“The Ouster of Dilma: An Act of Chicanery”, an article by Dr. Leonel FernándezSeptember 5, 2016
Nobody accused Dilma Rousseff, the recently removed president of Brazil, of having committed an act of corruption. No voices were raised against her charging that she’d embezzled public funds for her own benefit. No one alleged bribery, subornation, or fraud.
The very Senate that was trying her could find no way to condemn her.
It never requested the transfer of her case to criminal jurisdiction to be judged for the commission
of any crimes. It requested no coercive measures against her. It did not order her incarceration. It levied no fines against her.
On the contrary, what the Brazilian Senate found was that Dilma Rousseff held the right to continue in full exercise of her civil and political rights, that these had not been compromised, and that therefore she remains eligible for any future electoral contest.
That being so, what happened in Brazil with regard to Dilma
Rousseff was not a trial or an impeachment. Rather, it was an act of theater, a melodrama, a tragicomedy, disguising the fact that at bottom what the whole thing was really about was a power struggle.
The country’s conservatives, tired of being out of power for nearly 14 years, and facing the prospect of continuing like that for another 10 years (assuming the eventual return of Lula), decided, by appealing to supposed mechanisms of legality, to put an end to
what the Brazilian people had legitimately decided at the polls: to elect Dilma Rousseff.
The recriminations against president Rousseff were in fact based on a supposed administrative offence. She was accused of having used illicit accounting maneuvers to hide a fiscal deficit.
What was not said was that this deficit had originated not from the will of the head of state, but from the impact of the global economic crisis, which led to
a drop in demand for Brazilian exports and a fall in prices of commodities like oil, gas, and iron ore.
Reasons for a Crisis
For an entire decade, from 2002 to 2012, Brazil lived a golden age. It enjoyed vigorous economic growth. Unemployment dropped to just 5 percent. Inflation remained under control, and the exchange rate stable. Some 40 million people were moved out of poverty.
Brazil, then, was shining brightly on the
regional and global horizon. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former steelworker and founding member of the Workers’ Party, had deployed innovative public policies to transform Brazil’s economy and society to benefit the most vulnerable segments of the population.
This trail had, of course, been blazed by another giant of contemporary Brazilian politics: President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a noted academic and social thinker who had adroitly contained
hyperinflation and the devaluation of the Brazilian real, reduced the deficit, and stabilized the macroeconomy.
After two consecutive terms under Lula, Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist militant tortured by dictatorship thugs, won the electoral contest held at the end of 2010.
But upon Rousseff’s arrival to power, Brazil—like other countries in Latin America—began to feel the effects of the global economic crisis. From that point until today
GDP growth entered into steep decline, falling to a meager annual average of just 1.6 percent.
In this context, massive popular protests were sparked in 2013 and erupted across the nation. No one expected them. They were a genuine surprise. At the beginning the cause behind them was simple: an increase in public transport fares.
The Dilma government attempted to reverse the situation, leaving the measure unenforced. But a mistake had been made: the
police had responded to the protests with repression. As a result, demonstrations by the protestors, outraged, multiplied through different cities and their list of demands grew.
Nonetheless, president Rousseff heralded the protests as an act of democratic revitalization.
Lula did the same, characterizing them as an expression of the will of the Brazilian people to participate more actively in decision-making mechanisms.
reducing transport fares, various sectors of national political life demanded an improvement in the quality of public services, education, health, and social security, as well as the construction of new infrastructure projects.
Likewise, they opposed the building of the sports megaplexes for the hosting of the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics and demanded, with great energy and passion, greater transparency and output in the handling of public funds.
They argued that with a tax burden of 36 percent, Brazil had the resource collection capacity of a developed country, but with public service provision at the level of a subdeveloped country.
President Rousseff’s popularity, which had at one point had reached 75 percent, began to come unmoored. A sense of dissatisfaction and frustration had overwhelmed society.
environment of unrest and gloom was the backdrop to the presidential elections in October 2014. Heading a coalition of eight parties, Dilma did not manage to secure a first-round victory, garnering just 41 percent of votes.
In the second round, she faced Aécio Neves, former governor of the state of Minas Gerais and candidate of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), who in the first round had secured 33 percent of the vote.
The campaign was
harsh. There were disqualifications on both sides. The country was divided not just territorially but also economically and socially between the poor North and Northeast, which broadly supported Dilma and the Workers’ Party, and the South, Central, and Southeast, where 85 percent of national wealth and 90 percent of tax collection is concentrated, and which leaned toward Neves and the PSDB.
In the end, Dilma won the battle, but only very narrowly: with 51.6 to
48.4 percent of the vote. Although the result was formally accepted, the powerful sectors never truly admitted defeat.
They immediately began to conspire.
Indeed, the real power struggle in Brazil is over control of deepwater hydrocarbon reserves, which make Brazil the world’s 8th largest holder of oil reserves.
Upon the discovery of these reserves, President Lula had modified the system of exploration and exploitation
concessions to make Brazil the owner of its own hydrocarbon reserves.
Dilma carried on this policy during her administrations, but was never accepted by powerful business nuclei, which pine for a government more disposed to private management of the nation’s wealth. For that more than any other reason, since Dilma began her second term, they began to plan a way to cut short her new administration.
And they did it. To the strong economic
contraction and increase in inflation and unemployment—which create great discontent in any part of the world—they added their attempt to exploit the Petrobras scandal for political ends.
It mattered not at all that politicians from every one of the 28 political parties in Congress were linked to what in Brazil became called the Lava Jato, or Car Wash. The important thing was finding a culprit for the limitations now being experienced by people who had
become used to living out of poverty.
The person who became the fall guy for a situation that was actually a result of the global economic crisis turned out to be Dilma Rousseff. The street protests and campaigns to discredit her soon turned to political prosecution. A perfect script.
Dilma Rousseff had to be removed from power. But it couldn’t be done using the old method of military coups d’état. That would be too crude. And it
would be rejected globally by all supporters of democracy.
A new style would be needed, more sophisticated and more in line with legal norms.
And that’s what happened. Those who less than two years ago had lost the elections leaned on the support of their old ally, vice president Michel Temer, to divest president Dilma Rousseff of the power conferred on her by the people.
Some people say that what happened in Brazil was not
a coup d’état. Maybe they’re right.
Because what happened was something worse.
It was pure chicanery.