Analysis: Dilma Rousseff ousted in Brazil because she was utterly incompetent
Whatever reform is promised, Brazilians remain hostages of their own political class
Impeached president Dilma Rousseff delivers her farewell address in Brasília on Wednesday. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images
And so Brazil’s impeachment crisis of 2014-2016 is over. Having dragged on for so long, when the decisive moment finally came on Wednesday afternoon the Brazilian senate’s vote on whether to remove president Dilma Rousseff from office was something of an anti-climax.
The only surprise was that the 61-20 vote to impeach was bigger than expected. But even that should have been foreseen. Most of Brazil’s 81 senators would have been aware that failure to formalise Rousseff’s removal from office would have provoked political chaos and market panic.
At a moment when the unemployment rate is breaking records and the economy continues to contract in what is the longest recession in decades, the political class knew it needed to turn the page on her five sorry years in office.
Rousseff went down fighting, going to the senate on Monday to personally denounce what she still insists is “a genuine coup d’état”.
But even her own Workers’ Party is rowing back from the coup thesis, if for no other reason that it has failed to convince many voters outside its own hardcore base.
If this is a coup it is a very odd one, taking nine months to wind its way through congress, the process all the time overseen by a supreme court dominated by Workers’ Party appointees. “There is no constitutional rupture,” says Oscar Vilhena Vieira, the dean of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation law school in São Paulo, expressing the majoritarian position among Brazil’s leading jurists.
It was Rousseff’s mismanagement of the public finances provided the legal pretext for impeachment. Her abject failure to manage relations with congress created the political context. She blamed “conservative and authoritarian elites” for her removal. But these same elites were happy to work with her until it became increasingly apparent she was, in her first and only stint in elected office, way out of her depth.
Ms Rousseff was not removed because she was a leftist, or a woman, but because she was too incompetent to be left in place. She took office on January 1st, 2011 holding a strong hand and spent her time since frittering away her advantage.
The political dregs of Brasília took advantage of this incompetence. But they only succeeded in removing her because many who would have been happy to leave her serve out her time lost all faith in her ability to deal with the raging economic and ethical crises that are the sorry legacy of 13 years of Workers’ Party rule.
Another myth likely to be dismantled soon is the one that Rousseff is an honest woman removed from power by corruptos. No one believes that she ever put a cent in her own pocket, unlike many of her former allies who conspired to remove her. But now that she is an ordinary citizen again she faces formal investigation into claims she and her inner circle conspired to block the investigation into corruption at Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
She has already been caught telling fibs about her relationship with Marcelo Odebrecht, the so-called “Owner of Brazil” who from his prison cell is providing details of illegal campaign contributions his construction conglomerate showered on politicians in return for public works contracts. Among the campaigns he bankrolled, according to leaks, were Rousseff’s two successful runs for the presidency.
If she is telling the truth that she knew nothing about all this then she was never anything more than a political stooge for the more unscrupulous forces who lifted her to the presidency.
One of these, her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, will now lead the effort to rescue the Workers’ Party from the worst crisis of its 36-year existence. He will have to do so while defending himself from investigations into his family’s murky business affairs.
Meanwhile, President Michel Temer must rescue the stricken economy while trying to restore some calm to political life. As the consummate Brasília insider he has a much better chance of success than his ousted boss.
But if Dilma the incompetent outsider must carry much of the blame for the impeachment crisis, the deeper underlying problems facing Brazil are due to the grip of corrupt, self-serving insiders in Brasília on the country’s fortunes.
They now have a capable champion in Temer, meaning that whatever reform he is now promising the reality is that Brazil’s citizens remain hostages of their own political class.