Rousseff has been toppled, but Brazil is in the same place

Brazilian president’s suspension had an air of finality to it despite her vow to fight on

 

President Dilma Rousseff has not been impeached. Yet. But she might as well have been. Her suspension as president on Thursday by the Brazilian Senate, pending an impeachment trial by the same senate, had a sense of finality to it – few expect her to return to office although she insists that she will fight on, denouncing the vote as “a coup”.

The 55 votes that suspended her are sufficient by one vote to cross the two thirds threshhold needed for her conviction.

Her claim that the charges against her are largely political has some basis. They are certainly as much to do with the dysfunctional nature of Brazil’s politics and constitution as with Rousseff’s culpability.

Although her party is mired in long-standing corruption charges, and the parlous state of the Brazilian economy is tangible evidence of economic mismanagement and even incompetence, the impeachment charges she faces do not touch on either issue.

The suggestion is that she massaged budget figures, improperly using money from national banks to paper over budget shortfalls to gain political advantage. But it’s a practice, akin to Anglo Irish Bank’s infamous alleged shareboosting scam, that other Brazilian leaders have used without political fallout.

“I may have committed errors, but I never committed crimes,” Rousseff complains, and there is indeed no evidence that she enriched herself.

Many of those around her and those involved in her suspension, however, are deeply personally implicated in corrupt kickbacks from, among others, the state oil giant, Petrobras.

The suggestion that her willingness to allow prosecuting authorities to continue probes into the Petrobras affair, which has tainted more than 40 legislators, including her own Workers Party (WP) colleagues, may have contributed to her downfall, is plausible.

An electoral court may shortly also annul her 2014 election and call new elections over claims that the party illegally funnelled Petrobras cash into its campaign.

The signs are that right wing vice-president, now President Michel Temer, who has taken over from her, is determined to roll back many of the progressive reforms introduced since the WP came to power 13 years ago and which have substantially raised living standards for the country’s poorest.

He has already enraged the left by appointing a creationist as minister for science and a soybean tycoon who has deforested large tracts of the Amazon forest as agriculture minister.

But, crucially, Temer, who also faces electoral impropriety charges, does not seem interested in tackling the structural weaknesses in Brazil’s political system which force even presidents with majority mandates into dealmaking, corruption and patronage with the country’s multiplicity of parties just to get their work done. Rousseff may have been toppled, but Brazil is in the same place.

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