Brazil Senate opens impeachment trial against Rousseff
The impeachment trial of Brazil’s first woman president, Dilma Rousseff, got underway Thursday with high expectations that the suspended leader of Latin America’s biggest economy will be sacked within days.
The Senate trial was opened by Supreme Court president Ricardo Lewandowski half an hour late in the blue-carpeted chamber at 9:30 am (1230 GMT).
The proceedings in the capital Brasilia were 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 resist 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 trial will climax Monday when the president, who was suspended from office in May, addresses the Senate herself for the first time. A vote is then expected within 48 hours, with a two thirds majority of the 81 senators required to bring Rousseff down.
Senator Raimundo Lira, a Temer ally and strong backer of impeachment, told AFP that senators “have already made up their minds and I don’t think there will be any change at the vote.”
– Finishing Rousseff off –
Any lingering good vibes from the Rio Olympics, which ended last Sunday, were entirely absent as the capital became fixated on the political drama.
A huge metal barricade has been erected on the esplanade outside Congress to separate rival demonstrators, with large protests expected Monday.
Inside the chamber, 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.
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, during Lula’s presidency.
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 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.
“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.”
– Anyone but Dilma? –
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. 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 choice of market-friendly ministers have raised expectations that he can start getting the economic train wreck of Brazil back on 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.
“We just need a change, anything other than Dilma,” said Andrei Portela, 35, who is studying economics in Brasilia.