubtless made mistakes, her impeachment is unjustified, is in itself corrupt, and is a serious precedent-setting attack on a democratically elected leader of a young and fragile democracy.
The takeover has been so inept, and has inadvertently revealed so much of its own corruption, that popular opinion is turning against what is now widely described as a coup d’etat. Several senators have indicated they might change their minds and vote against ousting the president. To avoid clashing with the Olympics, however, the process is speeding up alarmingly.
A recently formed group in New York, Shout For Democracy, is planning a concert at the Apollo Theater on July 21st. Artists who have committed so far are Bebel Gilberto, Mauro Refosco and Forró in the Dark, Miho Hatori and Cibo Matto, Jesse Harris, and Wagner Moura. The aim of the event, according to organizers, is to publicize events in Brazil and protest a cynical attack on democracy.
Perhaps it will also remind senators, as they prepare to vote for or against impeachment, that people from all over the world have still not decided whether to attend the games, and news of a racist, sexist right-wing takeover might be even more abhorrent to them than the Zika virus.