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  December 11, 2016

President of Brazil's Senate Renan Calheiros Joins the Ranks of Corruption Riddled Political Leaders

Leaders that carried out the legislative coup against Dilma Rousseff, embroiled in corruption scandals are systematically destroying political institutions and social progress in Brazil says Journalist Shobhan Saxena
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SHARMINI PERIES: This is The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Brazil's corruption-laden political crisis continued this week when the Brazilian Senate almost passed a reform to the country's anti-corruption law. The reforms proposed would have gutted the anti-corruption law by allowing politicians to sue prosecutors and by giving legislators greater immunity from prosecution. However, the legislators were forced to postpone the law wen massive protests took place outside of Congress. Following all of this, on Monday, a judge issued an indictment against the Senate President, Renan Calheiros, ordering him to step down from his post. He refused and then the Supreme Court subsequently allowed him to remain.

Meanwhile, on another matter, social movements are mobilizing continuously in Brazil against a constitutional reform that would impose austerity on Brazil for the next 20 years.

Joining us now to take a closer look at these latest developments in Brazil is Shobhan Saxena. He is a journalist based in Brazil for several Indian publications, including The Times of India, The Wire and Outlook Magazine. Thank you so much for joining us, Shobhan.


SHARMINI PERIES: So Shobhan, I understand a constitutional crisis erupted when the Senate President Renan Calheiros refused to step down. But Brazil's President Temer supported his stay against the judge's orders. What all happened? Explain to us.

SHOBHAN SAXENA: I think we'll have to step back a little bit, a few months when President Dilma Rousseff, the Former President, was impeached by the country's Congress and Senate, to understand what's happening in Brazil at the moment. At that time, very few people argued that Dilma Rousseff's impeachment had nothing to do with corruption. It was all about protecting the corrupt people and it was all about rolling back the progressive policies of the worker's party 's government. And if you look now at what's happening in Brazil, what has happened in the past, three, four, five months, these things have come true. There were three main characters in the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff -- the current President Michel Temer, the Head of the Congress, Eduardo Cunha and Renan Calheiros, who's the Chief of the Senate. And all the three people are deeply embroiled in corruption. They're always talking about impeachment of Michel Temer; Eduardo Cunha has already resigned from his post. He's under arrest at the moment. And just last week the Supreme Court asked Renan Calheiros should step down from his post and he, in a very brazen manner, he refused and he has been protected by President Michel Temer because they are all together in this corruption scandal. So, you know, you can very easily see how the corrupt parties, how the corrupt politicians came together to impeach a president who did not have a single corruption charge or allegation against her. They made her step down and they are now busy rolling back all the progress made by Brazil, in the field of education, public health, transport and equality, which has always been a very big issue in Brazil. And, in a very systematic manner, they're destroying all those social progressive policies and also making very, very fundamental changes in Brazil's foreign policies.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. But when you look at the media and especially the Western and the English media, you often would have thought there were legitimate corruption charges against Dilma Rousseff. That's why she was impeached. But really this is a deflection of what's really going on among the legislators that are currently ruling Brazil. Give us a sense of what the charges were against the current Senate President Calheiros.

SHOBHAN SAXENA: Like all politicians, like President Michel Temer and, against Eduardo Cunha who was the Head of the Congress, Renan Calheiros has been involved, had been accused of accepting funds for elections in illegal manner what is called or "number two box". The money you cannot accept legally but accept that kind of money illegally to contest elections. And also, as you know, there has been bigger scandal called Operation or Operation Car Wash. The scandal in the state-owned petrol company Petrobras has been going on for several years. And all the politicians in all the political parties, in one way or the other, have been linked to that, including several politicians from the Worker's Party which was in power for 13 years. But despite all these charges, despite all these allegations, very serious allegations made against Former President Lula and Temer, nothing has been brought into court against them, not a single charge has been proven against them. And people like Renan Calheiros, Eduardo Cunha and Michel Temer, they enjoy power. They get in very, very comfortable positions and powerful positions and they went ahead with impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. This really looks bizarre, but this is a very sad and tragic situation in Brazil.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shobhan, also tell us about these protests that are going on against the measure that's currently be considered by legislators to put a moratorium on social spending for 20 years through a constitutional amendment.

SHOBHAN SAXENA: Yeah, this piece of legislation is called PEC 55 and is a brainchild of the new President Michel Temer. It has been introduced in the Congress. It has not finally passed yet. And they made an attempt to discuss it and pass it last week and thousands of people, almost 10,000 people gathered in the national capital, Brasília, in front of the Congress in a building to protest against it. It was a very big protest and it gave a very clear message to the country's politicians, the current leadership, that the country is not going to accept this kind of very fundamental change in Brazil's constitution. And this is really a very dangerous piece of legislation, which proposes a freeze on spending on health and education for 20 years. And it is being embedded in the country's constitution which means that any future government, they will have to abide by this legislation. Which means for the next 20 years, for two decades to 2036, the governments may come and go, but they will not be able to make any changes or introduce any policies to make social policies on education and health more progressive. This is the most regressive piece of legislation I have seen in my life to date. And today the United Nations officials have publicly criticized and called it an attack on Brazil's poor and said this would take Brazil back by decades. And this is, in fact, true.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shobhan, President Temer is now facing calls for his impeachment. If he were removed through a process, then actually the Senate President Calheiros, who is also now under scrutiny, is going to become President -- at least he's next in line for President. What will happen if he is actually indicted and impeached?

SHOBHAN SAXENA: Nobody knows for sure, actually, but I think, I can tell you with certainty that Brazil's institutions are facing a huge moment of crisis. In fact, when Dilma Rousseff was impeached, immediately after they're talking about a coup within a coup. Which actually meant removing Michel Temer from his post after some time. And this last ... the biggest scandal involving a real estate company, and the President Temer has been accused of helping a radical(?) politician – there's some recording against him -- and they're already talking about his impeachment proceeding starting some time next year. It may happen. It's quite possible. And the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, I think it's been said they have a plan to put in place a president who will be indirectly elected, not directly elected. Because the Brazilian politics is completely in a very messy situation and they may or may not have elections for the president in 2018 when they're due actually. So nobody knows what will happen in the future, but I can tell you all the institutions of this country, the Presidency, the Congress, the Senate and Judiciary are facing a very big crisis and nobody knows what will happen in the future.

SHARMINI PERIES: And, Shobhan, what's happening to President Lula and the cases that are pending against him and the court cases that have been brought against him?

SHOBHAN SAXENA: Nothing has happened so far. I mean, one day you hear that there's some evidence against him and the judge would say, "No, there's no evidence and can't be prosecuted." There are no concrete charges against him in the court. I mean, he is not an accused in any court case, but are rumors about that he'll be arrested. Then Temer said, one day, "He can't be arrested because if Lula's arrested there the country will be destabilized." But the interesting thing, if you look at the polls, which have been conducted in recent weeks, he is still leading the polls for 2018 elections. If 2018 elections are held today, he will win those elections. And that is the reason, according to many critical observers here, they want to prosecute him, they want to put a ban on him from participating in elections so that he can't win the 2018 elections. Despite all the charges, despite all the accusations against Worker's Party, despite the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, Lula remains a very popular figure in the country especially in the northeastern part of the country. I can't say for sure that he'll win the 2018 elections or elections will be held in 2018, but Lula remains a key political figure in this country. And a lot of people in this country, especially the poor, they still look at him for guidance and for political leadership.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Shobhan, I thank you so much for joining us today and we're looking forward to having you back.

SHOBHAN SAXENA: Thank you for having me, thank you very much.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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