Sāo Paulo 2 MayLike a long drawn-out play, hovering between comedy and tragedy, act follows act. The audience follows each scene with delight, horror or indifference, depending on their political views. The present act is taking place in the Senate.

Black-coated waiters bustle among the senators, plying them with coffee to keep them awake through the long night sessions, and water to keep them hydrated in the dry air of Brasilia.

Before the action moved to the upper house, senators had boasted that their discussions would be very different from the “night of shame” or “circus of horrors” of the notorious impeachment session in the lower house. We are civil and respectful to each other, they said.

But that is not how it has turned out. The first session of the special senate subcommittee was delayed for several hours while senators shouted and wrangled over points of order. The two lawyers who had travelled up to the capital to present the case for the president`s impeachment had to wait for hours until calm was restored.

Janaina Paschoal
Janaina Paschoal

Even when set forth by a prestigious jurist like Miguel Reale Junior, a former minister of Justice, the accusations against Dilma are patently weak.  But this is nothing compared with the farcical address of the histrionic law professor, Janaína Paschoal: when she took the microphone, she waved her arms, shouted, lectured the senators as though they were her students, though many of them were law lecturers or lawyers themselves, and digressed into personal anecdotes; she would have been thrown out of any serious court of law. As one senator ironically pointed out, no wonder so many São Paulo law students fail their bar exams.

But, out of the 21 senators on the committee, 16 are anti-government and pro-impeachment however flimsy the arguments, so they let her off lightly. Former footballer Romário, senator for Rio de Janeiro, even compared her “courageous” performance to his own, playing for Brazil against much stronger opponents — although what was courageous about facing a committee overwhelmingly on her side was not clear.

Randolfe Rodrigues
Randolfe Rodrigues

When they got a chance to ask questions, the five members of left-wing parties (PT, PCdoB, PSOL) demolished Janaína Paschoal`s performance, and her demoralization was complete when she fell into a trap set by Senator Randolfe Rodrigues of Rede Sustentabilidade, the political party led by Marina Silva. He read out a list of decrees signed by the presidency in 2015 and asked whether they really constituted impeachable crimes. Believing he was referring to the accusations against Dilma, she said emphatically yes, only to be told that they had, in fact, been signed by vice-president Michel Temer; so, he concluded ironically, she must be in favour of his impeachment too. There is, in fact, a request for Temer`s impeachment slumbering in the drawer of Eduardo Cunha, the president of the chamber of deputies, who is Temer`s ally and a fellow PMDB member. Cunha has no intention of allowing it to be debated – for the moment, at least, for later down the line Cunha could well threaten to use it to gain leverage over Temer to stop him removing him from office, because of his own well-documented corruption.

After listening to the lawyers, the senate subcommittee heard the arguments of two of Dilma`s ministers — finance minister Nelson Barbosa and agriculture minister Kátia Abreu, who dismantled the accusation’s arguments. Kátia Abreu, a staunch defender of agribusiness, who could in no way be accused of being a petista, a communist or of having any sympathy for the left, made a point of defending Dilma`s integrity and honesty.

But none of this will make any difference to the outcome, as the impeachment bandwagon gathers speed. The man chosen as the subcommittee`s rapporteur — the former governor of Minas Gerais state, PSDB senator Antônio Anastasia, himself charged with using exactly the same sort of fiscal manoeuvres as those Dilma is accused of — sits impervious throughout the presentations. He is also accused of receiving irregular campaign donations from five construction companies and a bank. He spent more money on his electoral campaign than any other senator. But, of course, none of this counts; the verdict is already decided and it doesn’t matter what the defence says.

After the rapporteur’s report is voted on, the next act, which will be the end of part one of this lengthy play, is expected to take place on 11 May, when the full Senate will vote to accept or reject the report. Only a simple majority, that is 41 of the 81 senators, is needed.  If the report is accepted, which is almost certain, this is when Dilma has to step down from the presidency; the Senate then has six months to investigate the allegations against her and to take a final decision, with a two-thirds majority required for her impeachment.

As her time runs out, Dilma is under pressure from the social movements, who provide the backbone of her support, to take action on issues which they have long campaigned for but on which she has dragged her feet. Between 30 and 40 measures, marking out land for indigenous territories, quilombos and agrarian reform settlements, have been taken or are about to be taken. One of the beneficiaries is the Munduruku indians, who have finally been given the area of Sawre Muybe; this will make unfeasible the planned construction of the huge Sāo Luiz do Tapajós hydrodam on the Tapajós river. Dilma has also extended the period that 13,000 foreign doctors, almost all of them Cubans, can stay in Brazil without needing to revalidate their diplomas.  Though these doctors work in remote rural areas or poor urban areas mostly shunned by Brazilian doctors, the programme, called Mais Médicos, is anathema to the medical establishment and the right-wing political parties.

Once Dilma goes, and vice president Michel Temer steps into her shoes, there is the risk that many of her last minute measures could be revoked.

After a meeting with the conservative agribusiness parliamentary front, Michel Temer promised to review all the recent land measures signed by Dilma. The group wants to see a reduction in the size of indigenous areas and to have environmental licencing laws ignored for big dam and road-building projects. The deputies of the so-called  bancadas de Bíblia, Bala e Boi (evangelical, guns and farmers’ lobbies) also want the new government to put into practice their  reactionary agenda – fewer controls on gun, the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility, and further restrictions for abortion, even in cases of rape, and so on.

Leaks about the new government’s plans to “privatise everything”, to limit social programmes to the poorest 5%, to introduce severe austerity measures, to raise the pension age and so on, are emerging.

Now, within just a few days of becoming president, Temer naturally does not agree with the idea of new elections this year as a solution to the political crisis. For him, this – not the impeachment of Dilma — would be a “coup”.  Among those who support the idea are 30 senators from various parties, who suggest that presidential elections could be held on the same days as the municipal elections, 2 and 30 October. They want Dilma to resign before she is impeached and to call for the new elections, as a gesture of ‘grandeur and courage’.

The PT, meanwhile, is divided.  Addressing a meeting of the Progressive Alliance, an international grouping of social democrat and socialist organisations and parties, in São Paulo last week, Lula said:

“I am convinced that here in Brazil there will be a big struggle. We cannot accept that a TV channel or a newspaper run the country… it`s the people who have to decide. It [the impeachment] is the biggest act of illegality since 1964. We, the PT, are going to resist, we are going to fight. You can`t mess about with democracy. Many people died to defend democracy. Do we have problems? Yes, we do. We have economic problems. The PT disagrees with the government about the wrong things they have done. But if government mistakes or a bad economic situation were enough to get a president impeached or to pass a vote of no confidence in a prime minister, then no government anywhere would last more than 2 years.

If they think they are going to destroy the PT, they should go to the streets and see the youth avid for politics, while on the other side you have people who think all politics is bad.”

Behind and above the political scene, the investigations into the corruption scandal that involves political parties, major construction firms, and Petrobras, continue to send shock waves through the political establishment.

Last Monday, as the Senate subcommittee heard more witnesses for and against the impeachment, several leading senators found themselves accused by the Prosecutors’ Office of corruption, as a result of the plea bargain of fellow senator Delcídio do Amaral.

PSDB leader Aécio Neves is to be investigated for alleged bribe taking and “disguising data” to hide his party’s involvement in the corruption scandal known as the “mensalão mineiro” (Minas Gerais mensalāo scandal), which has never been given the same prominence in the press as the “mensalão do PT”. The prosecutors also asked for investigations into four PMDB senators, including Senate president Renan Calheiros, and Romero Jucá, a likely minister in the Temer government, for taking bribes from the Belo Monte dam consortium. Aėcio and Jucá are two of the most vociferous in demanding Dilma’s impeachment.

Sergio Moro
Sergio Moro

Sérgio Moro, the Curitiba federal judge who has been in charge of the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigation, ordering dozens of raids, arrests and interrogations, was chosen by Time magazine for their list of the 100 most influential people in the world, the only Brazilian on it.  Looking rather smug, Moro appeared at the black tie dinner in New York.

But less than 24 hours later, he himself was accused by over 100 members of the legal profession, including university lecturers in law from all over Brazil, of a series of illegalities and constitutional infringements during the Lava Jato investigation, including ordering detentions based on newspaper reports and “public clamour”.  They have brought a legal action against the controversial judge.

The curtain on the first act is due to be rung down on 11 May.  The MST (Landless Movement) has threatened to “paralyse the country” from 10 May, in protest at the removal of an elected president and her replacement by an unelected president with a right-wing agenda.

The play seems certain to have a tragic ending. No wonder so many Brazilians see this as a coup.

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Veteran correspondent and regular LAB contributor Jan Rocha writes about life in São Paulo and Brazil