Brazil’s President Rousseff Testifies at Own Impeachment Trial

With the Olympic Games fading fast from memory, the Brazilian people now get to watch their political system perform constitutional gymnastics in the impeachment of the president. The trial has reached its climax with President Dilma Rousseff herself taking the stand in her own defense. She told the Senate that serves as the jury, “I did not commit the crimes that I am arbitrarily and unjustly accused of. We are one step away from a real coup d’etat.” One objects to the term, but tomorrow, the Senate is almost certain to vote her out of office.

As explained by the BBC, “Ms Rousseff is accused of moving funds between government budgets, which is illegal under Brazilian law. Her critics say she was trying to plug deficits in social programmes to boost her chances of being re-elected in October 2014.” The fact is that this has been standard practice since Brazil returned to civilian rule despite its illegality, and so, the argument in her favor has been that this is selective enforcement of an accounting law raised by her opponents to the level of an impeachable offense for political gain.

On the stand, the president said, “From the day after I was elected, several measures were taken to destabilise my government. And you have been systematically making accusations against me.”

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the Brazilian economy cratering on her watch. Brazil exports a lot of raw materials to China, the Chinese economy slowed, Brazil’s slowed faster. Social programs that had been funded at one level needed more funds when the demand for help rose. Congress should have addressed it, and it did not. The executive had a choice between following the law and helping its voters. Few politicians would not be tempted at least.

Another problem is her own ethics. Unlike most of the Brazilian legislature (yes, most), she has not been implicated in the corruption stemming from bribes paid by the state oil company, Petrobras, and others to political parties. However, she was chair of the company at one point and is deemed to have known, or at worst, she should have known about the bribes. Compound that with the fact that she passed a couple laws that not only sent people to jail for corruption but also made them give the money back, and one begins to understand the hostility of the ruling classes for her.

Under Brazil’s constitution, two-thirds of the senators, 54 of the 81, must vote to remove her from office or she is reinstated. The Senate voted back in May to go ahead the impeachment process after the lower house voted start the process. The count, then, was 55 to 22 to move forward. On August 9, the Senate voted to indict her after its investigation. The count rose to 59 for and 22 against the indictment. In other words, she has to pull votes out of the enemy camp rather than rely on undecideds to swing her way.

The daily paper Folha de Sao Paulo reports that it has contacted all 81 of the members of the Senate, and 53 declared they will vote to remove her. Another 19 will vote to re-instate her. That leaves nine yet to make up their minds, or they have made up their minds and are not telling the public yet. The idea that all of them will vote to keep her, retaining her in office by just one vote, is still within the realm of possibility, but it is hardly the land of the probable.

Sometime on Thursday, the vote will be over, Ms. Rousseff will be out of office, and Michel Temer, who is vice-president and acting president right now, will take over the job. He will serve out Ms Rousseff’s term that ends in December 2018. He will preside over a governmental system that is corrupt top to bottom in a nation that deserves far better. One expects the next election to be an ugly one because one doesn’t expect much from Mr. Temer.