Brazil’s Rousseff enters final act of impeachment

August 25, 2016 9:07 am
A Senate trial is considered almost sure to see Brazil’s suspended President Dilma Rousseff found guilty of cooking the budget books to mask economic problems © AFP / Andressa Anholete

, Brasília, Brazil, Aug 25 – Brazil’s first woman president, Dilma Rousseff, faced the final act of an impeachment battle Thursday likely to see the suspended leader of Latin America’s biggest economy sacked within days.

A Senate trial starting at 9:00 am (1200 GMT)was considered almost sure to result in Rousseff, 68, being found guilty of cooking the budget books to mask the depth of economic problems during her 2014 reelection campaign.

If she is removed from office, her former vice president turned rival Michel Temer will be sworn in to serve until 2018, shifting Brazil to the right after 13 years of leftist rule under Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.

Rousseff, who was tortured and imprisoned by the 1970s dictatorship for membership in a Marxist urban guerrilla group, swore to fight to the end against what she calls a coup.

“We will fight to reinforce democracy in our country with the same force that I fought against the military dictatorship,” she told supporters late Wednesday in Brasilia.

The impeachment trial of Dilma Rousseff © AFP / Anella RETA, Gustavo Izús

In a climax to the trial, the president, who was suspended from office in May, will address the Senate on Monday. A vote is expected within 48 hours, with a two thirds majority required to bring Rousseff down.

Despite her defiance, Rousseff cuts a lonely figure, abandoned by even former government ministers and with only minimal public support.

Every congressional vote at previous stages in the months-long impeachment saga, has seen the pro-impeachment side easily win.

– Hostility –

Brazil’s feel-good factor from the Rio Olympics, which ended just last Sunday, will be entirely absent as proceedings get under way.

Many senators can barely disguise their eagerness to finish Rousseff off — and inflict lasting damage on the once mighty Workers’ Party.

The charges against Rousseff narrowly focus on her use of unauthorized state loans to cover budget gaps. She argues that the practice has long been accepted by a succession of governments.

A recent opinion poll found only 13 percent of Brazilians thought acting President Michel Temer was doing a good job © AFP/File / Evaristo Sa

Unofficially, Rousseff is taking the blame for Brazil’s vertiginous slide into economic decline, mixed with a giant corruption scandal and gridlock in Congress.

Her predecessor and mentor, Workers’ Party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, left office with sky-high ratings in 2010 thanks to an economic boom that he used for social programs lifting tens of millions of Brazilians from poverty.

However, Rousseff’s rule coincided with a dramatic slump in global commodity prices, which badly hurt exporter Brazil, as well as the revelation of mass embezzlement at oil giant Petrobras, the flagship state company.

Although Rousseff herself has not been accused of stealing from Petrobras, many of her close allies on the left, as well as opponents on the right, have been charged in an unprecedented crackdown dubbed Operation Car Wash.

The wave of prosecutions, which has picked up rapidly over the last year, contributed to a sense of national crisis.

The notoriously inflexible Rousseff was unable to stop the fraying of her patchwork alliance in Congress. Huge pro-impeachment protests erupted and even Rousseff’s electoral base — the country’s poor — turned away.

In a country exhausted by political wrangling and economic decline, the most widespread reaction to her departure would likely be indifference.

“The truth is I don’t care much if Dilma stays or goes,” said Pamela Dos Anjos, 28, in a part of Sao Paulo long considered a Workers’ Party bastion. “Here things are always bad.”

– Give Temer a shot –

Temer, who has served as acting president since May, is hardly more popular than Rousseff. A recent opinion poll found only 13 percent of Brazilians thought he was doing a good job.

Opponents consider him illegitimate, since he has come to power through impeachment, not election. He upset many as soon as he took up the temporary job by naming an all-male, all-white cabinet.

However, his center-right coalition and his choice of market-friendly ministers have raised expectations that he can start getting the economic train wreck of Brazil back onto the rails.

The economy shrank 3.8 percent in 2015 and is expected to drop 3.1 percent again this year, a historic recession. Inflation is at about nine percent and unemployment at 11 percent.

Andrei Portela, 35, who is studying economics in Brasilia, said Temer has to be given a chance.

“We just need a change, anything other than Dilma,” he said.

“Dilma is finished. This is the end for her and it would not be viable for her ever to come back.”


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