São Paulo, 18 April: The impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff has advanced another step after the chamber of deputies voted by 367 votes to 137, with 7 abstentions and two absences, to send the process to the Senate.
The deputies took 6 noisy hours to cast their votes for or against. Many commentators agreed that it was a depressing sight, for various reasons. Earlier in the day I went down to São Paulo`s central Anhangabau area, where there was a large demonstration against what protesters call ‘the coup’.
In the hot afternoon sun, people of all races, classes and ages mingled to watch the congress proceedings on a giant screen under the Viaduto do Chá, the road bridge above.
Back at home to watch the vote unfold, as the 500 representatives of the lower house lined up to vote, one by one, was a reminder of just how unrepresentative they are: a mere handful of women, a half a dozen Afro-brazilians like Benedita da Silva, or Vicentinho, and no indigenous people: instead the overwhelming majority were clean-shaven white males, dressed in well-cut suits. Many of the younger ones who crowded round the mike were positively good-looking, and would not have been out of place on a catwalk of male models, which made you wonder about the criteria for candidate selection.
Only two of those voting for impeachment actually cited the reason – the president’s alleged fiscal manoeuvres and illegal decrees. Instead most behaved as though they had been chosen, not to represent their electors, but their churches or their families, and aware that the whole of Brazil was watching, sent fond greetings to wives, children, mothers, grandchildren – even aunts and nephews and unborn babies got a mention.
Many of them brandished the flags of their respective state, or the Brazilian flag– one fat, bald-headed deputy from Rio, who had positioned himself behind the microphone where the votes were read out, could be seen absentmindedly wiping his sweaty brow with the national flag.
Some of those who voted for impeachment were former military or police officers, like ex-army lieutenant Jair Bolsanaro who tastefully dedicated his vote to “the military of 1964” (the year of the coup which ousted elected president João Goulart), and the memory of the late Army colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who was in charge of the army centre where Dilma was tortured when she was a political prisoner.
A video of this by MidiaNinja can be seen here.
Many deputies, including some of those who voted for impeachment, protested at the presence of the man who presided over the session, Eduardo Cunha, who has been formally accused of bribe taking, holding undeclared Swiss bank accounts and money laundering, but whose case is waiting to be heard in the Supreme Court.
Out of 513 deputies, 299 are accused of various crimes, mostly the malversion of funds. The PMDB, party of vice president Michel Temer, who stood most to gain from ousting the president, has 43 of its 67 deputies on the list of accused, including Eduardo Cunha.
One said he was embarrassed to be participating in a farce conducted by a thief. Another said “Eduardo Cunha, you are a gangster, there is the smell of sulphur in the air”. Other comments were:
“This event will become known as the biggest farce in Brazilian politics, a circus.”
“This is an honest president being tried by a court of exception.”
“Your time will come, you will pay, you will be behind bars. This process is artificial.”
One of the female representatives was booed and shouted down when she called out, My God, what hypocrisy, what cowards. “You want a solution for your problems, not the problems of Brazil.”
Many of those voting against impeachment dedicated their vote to political heroes: Marighela, Luis Carlos Prestes, the 21 landless people killed in a massacre by the Policía Militar at Eldorado dos Carajás, Pará, of which the 20th anniversary fell on April 17.
The vote is cast
When the 342nd vote was cast, providing the needed 2/3 majority, the crowds of pro-impeachment demonstrators who had gathered on the streets of many cities cheered euphorically and let off fireworks. There were panelaços, saucepan banging in some places.
The result was a resounding defeat for the government, after days of intense negotiations by Lula with members of the parties who until very recently had been supporting Dilma’s government, some of them even holding ministerial portfolios. A special edition of the Official Gazette with hundreds of new appointments, designed to buy votes, failed to do the trick.
Instead the tug of war for hearts and minds was won resoundingly by vice president Michel Temer, who can now expect to become president within two weeks, once the Senate votes to accept the impeachment process and investigate it, and Dilma is suspended, at least temporarily. Before the vote, Lula knew the battle was lost, but the margin was much larger than expected.
Last week all sorts of panic rumours had been spreading on social media– Dilma would confiscate bank accounts and savings -a la Collor (Fernando Collor de Melo, President of Brazil from 1990 to 1992 who resigned shortly before being impeached for corruption). Business leaders warned that the economy would collapse if Dilma stayed in power.
The federal police had also announced they would arrest all foreigners found at the protests, accusing social movements of bussing in Bolivians to boost their numbers. This led to the absurd spectacle of 300 Bolivian estate agents who had come to look at property in Goiás (a sign of the times), being temporarily detained.
The São Paulo police also raided the HQ of the Gaviôes do Fiel , the supporters’ club of the popular Corinthians football team, and confiscated banners and replica coffins for São Paulo politicians involved in a corruption scandal over school meals, after they put out a video criticising the impeachment; the huge protest by Corinthian fans in the centre of São Paulo on Friday night when they chanted slogans against the state government’s corruption went unreported in the mainstream press.
What now for the PT?
The PT executive meet on Tuesday (19th) to discuss alternatives. Some want Dilma to do a sort of volta por cima – call for immediate elections and step down. But this would mean a constitutional amendment being approved by congress, and it seems very unlikely that, having got their hands on power, the PMDB will risk losing it. Especially as opinion polls show that Michel Temer is as unpopular as Dilma, and a majority would like to see him impeached as well. In fact, a petition calling for Temer’s impeachment has been presented to the speaker of the lower house, but Eduardo Cunha shows no signs of dealing with it in the speedy fashion he dealt with Dilma’s. It is more likely that this will become a bargaining chip, as the petition against Dilma was, to make sure the case against him in the ethics committee of the house of deputies, goes nowhere. For his part, Temer, once in power, will probably see that the corruption case against Cunha somehow disappears. And Dilma shows no signs of stepping down before she is forced to. At a press conference on Monday night, she said she would fight till the end, as she did during the dictatorship.
The bottom line is that nobody knows what to do. Lula’s strategy of asking notoriously fickle politicians to vote yes in exchange for favours failed dismally. Trade union mobilization, when almost ten million have lost their jobs, will be hard to conjure up. The social movements were ignored by the Dilma government until it needed them, and now it is they who will bear the brunt of the likely savage neoliberal policies of a Temer government.