May 29, 2016

Brazil: The Coup against the People

Yohannan Chemarapally

THE vote in the lower house of the Brazilian parliament (the Chamber of Deputies) on April 18 to forward the case for the impeachment of the president, Dilma Rousseff, to the upper house (senate), was the first big step taken by the coup plotters in ousting the popularly elected president of the Republic. Dilma, Brazil's first female president, had won reelection only eighteen months ago for a second four year term in office. As expected, the senate dominated by the political opponents of the ruling Workers Party (PT) recommend that the Brazilian president stand trial for alleged constitutional improprieties, in the middle of May. As is well known, almost all the key players who want Dilma's head are themselves mired in corruption. The Brazilian president herself has not been charged with corruption nor has any evidence surfaced to implicate her. Her alleged crime is that she illegally covered budgetary shortfalls by borrowing from public sector banks as the country went to the polls in late 2014. All candidates before facing the electorate like to paint a rosy picture of the economy. But the opposition is charging Dilma with “a crime of responsibility” for misrepresenting the actual state the Brazilian economy at the time. In the political circus that led to the impeachment, the legislators voting against Dilma gave various reasons for their move, ranging from “peace in Jerusalem” to “saving the country from Communism”. One prominent right wing legislator, Jair Bolsonaro, even said that his vote was to honour “Col. Brilhante Ustra”, the military officer who tortured Dilma in 1973 when she was a left wing guerrilla fighter against the military dictatorship in the country. His son, also a member of the lower house, voted in honour of “the military men of 1984”. The 1984 American backed military coup in Brazil had led to the overthrow of a centre left government. The military dictatorship constituted one of the dark chapters of recent Brazilian history. Many of the current coup mongers in civilian garb look nostalgically to that dark era which only ended in 1985. Dilma spent three years in military prisons where she was routinely tortured. None of the legislators voting to impeach her mentioned the formal charge of “crime of responsibility” for economic mismanagement against her. Instead many of them falsely accused her of being involved in the ongoing “Operation Lava Jeto” (Car Wash) corruption investigations involving politicians from all the political parties. Dilma has remained unscathed from the corruption scandal that has tarred many from her own Workers Party. Brazil's Attorney General, Jose Eduardo Cardoso, has been insisting that the corruption charges against Dilma are totally unfounded. The political mastermind behind the move to remove a popularly elected president is the president of the chamber of deputies, Eduardo Cunha. He is constitutionally third in line to succeed the president. He was angry with the Workers Party for a variety of reasons. The main reason being the Party's refusal to protect him from serious charges of corruption. Swiss authorities are currently carrying out an investigation against him. He is said to have millions of dollars parked in Swiss bank accounts The Ethics Committee in the lower house is investigating him for receiving $40 million in illegal gratification from the Petrobras scandal. His name has also figured in “the Panama Papers”. 299 of the 513 members of the lower house are currently under investigations for acts of corruption and nepotism. The majority of them had voted for the removal of Dilma on the basis of the nonexistent “corruption charges” against her. A Brazilian magazine has published a 41 page summary of the corruption charges against them. Brazilian legislators have immunity from criminal prosecution unless expelled by the Ethics Committee or ordered by the country's Supreme Court. Only ten percent of the legislators in both the houses of parliament are directly elected. Therefore most of the corrupt legislators don't have to face the electorate. They make it to parliament on the basis of party lists. Brazilian democracy has many serious flaws and this is only one of them. The media in the country is almost totally under the control of the elite which has no love lost for the Workers Party. The entire corporate media seems unified in the attempt to destabilise a popularly elected government. The immediate political beneficiary of the impeachment move against Dilma will be the current vice president, Michel Temer. He too has been named the beneficiary of a gargantuan corruption scandal with a High Court judge ruling that the Congress should consider an impeachment motion against him. If the Brazilian senate decided to put Dilma on trial she has to take leave of absence from the presidency for six months. If she is found guilty, she will have to quit. Temer has said that he is ready to step into her shoes at short notice. A recent opinion poll showed that only two percent of the Brazilian public would vote for him. Dilma has called the vice president a traitor and alleged that he is playing a prominent role in the unfolding coup. Temer is the leader of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party which till recently was helping the Workers Party run the government. The Workers Party never could get a majority of its own in the country's parliament since it was first voted into power more than fourteen years ago. In fact since 1995, no ruling party got more than 20 percent of the seats. The Brazilian constitution while envisaging a strong presidency also made provisions to ensure a multi-party legislature. In the vote in the lower house to refer the impeachment motion to the upper house, the majority of the member from all the right wing and center right parties which make up the overwhelming majority, voted against Dilma. Only the Workers Party, the Communist Party, the Democratic Labour Party and the Socialism and Freedom Party, along with seven members of the vice president's party voted against the motion. According to observers of the Brazilian political scene, it will be difficult for Temer to run a government given his abysmal approval ratings and corrupt image. 58 percent of the electorate want Temer also to be impeached. This would have left the door open to the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who was instrumental in protecting the vice president from impeachment for blatant corruption. His approval ratings among the Brazilian public is also dismal. In the third week of May Cunha had to step down from his post as a Supreme Court judge ruled that he should face trial on charges of corruption. A group of Brazilian Senators are calling for new presidential elections to be held in November this year along with the municipal elections. They say that is the only way to keep venal politicians out of the presidency after the impeachment of Dilma. The lead public prosecutor of “Operation Car Wash”, Deltan Dellagnol, has expressed his fears about the regime that would displace the Workers Party led government. He has said that with corrupt legislators forming a new government, there will be concerted attempts to derail the ongoing investigations that have implicated leading figures from the opposition. In her defense during the vote in the lower house, Dilma forcefully pointed out that she was never mentioned in any documents or witness accounts relating to the Lava Jeto (Car Wash) scandal and that the impeachment process should not have been allowed in the first place as at the most she was guilty of administrative errors. Brazil's Supreme Court has so far refused to step in and give a legal ruling on the constitutionality of the impeachment proceeding. The Court, like all the major institutions in the country, seems to be split along ideological lines. She emphasised that her government through reforms it had instituted had empowered the judiciary to thoroughly investigate the nexus between the country's political and economic elite. Six of her cabinet ministers had to resign last year for their roles in the corruption scandal that has rocked Latin America's most powerful nation. Dilma, facing the biggest political challenge in her life, has decided to fight on regardless of the shadow of a looming impeachment. During a recent visit to the UN headquarters in New York, Dilma said that she would never let the coup against her succeed. She told the media that there were no “legal grounds” for her impeachment. “In the past coups were carried out with machine guns, tanks and weapons, Today all you need are hands willing to tear up the constitution”, she told the media in New York. She said that if the senate approves the impeachment motion, then she will appeal to the international community. Dilma said that she may go to the Mercosur, Latin America's major regional grouping for its support in thwarting the unfolding coup. She said that she would ask the grouping to implement the “democracy clause” in its constitution if there “is a rupture in the democratic process in Brazil”. The impeachment process, she said, has all the “characteristics of a coup” as it has no legal basis. The Left wing parties in the region have all come out in support of their beleaguered comrade. The Permanent Conference of Political Parties in Latin America (COPPAL) comprising of 60 Left parties issued a statement condemning the “institutional coup” in Brazil. The statement rejected “any destabilising intent to undermine democracy in Brazil”. It drew comparisons with the 2009 coup in the Honduras and the 2012 impeachment of the Paraguayan president, Fernando Lugo in 2012. The Brazilian president has also said that she has received messages of solidarity from many world leaders. Brazil, along with Russia, India, China and South Africa are members of the important BRICS grouping that was formed to challenge the economic dominance of the West. If a right wing regime takes over in Brazil, the country's interest in the grouping could wane. Top opposition leaders from Brazil have been flying to Washington to brief senior Obama administration officials on the neo-liberal economic policies that they would be implementing once Dilma is ousted. But Washington also seems to be having second thoughts about the dubious nature of the impeachment process. The American backed Organisation of American States (OAS) has been critical of the whole exercise. Luis Almagro, the OAS secretary general issued a statement critical of the impeachment exercise after a meeting with the Brazilian president in mid April. “Her constitutional mandate must be ensured, in accordance with the constitution and the laws, by all the powers of the state and all the institutions of the country, and any undermining of her authority should be avoided, wherever it may come from”, the OAS secretary general had emphasised.