On April 17, the Brazilian lower house of Congress voted by more than a two-thirds majority to impeach the current president, Dilma Rousseff. The Senate will vote on the impeachment but contrary to the lower house, a simple majority would be enough to approve such impeachment. If the Senate approves impeachment proceedings, Rousseff will have to step down transferring powers to her vice-president Michel Temer. If she were absolved, she would remain in her position.
The rationale for her prosecution is that she violated fiscal rules by hiding the budget deficit and by illegally using money from state-owned banks at the time she was running for re-election. The request to impeach her was signed by three judges, one of whom is a founder of the ruling Workers Party (PT), the party of President Rousseff.
Interestingly enough, such accusations, although significant in terms of money, look minor in comparison to the huge corruption scandals with which the Workers Party (PT) has been involved. But everything is related. The public is asking for the resignation of the government that they believe is responsible for such improper and illegal behavior. In addition, they blame Ms. Rousseff and her party for the country’s contracting growth, high unemployment and the inability of the government to diversify the economy away from commodities (soybeans, iron ore, sugar) the prices of which have fallen dramatically in recent years. The corruption scandals involve a complex scheme exposed the largest public corruption crime in Brazilian history.
The case involves various firms and businesses, mostly construction companies that paid unscrupulous officials and politicians large sums of money in order to secure lucrative Petrobras contracts. Petrobras is the Brazilian state-owned oil giant where Rousseff served as a member of the board from 2003 to 2010. Rousseff was also appointed national Minister of Mines and Energy in 2003 by President Luis Inazio “Lula“ Da Silva. In 2005, she was appointed to replace the then chief of staff over accusations of corruption.
Since 2003, the year Lula took over the reins of power in Brazil, construction companies formed a cartel to overcharge Petrobras for building contracts. A portion of this overcharge was used to bribe Petrobras executives. They would then pay part of that money to politicians who were in on the deal.
Prosecutors allege that a big part of this money was used to fund the Workers Party’s political campaigns. Indeed the PT or PT officials are mainly responsible and the largest beneficiaries of the scheme, although they are definitely not alone.
Lula, he, is suspected of diverting money from Petrobras to fund election campaigns and other personal benefits considered to be illegal.
These accusations against the former president, prompted Rousseff to give Lula a cabinet position making him her chief of staff.
By offering him this position, Rousseff understood that it would protect him, in the short-term, from prosecutors who have charged him with money laundering and fraud. Lula’s appointment was dismissed by the judges but it clearly demonstrated that it was a maneuver to protect the former president, done with a total underestimation of public opinion. In fact, Rousseff believed that the popularity of the former president would make him immune to the judgment of public opinion. It is in just this way that the leaders of the Workers party have conducted themselves. Their popular appeal was used to shield them against prosecution for illegal and unethical behavior. Slowly, the PT coalition partners began to abandon Rousseff. Starting with the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) and the Democratic Labor Party (PDT); and was followed by the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) and the Progressive Party (PP).
The impeachment of Rousseff is certainly a lesson to those who believe that popular appeal is the key to rule. The independent and assertive role played by the Brazilian judiciary has been remarkable.
However, even if Rousseff loses her job because of the impeachment (which will probably be the case), the day after is not going to be less problematic.
With Rousseff’s departure, the person to assume power is the vice-president, Michel Temer of the PMDB. The PMDB, itself, is involved in these acts of corruption. There are accusations against Temer and suspicions that he also, like Rousseff, authorized fake fiscal reports.
Paradoxically, the president of the lower chamber, Eduardo Cunha, who has led the impeachment campaign in his chamber, is being accused of having laundered the money he received in bribes, which is estimated to be about 40 million dollars.
According to Transparencia Brazil, an organization that monitors corruption, of the 513 members of the lower house, 303 are facing some sort of charge or accusation. Likewise, in the upper house, 49 out of 81senators also have charges or accusations for some violation. In other words, 60% of the same Congress that is impeaching Rousseff has also been involved in illegal activities.
Given that, if the process stops with Rousseff, Brazil will have to live in a climate dictated by a crisis of legitimacy of the entire political system. Chaos and further polarization will ensue. Those who come after Rousseff will have no credibility, whatsoever.
In a number of previous articles, we have criticized Roussseff’s policies for having supported the most heinous elements that emerged in Latin America, particularly the government of Venezuela. Likewise, we have criticized the PT government for promoting a policy aimed at reducing Americanism influence in the region and in general. The PT has also been characterized by its’ contempt for democracy in the region and for ignoring the spirit of the democratic charter of the Organization of American States (OAS). The PT has also chosen not to be particularly cooperative in investigating Hezbollah’s activities in the Tri-border area or the presence of Hezbollah networks in the country. Likewise, Brazil under Lula and Rousseff displayed unusual hostility towards the State of Israel and in certain instances even an apologetic attitude towards Iran’s pursue of nuclear materials and human rights violations
Certainly, Rousseff as head of the Workers Party and as a former Minister of Energy, and as a board member of Petrobras should certainly bear some responsibility for the corruption that the party is very much a part of.
To be sure, this impeachment is not a political coup as Rousseff and her national and international friends (which include Raul Castro and Nicolas Maduro) have pointed out. This impeachment was inspired by judicial authority that recommended it.
Having said all of the above, we also warn that the entire political system will have no legitimacy if the judicial system cannot punish and bring to justice everyone who violated the law and this means everyone including members of the government and the opposition.
If the outstanding work of the judges ends after the deposal of Rousseff, it will be counterproductive.
The only formula for stability is to elect a legitimate president and a legitimate Congress and for their judiciary to continue consolidate its independence. This means that all those involved in corruption must resign, or be forced to resign using legal methods.
Corruption, as we pointed out in numerous articles, makes the country lawless and vulnerable to organized crime, terrorist groups, and other nefarious external influences
The epicenter of the current anti-corruption movement is definitely in Brazil but hopefully it will expand to other countries. In some countries, corruption is causing public anger such as in Guatemala, where a corrupt president was forced to resign. In Argentina, under President Mauricio Macri, the justice system has moved against corrupt individuals associated with former president Cristina Kirchner.
The movement against corruption is only now beginning in the region. It needs to be further encouraged and strengthened. The fight in Brazil should not end with the replacement of one set of corrupt politicians by another. Hopefully, those in the Brazilian Congress who have now voted to impeach the president are not doing so just to protect themselves from future prosecution. It would be most unfortunate that if President Rousseff is impeached that those in both houses of the congress attempt to change laws in order to subvert the judiciary.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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