Rousseff denounces ‘coup mongers’ and vows to fight on

Brazil’s president says those plotting to replace her are ‘selling land on the moon’

Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff speaks to members of the foreign press at the presidential palace in Brasilia, on Tuesday. Photograph: Lula Marques/Bloomberg

Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff speaks to members of the foreign press at the presidential palace in Brasilia, on Tuesday. Photograph: Lula Marques/Bloomberg

 

As Brazilian senators met to arrange her impeachment trial, President Dilma Rousseff denounced “a coup-mongering vein” in Brazilian public life stretching back decades and vowed to defeat the effort to oust her in the name of democracy.

In a press conference with foreign journalists on Tuesday she compared talks between her estranged vice-president Michel Temer and the opposition on forming a new government as equivalent to “selling land on the moon”.

It was the latest signal that Rousseff intends to fight the impeachment process until the end, despite Sunday’s crushing defeat in the lower house of congress which voted overwhelmingly to send her for trial before the senate on charges she broke budgetary laws.

The upper house must vote within ten sessions from Wednesday on whether to accept the impeachment motion. If it does so that will automatically trigger the president’s suspension for up to six months while her fate is decided.

But though defiant, Rousseff looks increasingly isolated in her battle to save her mandate. Brazil awoke on Tuesday to newspaper reports that her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told a Monday meeting of Workers Party leaders and allied social movements that it would be difficult for the president to return to office if suspended.

The meeting follows Sunday’s disappointing turnout by social movements in front of the congress building for Sunday’s vote. In the build-up Workers Party leaders had spoken of mobilising hundreds of thousands of people. But police say only 26,000 showed up, fewer than half the number of impeachment’s supporters who rallied on the other side of a fence erected to keep the two sides apart.

The protest in the capital helped illustrate the problems that beset the Workers Party after 13 years in power and which are now limiting its ability to mobilise popular support against what it claims in a covert coup attempt.

Landless peasant groups and other social movements were among those setting up camp beside the Mané Garrincha football stadium, which is now a little used white elephant after the football World Cup in 2014.

Andrade Gutierrez, one of the construction companies caught up in the Petrobras corruption scandal, admits it paid bribes to government politicians in order to win the contract for the stadium’s refurbishment which, footed by the public purse, then came in horribly over budget.

Corruption scandal

Along with a deep recession, these multiplying corruption scandals that have spread out from the Petrobras investigation are one of the main reasons Rousseff has seen her public support disintegrate since winning re-election in 2014.

The stadium is up the capital’s broad ceremonial esplanade from the federal land reform agency which is now subject of its own corruption scandal in which state auditors discovered ranchers, businessmen and politicians had all received land destined for landless peasants, one of the bedrocks of the Workers Party support for decades.

“These problems exist because the Workers Party farmed out much of the agency to corrupt politicians in return for support,” says Thiago Valentim of the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), which campaigns for the rights of Brazil’s rural poor.

The pace of land reform under the Workers Party has declined dramatically since 2006 leading the CPT to accuse Rousseff of abandoning land reform in favour of an alliance with the country’s powerful agri-business lobby.

Kátia Abreu, Rousseff’s agriculture minister, is one of the lobby’s most powerful leaders and a historic enemy of land reform who has denied the existence of huge ranches in the country, even though 2.3 per cent of landholders in Brazil control 47.2 per cent of the country’s agricultural land, of which the Brazilian Association for Agricultural Reform estimates half lies idle.

But landless peasant activists in Brasília to support Rousseff said the scandal did not diminish their backing for the president in her fight against impeachment.

“Do errors exist? Of course. But whatever the failings of her government there is no-one seeking to replace her with the honesty and character to help us social movements,” says Luis Carlos, a regional coordinator with the Landless Liberation Movement.

But if a hardcore of left-wing militants is still willing to come to the president’s defence the failure of more members of the broader population to join them points to a government so weakened by scandal that it risks falling to opponents as or more corrupt than themselves.