Brazil heads for legal coup from illegitimate Congress

São Paulo, 2 April: The word “golpe” – coup — hangs over Brazil like a dark, threatening cloud.  In Congress, the special committee set up to consider the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff is going through the motions of listening to arguments for and against, but the mood is overwhelmingly pro-impeachment.

Two jurists called to explain the legal arguments for impeachment, based on the claim that the President had carried out so-called “fiscal manoeuvres”, used their time to make impassioned, political accusations. The two witnesses called to defend Dilma, Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa and academic Ricardo Lodi Ribeiro, refuted each accusation soberly with painstaking technical details. But in the end, it is a political judgement, not a technical one. Dilma is not under investigation by the police for corruption, she has not been charged with any crime by a CPI (Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry), as President Collor was in 1992, but she has to go, it seems.

It is not only Dilma`s supporters who talk about a coup. Even Supreme Court minister Marco Aurelio de Mello says that impeachment without a judicial fact that demonstrates Dilma`s responsibility would constitute a coup.

Eduardo Cunha
Eduardo Cunha

Moreover, 302 of the 513 deputies who will vote on her impeachment, are themselves accused of, or are being investigated for, various corruption crimes. Eduardo Cunha, president of the Chamber of Deputies, who will chair the plenary session, expected to take place on 14 or 15 April, has been charged with taking bribes and using his position to protect himself from accusations of unethical behaviour. A recent TV report detailed the lavish lifestyle of the self-styled evangelical leader and his family in Paris, Rome and Dubai, who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on luxury hotels, meals and clothes and used credit cards allegedly tied to illegal accounts.

Cunha was present at last week`s lightning three-minute meeting, when the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) took the dramatic decision to leave the government, depriving it of its main coalition partner. All the PMDB leaders shown celebrating the decision are being investigated in the various corruption inquiries now under way.

Another Supreme Court judge, Luis Roberto Barroso, was caught on camera in an unguarded moment, exclaiming as he watched the meeting on television: “My God! Is this our alternative government?  This is a disaster”.

If Dilma is impeached, her vice-president, Michel Temer of the PMDB, will become Brazil`s new president. So, as the centre of power shifts towards him, there is feverish activity among the parties as they jockey for position in a new government.

Lula, now officially a government adviser, is also engaged in febrile activity at his new HQ – a hotel room in Brasilia, described by one newspaper as his `bunker` — to persuade the small political parties who helped to make up the government `base` to stay faithful to Dilma, with offers  of government  posts, even ministries. It is an undignified spectacle seeing the parties bargain for power: some would say it’s a case of outright bribery.

But Dilma supporters have also taken to the streets again, choosing 31 March, the 52nd anniversary of the 1964 coup which overthrew President João Goulart, for  big demonstrations  with the slogan Nao vai ter Golpe  – No to the Coup – in 75 Brazilian cities and foreign capitals, including London and Rome.

In the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Dilma has been hosting events in order to receive support from social movements, artists, and trade unions. Some have become rather too enthusiastic, like the leader of Contag (The Agricultural Workers Union) who pledged to invade the offices and ranches of those who support impeachment.

Judge Teori Zavascki
Judge Teori Zavascki

But then understanding and tolerance are not much in evidence in today`s Brazil. In Porto Alegre, a doctor refused to treat a one-year-old child, because his mother belongs to the PT (Workers’ Party).  The PT congress leader, deputy José Guimarães, was heckled and insulted by hostile protesters when he arrived at Fortaleza airport. The home of a High Court judge, Teori Zavascki, was surrounded by protesters because his decision regarding  Lula`s right to be tried in the STF (Supreme Court) was deemed  favourable to the PT leader.

What sometimes gets overlooked in the storm of stories, rumours, accusations and versions flying about is that Lula has not, in fact, been charged with any crime.

This did not stop the weekly magazine, Veja, from printing an “exclusive” cover story, on a lurid red background, entitled Lula`s Secret Plan to Avoid Arrestclaim asylum in Italy and leave the country. Although the Italian Embassy denied the story, saying it was a complete fabrication, before the magazine went to press, Veja went ahead and published it; the magazine is now widely available, with its false story, in shops and newsstands.

The concerted attempt not only to discredit Lula, but to brand him as a criminal, and therefore to disqualify him from running in the 2018 elections, involves not only sections of the press, but also some public prosecutors and members of the federal police and the judiciary, at different levels of seniority.

There was, indeed, a secret plan, but it was hatched, not by Lula, but some of these people. On 3 March when Lula was taken in for questioning by the Federal Police at 6.a.m. in the morning, he was driven, not to the Federal Police HQ, but to Congonhas airport near the centre of São Paulo, where apparently an executive jet was waiting  to fly him to Curitiba, the centre of the Lava Jato investigations, to be questioned by judge Sérgio Moro. Air Force officials got wind of what was happening and prevented it. But ultra-reactionary Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro, a former army officer, nostalgic for the good old days of military rule, had already been tipped off and hurried to Curitiba, to gather hostile crowds to greet Lula.

Pro-impeachment supporters have had some unexpected rebuffs. FIESP, the influential São Paulo Industrial Federation, is using a giant rubber yellow duck as the symbol of its pro-impeachment campaign because of the Brazilian phrase  não vou  pagar o pato (we are not going to bear the cost), referring to the tax burden.

FIESP's duck
FIESP’s duck

But a Dutch plastic artist called Florentyn Hofman has appeared, claiming that the FIESP duck is based on one of his models and he is suing them for plagiarism. Regardless, FIESP has placed 5000 small rubber ducks on the grass in front of Congress, where the next round of the impeachment battle will take place on Monday 4 April, when President Dilma presents her defence.

A request for the impeachment of Vice-President Temer has been lodged in Congress, but stands little chance of being accepted.

 

 

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