São Paulo. May 12. Michel Temer, a 75 year old conservative constitutional lawyer, son of Lebanese immigrants, is now Brazil’s acting president, replacing Dilma Rousseff, former leftwing guerrilla, daughter of Bulgarian immigrants, and first woman president.
Dilma was suspended from office after 55 of 81 senators voted for the `admissibility` of the impeachment process. The Senate now has up to six months to judge the so called crimes of responsibility of which Dilma is accused, before, if found guilty, she is removed permanently from office. Unless Temer’s government is a complete disaster, there is little chance of the senators changing their minds. Dilma has gone for good.
The official reason for the removal of the elected president is that she committed a grave crime of responsibility, by practising irregular fiscal manoevres and financial acts.
For writer Luis Fernando Verissimo, the real reason is much more profound: “a government for the poor, more than a political discomfort for the dominant conservadorism, is a bad example, an intolerable threat to the fortress of real power. It was necessary to put an end to the threat and throw salt on it. (A reference to the execution of Tiradentes, the Brazilian independence hero who was hung, drawn and quartered by the Portuguese crown in 1792, and his land covered in salt to make it sterile).
The proceedings in the senate chamber with its tasteful blue carpet, lasted all day Wednesday and into the night, only finishing at 6:30 on Thursday morning, as each senator exercised his or her right to speak for 15 minutes. In contrast to the rowdy hooligan scenes in the lower house, the smartly dressed senators maintained a tone of seriousness and self-importance as they justified the dumping of the president, who, unlike many of her accusers, has never been accused of taking bribes, money laundering or tax evasion.
The penultimate act of the long drawn out impeachment process went according to plan after Monday`s scare, when the interim speaker of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, who took over when the Supreme Court removed the all powerful speaker Eduardo Cunha, decided to throw a spanner in the works.
The short, moustachioed Waldir Maranhão, referred to disparagingly as a Cunha drone, shot into the limelight when he unexpectedly announced his unilateral decision to annul the vote of April 17, when 367 deputies voted to approve the process and it was forwarded to the senate.
He based his decision on the arguments presented by the Chief Prosecutor in his appeals to the Supreme Court. His surprise decision aroused a storm of indignation among the pro-impeachment lobby. Who was behind it? Was it Flavio Dino, the pro-Dilma governor of his home state, Maranhão, where he had spent the weekend? Dino is a good Brazilian mix of contradictions – a communist career judge.
Or was it Cunha himself, with whom he had secretly met two days before, up to Macchiavellian machinations to maintain his influence, by whatever means?
Maranhão kept mum while the political storm raged around him. Briefly the pro-Dilma lobby cheered up, while the anti- Dilma lobby seethed, questioning Maranhão’s competence and sanity, and plotting ways to remove him. Injunctions for and against his decision poured into the Supreme Court. An institutional crisis threatened, when Senate president Renan Calheiros said he would ignore Maranhão’s decision, and not return the impeachment process to the lower house. Finally in the early hours of Tuesday Waldyr Maranhão annulled his annulment and the crisis subsided to a storm in a teacup.
Waldir Maranhão was left to count the cost of his 15 minutes of notoriety. His son was discovered to be on the payroll of the state accounts tribunal in São Luis, although he worked as a doctor in a São Paulo hospital, and lost his sinecure. Maranhão himself, it turned out, is being sued by a São Luis court for substantial unpaid campaign expenses.
During the all day and night session, Renan Calheiros proudly announced that over 1,000 press credentials had been issued for the Brazilian and foreign press. The world’s press is taking an avid interest because, while impeachments are not so uncommon in Latin America in recent years, they have usually taken place in smaller countries. The removal of the president of the world’s seventh largest economy, is something else. Both the OAS (Organisation of American states) and the IACHR (Interamerican Commission for Huma Rights) have expressed concern about the legality of the impeachment process, because they say that no serious crime of responsibility has been proved.
One of the unexpected consequences of the impeachment crisis is that the names of the eleven judges of the supreme court, two of them women, have become more familiar than the names of Brazil’s national soccer team.
The official communication of her suspension was served on Dilma in the Planalto Palace, an hour later than expected, as the senator bringing the document got stuck in Brasilia’s rush hour traffic. Dilma, surrounded by her outgoing ministers and PT leaders, made a defiant speech, saying she would fight for her mandate until the end of her term, 31st December 2018. She said that while she had been elected with 54 million votes, the new government had none, and was illegitimate. Dilma said she had known the pain of torture, of illness and now she was suffering the unspeakable pain of injustice, because, unlike others, she had committed no crime. She called on the people to stay mobilized, united but peaceful.
Dilma, then plunged into the crowds who had gathered outside the Planalto palace, clasping the hands of her supporters to shouts of “Dilma Guerrilleira! A patria brasileira!”, and then left for the Alvorada Palace, where she will continue to live while the final stage of the impeachment process unfolds in the Senate.
Later on Thursday Michel Temer, now officially acting president, moved into the Planalto Palace and announced his new ministry. The name Jaburu, the Palace where Temer has been planning his new ministry, means ‘large stork’. Indications are that what he is about to deliver is a very strange creature indeed, mixing politicians accused of corruption with others who have no experience in their areas, and some who are manifestly unsuitable for such posts.
He has found a way round his promise to reduce the number of ministries by merging them. Education with Culture, Agriculture with Land Reform (desenvolvimento agrario), Justice with Women’s rights and Human rights, which both had separate ministries in the Dilma government.
But some of his choices have aroused indignation, even horror. The new minister of Justice is São Paulo’s police chief, or Public Security Secretary, Alexandre de Moraes, a man more known for his truculence and massaging of police statistics, than his record as a constitutional lawyer, the official reason for his choice. When you add in his reputation for using violence to repress peaceful demonstrations, including those of secondary school students demanding school meals; accusing the innocent victims of a police shooting of being thieves; and the fact that he was once a lawyer for Eduardo Cunha, the disgraced speaker of the lower house; then there is understandable cause for concern. The Justice Minister will be responsible not only for human rights and women’s rights but also for indigenous rights, through Funai, the agency for indigenous affairs. Among indigenous communities, there is already major discontent with Funai, which earlier in the week was occupied by a group of Guarani and Kaiowá indians from Mato Grosso do Sul, demanding the long overdue publication of the report on the identification and demarcation of the traditional area they claim is theirs, from which they were expelled and then crowded into a much smaller area.
Another controversial choice is that of Blairo Maggi as Agriculture Minister. The ex-governor of Mato Grosso state, Brazil´s major soy producer, cleared such huge areas of rainforest that Greenpeace awarded him the Chainsaw of the Year prize in 2005.
Temer’s criteria seems to have been to reward the most enthusiastic supporters of Dilma´s impeachment, such as the Democratas party’s Mendonça Filho, who will be Minister of Education, an area in which he has absolutely no experience or expertise.
But when he chose a young congressman from Minas Gerais, Newton Cardoso Jr, as the new minister of Defence, the armed forces were outraged. A four star general spluttered that “to put a boy of 36 in command of men of 60, at a time of political crisis and on the eve of the Olympics, is unbelievable.” Newton Cardoso’s father, of the same name, is a former governor who was accused of illegal enrichment during his term.
Another Temer choice which aroused indignation, this time in the scientific community, was that of evangelical bishop Marcos Pereira as Minister of Science and Technology. Putting a man who does not believe in evolution in charge of science and technology was seen as a very bad joke, and his putative appointment has not been confirmed.
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Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.