President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha, centre at the table, starts the session on whether or not to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, in Brasilia, Brazil. April 17, 2016. AP Photo/Eraldo Peres
Brazil’s congress has given the go-ahead to impeach President Dilma Rousseff - who a year and a half ago received the votes of 54 million Brazilians. A majority in the legislature has launched the process, which will now pass to the senate, despite the fact that Dilma is not accused of criminal responsibility - which under Brazilian law, is the only justification for impeaching the head of state.
One paradox is that while the President has not been involved in any case of corruption, of the 513 members of Congress, no fewer than 299 are under judicial investigation and 76 have already been found guilty.
The President of the Chamber, who is the main instigator of the proceedings against Dilma - which has led to him being characterised as the sinister manipulator in a Parliament re-baptised as the “House of Cunha” (the Brazilian equivalent of “House of Cards”) - is facing prosecution in the Supreme Court for concealing five million dollars in a Swiss bank account, the proceeds of bribes extracted from companies in return for arranging contracts with Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company.
The impeachment vote was televised as it took place. Already this century we have seen war and assassinations live on television, but this is the first live transmission of a coup d’état.
We can gain an insight into what has transpired by watching the show, described by one PT (Workers’ Party) congressman as “the biggest farce in Brazilian history”. It is a Dantesque spectacle of demagogy and anti-politics, men with sagging jaws, Goyaesque figures proclaiming that they were dedicating their vote to their family, using their 15 seconds of fame to greet their children, nephews, sons-in-law and nieces, and failing even to mention the reason for the proceedings. Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, by contrast, dedicated his vote to Carlos Brilhante Ulstra “the terror of Dilma”, who was Dilma’s torturer and the perpetrator of 50 assassinations during the tragic years of dictatorship. Another legislator based his vote on the fact that he didn’t want his son to receive sex education in school.
A Brazilian diplomat and personal friend described the scene to me from a location on the beach in Rio de Janeiro.
“Yesterday we enjoyed the grand spectacle of the “banana” Republic of Brazil, an idiotic exercise in which votes were given for mothers-in-law, pet dogs, the city, the people, even the electorate; but no one bothered to ask if the procedure was valid under the constitution for the simple reason that it wasn’t. No one mentioned responsibility for a crime because no crime is involved. What we witnessed was a circus that showed a Brazil characterised by egoism, meanness, resentment, vengefulness, exploitation, and self-satisfaction. On Sunday, from the beach in Ipanema, my wife, daughters and I watched the depressing sight of the bourgeoisie in Rio and other states cheer and scatter the residues of bottles of imported whisky as a yacht sailed past with a fake commodore at the helm and flying a “Dilma Out” flag. Darker-skinned Brazilians, arriving by bus from the suburbs, were subdued, sensing that they had reached enemy territory and that the beach had been repossessed by whites from the wealthy south of the city….”
In a few months time, the Olympic Games will begin in Rio de Janeiro. Attention throughout the world will be on Brazil, and the country will be called upon to demonstrate not only her sporting prowess and her brand new facilities, but also her respect for the institutions of democracy. The people who fill the stadiums and throng the streets have expressed their will at the ballot box.
Clearly Congress has no right to unseat an elected president simply because they don’t like her behaviour. This grotesque impeachment manoeuvre - whose purpose is to materialise anti-Worker Party opinion and prevent Lula’s (Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva) election as the next president - falls into the category of “soft coups” in Latin America. They have already happened in Honduras and Paraguay, where Zelaya and Lugo were overthrown, both of whom had, for the first time, led progressive governments in their respective countries. Separatist and coup attempts have also occurred in Bolivia and Ecuador; and since 2012 there have been multiple coup attempts in Venezuela.
In Argentina too, there was an attempt, orchestrated by local and foreign intelligence services in alliance with big corporate media, to unseat President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner by holding her responsible for the death of Federal Prosecutor Alberto Nisman who was preparing to indict her on the basis of false allegations amplified by the media.
Those who try to win power by such means are seeking revenge. They demand a regressive redistribution of income and taxes; they aim to do away with workers’ rights won over the last decade; they reject the strength afforded by regional blocs such as Unasur and CELAC (the Community of Latin-American and Caribbean States) which were on track to achieving both the economic independence and the political sovereignty of our continent. They are pursuing instead a Free Trade Area of the Americas and agreements on services. They want finance and speculation to predominate once more over production and labour, thereby plunging us back into debt with multilateral organisations.
Faced with this scene of destabilisation and dangerous regression, we defenders of democracy and equality must re-think our strategies. On the one hand, it is essential for us to engage in a rigorous debate on the financing of politics, and to avoid giving to those who are bent on reversing social gains any justification or excuse for attacking governments of the left. Claiming that “there has always been corruption in politics”, or that “the Right is even more corrupt” serves no purpose. People expect a new way of doing politics, a new ethics, as part of a revolution of values.
On the other hand, we must urgently organise ourselves to confront the powerful media corporations who spend much time and treasure on marshalling public opinion against popular governments.
Our continent is home to a vast number of thinkers, communicators, academics, social scientists, men and women of goodwill who together constitute a cultural force capable of intervening effectively in both politics and the media. In this context, we appreciate the arrival of openDemocracy in Argentina to support our process of thinking, re-evaluating, and changing the current state of affairs.