Dilma Rousseff impeached by Brazilian senate
Brazil’s first female president Dilma Rousseff has been thrown out of office by the country’s corruption-tainted senate after a gruelling impeachment trial that ends 13 years of Workers’ party rule.
Following a crushing 61 to 20 defeat in the upper house, she will be replaced for the remaining two years and three months of her term by Michel Temer, a centre-right patrician who was among the leaders of the campaign against his former running mate.
A separate vote will be held on whether Rousseff will be barred from public office for eight years.
Despite never losing an election, Rousseff – who first won power in 2010 – has seen her support among the public and in congress diminish as a result of a sharp economic decline, government paralysis and a massive bribery scandal that has implicated almost all the major parties.
For more than 10 months, the leftist leader has fought efforts to impeach her for frontloading funds for government social programmes and issuing spending budget decrees without congressional approval ahead of her reelection in 2014. The opposition claimed that these constituted a “crime of responsibility”. Rousseff denies this and claims the charges – which were never levelled at previous administrations who did the same thing – have been trumped up by opponents who were unable to accept the Workers’ party’s victory.
In keeping with her pledge to fight until the end for the 54 million voters who put her in office, Rousseff – a former Marxist guerrilla – ended her presidency this week with a gritty 14-hour defence of her government’s achievements and a sharply worded attack on the “usurpers” and “coup-mongers” who ejected her from power without an election.
Her lawyer, José Eduardo Cardozo, said the charges were trumped up to punish the president’s support for a huge corruption investigation that has snared many of Brazil’s elite. This follows secret recordings of Romero Jucá, the majority leader of the senate and a key Temer ally, plotting to remove the president to halt the Lava Jato (car wash) investigation into kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras.
While Rousseff was in the upper chamber, her critics heard her in respectful silence. But in a final session in her absence on Tuesday, they lined up to condemn her. As in an earlier lower house impeachment debate, the senators – many of whom are accused of far greater crimes – clearly revelled in the spotlight of their ten-minute declarations. Reflecting the growing power of rightwing evangelism, many invoked the name of God. One cited Winston Churchill. Another sang. Another appeared to be in tears.
“I apologise to the president, not for having done what did, because I could not have done anything else, but because I know her situation is not easy,” claimed a sobbing Janaína Paschoal, one of the original co-authors of the impeachment petition. “I think she understands I did all this in consideration of her grandchildren.”
The result was never in doubt, though Workers’ party figurehead and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – who also faces a trial of his own – had lobbied hard until the last moment to try to swing enough senators to avoid impeachment.
At the end of the marathon 16-hour session of speeches, the final nail was hammered in by the former Brazilian footballer Romário, who had been rumoured to be among the few senators who might change their minds and save the president. Instead, he wound up the debate by confirming that he would once again vote for impeachment. “It’s a sad moment when you decide to remove a president,” he told the chamber. However he said he was convinced that Rousseff had committed a crime of responsibility.
Ahead of the verdict, senator Vanessa Grazziotin, of the Communist Party of Brazil, arrived with a sense of resignation. “I’ve worn a mixture of red [for the Workers’ party] and black because today is a day of mourning,” she said. “I’m going to cry.” However, she and other Rousseff allies hoped they could minimise Rousseff’s punishment.
The final result was comfortably more than the two-thirds (54 seats) needed to finalise the president’s removal from office.
Workers’ party senator Lindbergh Farias said the president’s accusers were cowards. “It’s amazing how everyone who didn’t have the gall to look Dilma in the eyes spoke so bravely today in her absence,” he tweeted.
The musician and democracy activist Chico Buarque, who was among Rousseff’s supporters in the gallery, said the debate was rigged against her. “If the game were clean, she would have won,” he told local media.
Others noted that Rousseff’s removal from office less than halfway through her mandate reinforced the impression that the country’s political class remains uncomfortable with democracy although more than 30 years have passed since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship. Only two of the last eight directly-elected presidents have completed their terms. Two have been impeached, one removed in a military coup, one killed himself, one died before taking power and another resigned.
It also marks a dramatic downfall of a woman who was once one of the world’s most popular politicians with approval ratings of 85%. But she had struggled with a hostile congress and a dire financial climate. When Rousseff took office in January 2011, the economy was growing at a quarterly clip of 4.9%. It has been downhill ever since and she leaves the presidency with output shrinking by 4.6% though this is partly because the price of Brazil’s oil exports is now below half of its peak in 2011.
Rousseff’s achievements in office were mainly an expansion of equality policies put in place by her predecessors, particularly the bolsa familia poverty relief program, which now reaches almost 14 million households.