Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Rousseff defense begins in impeachment trial

Brazil's suspended president Dilma Rousseff began her defense case Friday in the Senate impeachment trial that could see the one-time leftist guerrilla ejected from office within days.
Brazilian suspended President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a Workers' Party rally in Brasilia on August 24, 2016. Brazil's suspended president Dilma Rousseff enters her final battle to win back power on Thursday, when senators open an impeachment trial expected to remove her from office for good. / AFP PHOTO / ANDRESSA ANHOLETE

Brazilian suspended President Dilma Rousseff / AFP PHOTO / ANDRESSA ANHOLETE

Brazil’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff began her defense case Friday in the Senate impeachment trial that could see the one-time leftist guerrilla ejected from office within days.

Rousseff, 68, is accused of breaking the law when she took unauthorized loans to bridge budget gaps during her 2014 reelection.

Allies, including former economy minister Nelson Barbosa, were to argue that the budgetary maneuvers were common practice in previous governments and had never been considered illegal.

“They are condemning an innocent,” Senator Paulo Paim, from Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party, said just before the session got underway.

Rousseff loyalist Senator Gleisi Hoffman told AFP she thought that impeachment could still be defeated.

“I think it’s possible to reverse the process because there are senators who even though they’ve shown they favor impeachment have said they could change their minds,” she said.

The hearings began Thursday when the Senate heard from opponents of the first woman to lead Latin America’s biggest economy.

Now the trial is slowly building to Monday when Rousseff herself will testify in a piece of political theater that could determine whether 13 years of Workers’ Party rule comes to a sudden end.

Senate leaders expect a final vote on her fate to take place in the first part of next week and Rousseff opponents are confident they will muster the necessary two-thirds majority to bring her down.

Senator Raimundo Lira, a 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.”

If Rousseff goes, her former vice president turned bitter enemy, Michel Temer, will be sworn in, signaling a sharp shift for Brazil to the right.

– Bitterness –
The left and right are now bitterly divided, heralding further instability for a country already struggling to resurrect its once buoyant economy.

Rousseff’s ally and predecessor, Workers’ Party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said in a speech in Rio that “a week of national shame” had begun.

Rousseff, who was tortured and imprisoned by the 1970s dictatorship for membership in a Marxist urban guerrilla group, calls the process a coup.

She said late Wednesday that she’d resist “with the same force that I fought against the military dictatorship.”

But her opponents see the drama in equally stark terms.

“Impeachment of Rousseff is a great victory for democracy, a liberation for our country from the left which wanted to hang on to power,” said Senator Janaina Paschoal, one of the authors of the impeachment petition against the president.

A huge metal barricade was set up on the esplanade outside Congress to separate rival demonstrators, with police saying there could be large protests Monday.

Temer, who has served as acting president since May, is hardly more popular than Rousseff. A recent opinion poll found only 14 percent of Brazilians thought he was doing a good job.

However, his center-right coalition and choice of market-friendly ministers have raised expectations that he can get the economy back on track.

The economy shrank 3.8 percent in 2015 and is forecast to drop about 3.3 percent again this year, a historic recession. Inflation is at about nine percent and unemployment at 11 percent.

“I agree that Dilma must leave power. Leaders must be responsible for their actions,” said Mara Campos, 50, waiting at a bus stop in Brasilia.

“But I am very worried because this trial is traumatic.”

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