Brazil: A success story gone sour
President Dilma Rousseff pays the price for her party’s loss of direction and failure to respond to a severe economic downturn
The Senate impeachment on Wednesday of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff – by 61-20 – was above all a political vote of no confidence in the politics of the country’s leftwing Workers Party, after 13 years of its rule, by the country’s conservative ruling class. Ostensibly an indictment for criminality on her part, but Roussef has every justification for describing it as a “coup”, albeit in legal form.
Her critics say, as one writer put it, that “she lacked charisma, competence and humility”. But hers was a story of success gone sour, of a party’s loss of direction and of a failure to respond as the economic turndown ate into the transformation of Brazil wrought by the WP which had seen its economy powering ahead courtesy of a commodities boom, lifting millions of its poorest into the middle class, and raising the country’s profile on the world stage
Although her Workers Party and its former leader Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva have been accused of personally benefiting from huge sums in bribes and illicit campaign financing from the country’s state oil giant Petrobras, Rousseff’s specific impeachment offence was a political sleight of hand, and there has been no allegation of personal enrichment.
She is accused of having massaged her country’s budget figures ahead of her election in 2014, using $11 billion in funds from a state bank to conceal looming economic problems. It was an accounting scam – think Apple and its offshore profits! – that had already been used by a previous government. She also allegedly abused her authority by giving Lula a Cabinet post, to shield him from prosecution.
Rousseff and her allies have denounced the impeachment as a ploy by political opponents determined to close down the inquiries into the Petrobras’ and other businesses’ political handouts which have implicated dozens of members of the Senate from all parties. “The progressive, inclusive and democratic national project that I represent is being halted by a powerful conservative and reactionary force,” she told senators.
And among those implicated, is newly elected president Michel Temer, who became interim president in May when Rousseff was initially suspended. He personally, and his conservative Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, a WP coalition ally for ten years, were also deeply enmeshed in the Petrobras scandal. Several of his cabinet have already resigned amid claims they were attempting to stymie anti-corruption inquiries.
Of the four Brazilian presidents elected since Brazil’s democracy was re-established in the 1980s, Rousseff is the second to be forced from office through impeachment. In 1992, Fernando Collor de Mello resigned before the Senate could convict him on corruption charges.
Rousseff’s personal story of a Marxist guerilla fighter, tortured by the military government back in the 1970s , who became a powerful political and administrative figure in the country’s path to democracy, is emblematic of that profound transition.
Her removal from power, which has bitterly divided the country, might also been seen as a harbinger that Brazil has not made that transition fully, that it remains , as Sean Lemass once said of Fianna Fáil, only “slightly constitutional”.