There was a byzantine legal debate at the last minute – one more in the neverending impeachment procedure against Dilma Rousseff.
But when it was over, the 81 senators cast their votes, fully aware that Rousseff’s and Brazil’s own fate lay in their hands. At 1.30pm, the electronic board blinked and provided the answer that everyone had long been expecting: 61 votes to 21 in favor of ousting the suspended president and giving her a month to vacate her official residence in Brasilia.
A group of six or seven people began singing the national anthem and waving a Brazilian flag. But the solemnity of the occasion and the historic significance of what had just transpired left most of the packed room in a thoughtful silence.
The markets rose every time the impeachment process moved forward, in a clear message regarding the political preferences of the financial powers
Thus ended the craziest and most traumatic government change in Brazil’s recent democratic history. The vote, which put the nation on hold as people followed live coverage of the event, signaled the end of an impeachment process that began on December 2 of last year.
Just two hours after the vote, interim president Michel Temer, who had once been Rousseff’s deputy but has since become her nemesis, walked into the room to a round of congratulatory messages and slaps on the back from his fellow members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party.
After listening to the national anthem, Temer took the oath of office, signed the inauguration documents, and walked out again as the official new president of Brazil, smiling all the way. It was a speedy ceremony, as Temer was heading to the airport to make it in time to a G-20 summit in China as the brand new leader of his country.
Meanwhile, back at Alvorada palace, a somber feeling of defeat hung in the air as Rousseff prepared to accept her new status as a former president who has been shown the back door. Earlier she had made a public appearance wearing a red shirt, the symbol of her Workers Party, and attacking her impeachment once again.
“I have suffered two coups in my life. The dictatorship’s coup, and this one,” she said.
In a display of clemency, the Senate voted against barring Rousseff from public office for eight years. One of her supporters, Senator Karia Abreu, had alleged that the 69-year-old would thus be able to teach at public universities and continue to pay into the social security system long enough to qualify for retirement checks. In theory, this also opens up the possibility of an unlikely return to politics.
Rousseff has been convicted of manipulating the budget by shifting public loans around. Brazilian senators spent days and months endlessly discussing whether a governmental delay in repaying a public bank’s loan to a state program constitutes a crime or not. Hundreds of experts on this obscure accounting point have come out of the woodwork in the past months, some to defend the president and others to accuse her. The former say all presidents have done the same thing. The latter insist that nobody is above the law.
Former economy minister Nelson Barboza, one of Rousseff’s biggest advocates, said on Saturday: “First you decided that there was a crime, and then you looked for it.”
Deep down, the impeachment was always political in nature. Rousseff has been tried and convicted, among other things, for her management. She would not have been ousted if the economy had not gone into freefall in 2105 and 2016, if unemployment had not soared to 11% or if inflation had not peaked to seven percent again.
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She would not have been removed if her popularity ratings had not plummeted, if hundreds of thousands of people had not taken to the streets to protest her policies, and if major newspapers had not repeatedly asked for her head on a platter. Or if she had managed to craft alliances in parliament rather than locking herself up inside her palace, thereby turning congressmembers and senators into her enemies.
In order to survive in a Congress as hostile, fractious and fractured as Brazil’s, one needs to be good at giving, promising, conspiring, sympathizing, talking and yielding on an everyday basis. And Lula da Silva was a master at this game. But Rousseff was not: her upright, rigid, austere, arrogant and bureaucratic character prevented her from engaging in this kind of day-to-day politicking.
Although she herself was never accused of corruption, her party was engulfed in it. Adding to all this pressure was the behavior of the markets, which rose every time the impeachment process moved forward, in a clear message regarding the political preferences of the financial powers that be. It was then that vice-president Michel Temer stepped carefully to one side to let Rousseff fall all the harder. When he was named the interim president in May, she called him, quite simply, a traitor.
English version by Susana Urra.