Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Suspended as Corrupt Conservative Parties Win Impeachment Vote

Posted May 18, 2016

MP3 Interview with Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, conducted by Scott Harris


After months of investigations, debate and street protests by supporters and opponents of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's Senate voted to impeach the nation's first female president. Rousseff will now be put on trial over allegations that she violated fiscal regulations by using funds from state banks to cover budget shortfalls in order to continue funding popular antipoverty programs.

Now suspended from office, Rousseff's unpopular Vice President Michel Temer has taken the reins of power for up to six months during the president's impeachment trial. Many of Rousseff's supporters, who benefited from her Workers Party government policies that lifted millions out of poverty, believe that the impeachment of the president is in fact a coup d'etat, orchestrated by the president's political opponents and Brazil's wealthy elite.

Unlike President Rousseff, many of those involved in the impeachment effort are under investigation themselves for crimes such as money laundering, forging documents and misappropriating public funds. Among those accused is acting President Temer. Internationally known political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky made this observation after the May 12 impeachment vote, "We have the one leading politician who hasn't stolen to enrich herself, who's being impeached by a gang of thieves." Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, and a professor at the University of Rio De Janeiro's International Relations Department. Here, Mendonça examines the forces behind Rousseff's impeachment, as she expresses concern for the repression that may now be unleashed. [Rush transcript]

MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: The first thing that is important to understand is that the reason for the impeachment is a very common practice that several administrations have used. They basically borrow money from public banks to cover expenses with social programs in Brazil. So, previous administrations have done this at the federal (level) and currently, if we use the same criteria, at least 16 state governors would have to be impeached. So she's not being accused of any corruption charges, at the same time that the congress members from the opposition parties that are putting her on trial are facing serious accusations of corruption. The speaker of the lower house who now has to step down, he was the one who orchestrated the impeachment process against her and he is being charged of having millions of dollars in offshare accounts in Switzerland and the public prosecutor has confirmed that information. So President Dilma actually gave more independency to the federal police to investigate cases of corruption and I think that's one of the reason why the conservative parties now are trying to stop the investigations by accusing her of a practice that cannot justify her impeachment.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What are the prospects that Dilma Rousseff will survive this trial and return to office as president?

MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Well, it doesn't look very good, which is very dangerous for democracy in Brazil and for the whole region because even before the vote, the Congress members in the senate in the lower house have already expressed their opinions and they didn't even mention for the impeachment. In the lower house, it was a bizarre situation one after the other, congress members were saying that they approved the impeachment in the name of God, in the name of their families, one of them praised a military commander known by performing torture against political prisoners during the military dictatorship. And now what we have just five hours before taking power, the supposed new president is making structural changes. He abolished, just in five hours, the ministers of culture, of communication, of women, of racial equality, of agricultural development, and also the governmental bodies that used to control cases of corruption that used to investigate those cases. So I think we're going to see a situation of repression against social movements that are protesting against what we see as parliamentary coup.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Maria Luisa, I have heard that Vice President Michel Temer, who is now acting president, may very well implement a neoliberal economic program even before any new national elections are scheduled. How much of a concern do you have that a lot of the programs that lifted millions of people in Brazil out of poverty over recent years that the Workers Party was in government will now be reversed with this unelected president who's take the reins of office in the midst of this crisis?

MARIA LUISA MENDONÇA: Exactly. He already announced several cuts in social programs in health care and education and he appointed radical, evangelical, right-wing new ministers, for instance the minister of science and technology is a religious fundamentalist who doesn't believe in science. The minister of health just said that for instance, the problem of Zika virus is because the mosquito is not obedient. So we have this bizarre new cabinet of right-wing evangelicals that are cutting social programs already in just a few days and we're going to see probably is more economic instability, more social inequality and all the gains that we had in the last decade – you know President Dilma was elected and re-elected and at that time of her re-election, we had a situation of full employment in Brazil. Then right after she got re-elected with 55 million votes, Brazil suffered a speculative attack from financial markets and that was the reason why the economy was destabilized and because there was no reason – it's different than here in the United States – when a house bubble and then you have an economic crisis. In Brazil, suddenly we wake up and we have an economic crisis for no apparent reason.

So there was a speculative attack against the economy and at the same time, we had a huge campaign from the corporate media and all the networks started to call demonstrations against the government and tell people that the only way the economy was going to improve was if there was a change in government. So it's important for people to understand that we don't have a parliamentary system in Brazil with a presidential system. So we cannot impeach a president just because at some point in her term her popularity is low or some people don't like her. So we have to respect the result of the election. That's the main point we need to clarify.

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