Brazil’s embattled leftist president Dilma Roussef watched on Sunday as right-wing opponents in congress voted in overwhelming numbers to impeach her, drawing cries of “coup, coup, coup!” from her supporters in the Workers’ Party (PT).
367 of the 513 members of Brazil’s lower house voted to impeach, surpassing the two-thirds majority required to send the proposal to the senate for a vote, which is expected to take place in a few weeks.
Critics of the process immediately decried the impeachment vote.
“This is an attempt to reverse the results of the 2014 presidential election by unconstitutional and illegal means,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in an email to Common Dreams. “The president has not been linked to any corruption nor convicted of an actual crime.”
“Many of those now leading the call for impeachment have long blocked reform and profited from corruption.”
AFL-CIO PresidentRousseff is in her second term, but has faced plummeting support from Brazilians as the country is wracked by an entrenched recession and a health crisis caused by the Zika virus in the northeast.
Many of its politicians—including some PT lawmakers—have also been implicated in a grafting scandal that has “hobbled” the state-owned oil company and fueled widespread distrust of the country’s leaders, according to the New York Times.
“Almost every corner of the political system [is] under the cloud of scandal” in Brazil, reported the Times last month.
The graft scheme, called “Operation Car Wash” by investigators, has implicated most of Rousseff’s political opponents. The leader of the opposition party and house speaker, Eduardo Cunha, is not only being investigated for his role in the scheme but he was also named in the Panama Papers and outed as secreting away millions in a Swiss bank account as well as other offshore tax havens.
Meanwhile, Rousseff has not been accused of any crime—which Brazil’s constitution requires, for a motion to impeach to be legally enacted.
Instead, the impeachment proceedings are being justified by the revelation that Rousseff had temporarily transferred money from state-owned bank accounts to bolster the country’s social security program in 2014.
A group allied with Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), called Friends of MST, described such transfers as “a procedure of routine public budget management at all levels of government—federal, state and municipal,” which was also used by previous administrations.
“To borrow an analogy from the United States,” Weisbrot described the charges against Rousseff in the Huffington Post, “when the Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling in the U.S. in 2013, the Obama administration used a number of accounting tricks to postpone the deadline at which the limit was reached. Nobody cared.”
Rousseff has never been accused of corruption and is not implicated at all in “Operation Car Wash,” the largest scandal to hit the embattled political class in Brazil for some time.
While the right-wing parties are backed by Brazil’s wealthiest families and individuals, who also run the nation’s major media outlets, the lack of legal justification for Roussef’s impeachment has led critics to describe it—in no uncertain terms—as a coup.
“That’s what it is: a political coup.”
—Lula da Silva
“It is a coup because while the Brazilian Constitution allows for an impeachment, it is necessary for the person to have committed what we call high crimes and misdemeanors. And President Dilma did not commit a high crime or a misdemeanor. Therefore, what is happening is an attempt by some to take power by disrespecting the popular vote,” said former president and Rousseff’s political mentor Lula da Silva.
“Anyone has the right to want to become president, anyone,” da Silva continued. “They just have to run. I lost three elections—three! I didn’t take any shortcuts. I waited 12 years to become president. Anyone who wants to become president, instead of trying to take down the president, can run in an election. […] I believe that these people want to remove Dilma from office by disrespecting the law. Carrying out, the way I see it, a political coup. That’s what it is: a political coup.”
“It is a coup being carried out by the legislature, parts of the judiciary, and perhaps equally importantly, the vast majority of the media,” Weisbrot told Common Dreams.
The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald also drew attention last month to the role of Brazil’s “homogenized, oligarch-owned, anti-democracy media outlets” in instigating the coup, describing the manufactured media narrative as “crass propaganda designed to undermine a left-wing party.”
Academics around the world have also condemned Rousseff’s impeachment in a widely circulated open letter to Brazilians, which argues that the “violation of democratic procedure represents a serious threat to democracy.”
“When the armed forces overthrew the government of President João Goulart in 1964,” the letter continues, “they used the combat against corruption as one of their justifications. Brazil paid a high price for twenty-one years of military rule. The fight for a democratic country has been long and arduous. Today, all those who believe in a democratic Brazil need to speak out against these arbitrary measures that threaten to erode the progress made over the course of the last three decades.”
Friends of MST also describes the impeachment as a coup d’etat, and writes, “Unlike President Dilma, the politicians calling for her dismissal are corrupt and are as dirty as they come.”