Dilma Rousseff removed from office by Brazilian senate

Former president loses impeachment trial after senators vote 61-20 against her

Former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff answers to questions during the impeachment trial: A tricky transition awaits her conservative former vice president, Michel Temer, who has served as interim president since the senate trial began in May.  Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff answers to questions during the impeachment trial: A tricky transition awaits her conservative former vice president, Michel Temer, who has served as interim president since the senate trial began in May. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

 

Brazil’s first female president Dilma Rousseff has been thrown out of office by the country’s corruption-tainted Senate after a gruelling impeachment trial that ends 13 years of Workers’ party rule.

Following a crushing 61 to 20 defeat in the upper house, she will be replaced for the remaining two years and three months of her term by Michel Temer, a centre-right patrician who was among the leaders of the conspiracy against his former running mate.

For more than 10 months, the leftist leader has fought efforts to impeach her for frontloading funds for government social programmes and issuing spending budget decrees without congressional approval ahead of her reelection in 2014. The opposition claimed that these constituted a “crime of responsibility”. Ms Rousseff denies this and claims the charges - which were never levelled at previous administrations who did the same thing - have been trumped up by opponents who were unable to accept the Workers’ party’s victory.

In keeping with her pledge to fight until the end for the 54 million voters who put her in office, Ms Rousseff – a former Marxist guerrilla – ended her presidency this week with a gritty 14-hour defence of her government’s achievements

and a sharply worded attack on the “usurpers” and “coup-mongers” who ejected her from power without an election.

Her lawyer, José Eduardo Cardozo, said the charges were trumped up to punish the president’s support for a huge corruption investigation that has snared many of Brazil’s elite. This follows secret recordings of Romero Juca, the majority leader of the senate and a key ally of Mr Temer, plotting to remove the president to halt the Lava Jato (car wash) investigation into kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras.

Critics

“I apologise to the president, not for having done what did, because I could not have done anything else, but because I know her situation is not easy,” claimed a sobbing Janaina Paschoal, one of the original co-authors of the impeachment petition. “I think she understands I did all this in consideration of her grandchildren.”

The result was never in doubt, though Workers’ party figurehead and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – who also faces a trial of his own – had lobbied hard until the last moment to try to swing enough senators to avoid impeachment.

Final nail

“It’s a sad moment when you decide to remove a president,” he told the chamber. However he said he was convinced that Ms Rousseff had committed a crime of responsibility.

Ahead of the verdict, senator Vanessa Grazziotin, of the Communist Party of Brazil, arrived with a sense of resignation. “I’ve worn a mixture of red [for the Workers’ party] and black because today is a day of mourning,” she said. “I’m going to cry.” However, she and other Rousseff allies hoped they could minimise Ms Rousseff’s punishment.

The final result was comfortably more than the two-thirds (54 seats) needed to finalise the president’s removal from office.

Workers’ Party senator Lindbergh Farias said the president’s accusers were cowards. “It’s amazing how everyone who didn’t have the gall to look Dilma in the eyes spoke so bravely today in her absence,” he tweeted.

The musician and democracy activist Chico Buarque, who was among Ms Rousseff’s supporters in the gallery, said the debate was rigged against her. “If the game were clean, she would have won,” he told local media.

Uncomfortable with democracy

It also marks a dramatic downfall of a woman who was once one of the world’s most popular politicians with approval ratings of 85 per cent. But she had struggled with a hostile congress and a dire financial climate. When Ms Rousseff took office in January 2011, the economy was growing at a quarterly clip of 4.9 per cent.

It has been downhill ever since and she leaves the presidency with output shrinking by 4.6 per cent though this is partly because the price of Brazil’s oil exports is now below half of its peak in 2011.

Achievements

Thanks to affirmative action and wider access to higher education, university enrolments jumped 18 per cent during her first term. Since 2009, 2.6 million homes have been delivered by the government housing programme – Minha Casa Minha Vida.

But her record in other key areas is mixed. After falling in her first two years in power, deforestation of the Amazon has started to rise again. Her replacement has a lot to do.

Mr Temer – who was widely criticised for appointing an all-male, all-white cabinet when he took power on an interim basis in May - was due to be sworn in again on Wednesday afternoon and is set to continue until the next presidential election in 2018, when he has promised he will not stand.

Shortly after the ceremony, he is due to fly to China to attend the G20 summit in Hangzhou, where he will hope to restore some of the credibility of an administration that has been battered by accusations of treachery and three ministerial resignations due to corruption scandals.

Austerity measures

During the final stages of the senate trial, there was no repeat of the mass rallies in Brasilia that marked earlier stages of the process. However, a small group of Rousseff supporters staged a candlelit vigil in the main esplanade. Bigger protests have been seen in other cities this week. In São Paulo anti-impeachment protesters and riot police clashed on Monday night.

Demonstrators claim the security forces made excessive use of tear gas and percussion grenades in what they fear will be a precursor of more clampdowns on opposition. Police claimed the protesters – many from the Landless Workers’ Movement – blocked roads and detonated a home-made bomb.

– (Guardian service)