Brazil impeachment: Rousseff begins her long goodbye

May 2, 2016 9:29 am
 waves at the crowd during a demonstration to mark International Workers' Day, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 1/FILE
waves at the crowd during a demonstration to mark International Workers’ Day, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 1/FILE

, RIO de Janeiro, Brazil, May 2 – Dilma Rousseff greets the Olympic flame in Brazil on Tuesday, but the pomp and ceremony will seem empty to a president likely to be suspended from office just a week later.

The arrival of the flame in Brasilia from an ancient Greek temple via Switzerland will trigger a three-month countdown to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and Brazil’s big chance to shine on the global stage.

But the supposedly joyful occasion coincides with the Latin American giant’s plunge into a political furnace, with Rousseff facing impeachment — and claiming to be the victim of a coup d’etat.

That means the choreographed events for the torch in the capital could be one of the 68-year-old leftist leader’s last major public appearances.

On May 11 or 12 the Senate is expected to vote to open an impeachment trial on charges that Rousseff illegally manipulated government accounts.

She would be automatically suspended and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer, the head of Brazil’s main center-right party and once a coalition ally of Rousseff before — in her words — turning “traitor.”

A definitive Senate vote on Rousseff’s fate could take months more, but unless she was cleared, she would never come back and her nemesis would stay in power until the next scheduled elections in 2018.

– Sinking ship –

On Sunday, Rousseff railed against “the coup” and told union supporters of her Workers’ Party that she would “fight to the end.”

However, with the Senate vote to suspend her looking near certain, she appears resigned — at the very minimum — to the humiliating prospect of having to abandon her executive offices, called the Palacio do Planalto, in just over a week.

“She has ordered the drawers to be cleaned out,” Folha daily said Sunday.

And it isn’t just filing cabinets that will be looking for a new home. Her Workers’ Party ministers and what Folha calls “a sea” of government employees are likely soon to be sending out job resumes.

Ten days from the Senate vote on impeachment “nothing about the routine in the Palacio do Planalto resembles the resistance announced by social movements under the cry of ‘No to the coup!’,” Estadao daily commented Sunday.

“In offices at the seat of government, functionaries are already packing their things.”

– Wider battle –

Once suspended, Rousseff will hunker down at the presidential residence on half pay.

From there she will attempt to persuade senators that the accounting tricks she is accused of do not amount to an impeachable offense and that the whole procedure is a political, not legal assault — an argument rejected last month by the lower house of Congress.

The stakes for Brazilian politics could not be higher.

Rousseff, a one-time Marxist guerrilla who was tortured by the military dictatorship in the 1970s, is widely assumed to be nearing the end of the road. However, the Workers’ Party, which has dominated and transformed the country since 2003, is still fighting to prevent impeachment from turning into a historic shift to the right.

Rousseff’s mentor and presidential predecessor, Workers’ Party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hopes to take the baton back by running in 2018 — or even in special snap elections before. Polls show he would be a frontrunner, trouncing the stunningly unpopular Temer.

Certainly leftist groups are threatening to go down swinging, vowing to make the life of an acting president or eventually full president Temer miserable.

Gilmar Mauro from the group Landless Rural Workers’ Movement vowed “civil disobedience” against Temer’s government, which the vice president is busily forming ahead of the Senate suspension vote.

And Vagner Freitas, president of the Unified Workers’ Central or CUT, Brazil’s main labor federation, was even more blunt.

“We do not recognize a government that no one elected,” he said.


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