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Brazil: deepening crisis and frantic manoeuvres

SourceJan Rocha

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São Paulo. March 18th. The battle for the survival of President Dilma Rousseff and the future of the PT itself is now taking place on three fronts  – in the National Congress, in the courts and on the streets.

Tempers are rising and a hostile atmosphere is sweeping Brazil with rival groups trading blows and insults, not just in the streets but on the floor of congress. Even inside the presidential palace a ceremony to install Lula as Chief of Staff, and many believe, in effect, Prime Minister, was interrupted when an opposition congressman began shouting Shame and had to be escorted out. Organisations linked to the PT, like CUT and UNE have had their offices attacked.

Formal impeachment proceedings against Dilma have been kicked off in the Chamber of Deputies, with the creation of a special committee, made up of deputies from all parties, to decide whether to accept the accusations against her. These are that she used so called pedaladas fiscais, or fiscal manoeuvres to plug gaps in the budget, moving funds from one place to another, a practice used by all her predecessors and probably most governments everywhere. But the pressure from the streets, where over 3 million protested last Sunday, is mounting every day, and Dilma has few friends in congress, even in her own party, who disagree with many of the austerity measures she has tried to introduce.

If the special committee accepts there is a case to answer, it goes to a plenary session. There, a 2/3 majority, or 342, of the 513 congressmen and women must approve the motion, which would then be submitted to the Senate. If a simple majority of the 91 senators accept the impeachment motion, Dilma will be suspended from office for up to 180 days while it is debated. A two thirds majority of the senate is then needed for impeachment to be approved. If that happens it will be all over for Dilma.

Marina Silva Photo: WikimediaHowever, it seems that behind the rules and formalities of the impeachment process, a conspiracy has been set in motion. Congressman Alessandro Molon, of Marina Silva`s party, the Rede de Sustentabilidade (Sustainability Network) made a speech in congress denouncing an alleged deal between leaders of the PMDB and the PSDB parties to speed up the proceedings and put an end to the Lavajato investigations. So far the investigations have concentrated on politicians of the PT, but now they threaten to involve opposition politicians, like PSDB president Senator Aecio Neves, and PMDB president Michel Temer, who is also vice president of the Republic, and Senate president Renan Calheiros, also of the PMDB.

If Dilma is impeached, Temer becomes president. If Temer were also removed, there would have to be direct elections, and then the Network`s Marina Silva, who has kept her head down during the intense tiroteio of the last few weeks, and has never been denounced for corruption, would stand a very good chance of being elected president, or so Molon believes. However, if the President and vice president were only removed in the second half of the four year mandate, then indirect elections are called for – meaning both houses of congress – and no outsider, like Marina, would stand a chance.

Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. Official photoWhile interest is now focussed on the Congress, legal battles are raging in courtrooms as the opposition parties try to prevent Lula becoming a minister in Dilma`s government. They claim he has been appointed only as a means of escaping from the clutches of judge Sergio Moro, seen as a hero by anti-PT politicans and much of the public, because of his stern treatment of the company executives and politicians accused of involvement in the Lavajato, or Carwash, scandal. Ministers can only be tried by the Supreme court, not a lower court.

Lava Jato investigations have been underway for 2 years, in Brazil´s biggest ever corruption scandal case. During that time Judge Moro has tried scores of people and applied sentences totalling almost 1,000 years. 10% of the alleged R$29 billion diverted from public and private funds for bribes and campaign funding has been recovered. But the judge is also accused of abusing his power by detaining some of those named in plea bargains for up to 8 or 9 months in preventive detention as a means of persuading them to confess and make their own plea bargains.

Judge Sergio Moro Photo: WikimediaSome have even compare him to the French Revolution`s Robespierre, a lawyer turned architect of terror. For many judges and lawyers he definitely overreached himself on the eve of Lula`s appointment as Minister, by releasing the content of conversations recorded during the tapping of Lula`s phone, made during investigations into the ex-president`s alleged receipt of favours from construction companies in return for contracts. Lula has not been formally charged with any crime. So why did Moro choose to make public tapes of conversations which were classified as secret? Including a conversation with President Dilma herself, which the government has criticised as an invasion of privacy and security breach. Lula’s lawyer has also complained that the tapes revealed his telephone number, and as a result he has received dozens of threatening calls.

The tapes are now being used by opposition parties in an attempt to overturn Lula`s appointment as Minister, because the conversations on them appear to show Lula conspiring to pervert the course of justice. One lower court judge accepted the argument and issued an injunction. But his impartiality has been called into question, by the revelation that he has regularly posted anti-PT comments on Facebook and been photographed taking part in an anti- Dilma protest.

The Supreme Court will have the task of deciding whether this injunction, and many others which have been lodged, should be accepted.

Finally, a typically Brazilian twist. One of the federal policemen who has repeatedly appeared during the ostentatious arrests of executives and politicians is a gun-toting black clad agent of Japanese descent, who became known as “o Japones da Federal” and even lent his face to a Carnival mask. But it seems that the agent, Newton Ishii, was himself arrested for corruption in 2003, as part of a police gang smuggling contraband over the border at Foz do Iguaçu, and served time.