Dilma Rousseff’s cry of ‘coup’ is based on flawed logic
Incompetence and not a conspiracy has put Brazil’s president under pressure
Supporters of Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff demonstrate in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on Thursday. Photograph: Jefferson Bernardes/AFP/Getty Images
Is there an attempted coup under way in Brazil?
Embattled president Dilma Rousseff thinks so. Presidential ceremonies are now noisy rallies in which não vai ter golpe – there will be no coup – is the battle cry.
“In every historical moment, the coup assumes a face,” she told a gathering of supporters on Thursday. “In Latin America, the traditional form was military intervention. Now they are hiding the coup behind apparently democratic processes.”
In trying to block the impeachment motion making its way through congress Rousseff and her Workers Party are drawing on the deep well of historical memory among Latin American’s left that sees a reactionary hand behind all its difficulties.
And the rhetoric is heating up. “We want peace but we are not afraid of war,” Workers Party president Rui Falcão recently warned while the leader of one of Brazil’s homeless workers movements predicted “not a day of peace in Brazil” if Rousseff is ousted.
For many of those who believe a coup is under way in Brazil the logic is impeccable. Rousseff won an election in 2014. Now the opposition is seeking to take power by other means, backed by the business and media interests who supported Brazil’s last coup.
“Put simply,” explained Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and Rio de Janeiro resident Glenn Greenwald, “This is a campaign to subvert Brazil’s democratic outcomes by monied factions that have long hated the results of democratic elections, deceitfully marching under an anti-corruption banner: quite similar to the 1964 coup.”
But the logic is flawed.
Before the current crisis the Workers Party won three presidential terms during which it lived pretty cosily with Brazil’s monied factions. And impeachment is a constitutionally recognised mechanism, of which the Workers Party was a serial fan, having demanded it for the four civilian presidents who preceded its own arrival in power in 2003.
Already five of the eleven justices on the supreme court have said that there is no coup under way as constitutional norms are being followed, among them three Workers Party appointees, including the party’s former lawyer Dias Toffoli.
What is happening in Brazil is less a coup than a democratic system messily trying to find a way to correct the gross mistake that was electing someone as incompetent as Rousseff to its top post.
She has derailed the economy and shows no signs she knows how to fix it. Her party is up to its neck in corruption and she lied to win re-election in 2014, a fact acknowledged by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor and mentor, who once said that a leader who breaks their election promises deserve to be ejected from power.
But behind the claims of a coup lies the truth that the Workers Party is being asked to pay the maximum price for crimes that all Brazil’s political class practice, including those now pushing impeachment.
Rousseff is probably correct when she says that all her predecessors could have been impeached for breaking fiscal laws, the basis of the current impeachment motion in congress. And the corruption scandal involving state oil giant Petrobras that is driving the process has already dragged in some of those driving the effort to remove her, despite the apparent reluctance of investigators to acknowledge this fact.
So if those seeking to oust Rousseff wanted to reassure the country that the impeachment effort is not a coup there are two things they could do.
The first would be to solemnly commit to having the Petrobras probe continue even if Rousseff is removed and having accusations against other parties as vigorously pursued as those against the Workers Party are.
The second would be to commit to a serious reform of Brazil’s dysfunctional political system, which allows the type of corruption exposed by the Petrobras scandal to flourish.
But instead there are too many rumours that those pushing impeachment will seek to neuter the Petrobras probe if they oust Rousseff while the lack of any meaningful talk about political reform is deafening considering the entire political system has been exposed as rotten.
Impeachment in this context would represent letting a crisis go to waste. And whether a coup or not, removing a flawed but nevertheless democratically elected president to so little end would be a dangerous precedent and wrong.