If President Dilma Rousseff is successfully impeached it will shake confidence in the entire Brazilian democratic system, says Maria Mendonca of the University of Rio de Janeiro
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Late Sunday night, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies which is the lower house of it’s the lower house of its legislature, voted to move forward on impeaching President Dilma Rousseff. The voted followed 3 days of debate and passed with the required 2/3 majority. Rousseff and her supporters argued that the opposition is staging a coup against her. After all she’s not being accused of having committed a crime or convicted of one. Rather she is being accused of having quietly taken out loans from government banks during an election year in order to temporarily hide a budget deficit. In contrast to Rousseff, most of the legislatures who are advocating for her impeachment are themselves under investigation or charged with far more serious offenses; outright corruption to enrich themselves. The impeachment process now moves through Brazil’s Senate which must decide with a simple majority vote whether to hold a trial against Rousseff. If it passes, Rousseff will be temporarily removed from office for 6 months while a trial takes place and Vice President Michel Temer will take over for her. The Vice President himself faces some of the same charges that is being levied against President Rousseff. With us to take a closer look at what’s going on in Brazil is Maria Mendoza. Maria is Director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights and she’s also Professor in International Relations at the University of Rio de Janeiro. Thank you so much for joining us Maria. MARIA MENDOZA: Thank you. PERIES: So Maria let’s start with this impeachment vote that took place on Sunday. Would you say that it has merit? MENDOZA: No not at all. The deputies didn’t even discuss what kind of accusation there was supposedly against the President. It was just one series of discourses about god, the family, the importance of reserving the conservative values in society. Some of them even praised the dictatorship, the military dictatorship, the torture, the repression that happened at that time. So it was kind of a horror show that we watched over and over at this surreal debate that didn’t even touch the issue of supposedly Dilma had done anything wrong. So it’s clear that for us that now especially after we watched the debates that there was no accusation against her. It’s actually a political trial a way to subvert the vote, the elections that took place in Brazil just in October of last year. PERIES: Maria now you are working with a number of progressive social movements in Brazil. What are the sentiments there? How are they feeling? What are the levels of organization and support for the PT government if there is any? MENDOZA: Yes, there have been large demonstrations against the impeachment and in the fans of democracy in Brazil. Even the social movements that have been more critical of the government are now taking the streets and protesting because it’s clear to us that we’re facing a parliamentary coup, very similar to what happened in Honduras and Paraguay recently. So we need to join forces and defend democracy. It’s very important to have international solidarity. One of the main leaders of the opposition right now who is pressuring for the impeachment is visiting Washington, D.C. today and is trying to lobby the U.S. congress for support for the impeachment in Brazil. The same way that U.S. organizations have said that the U.S. government did not criticize the coup in Honduras and could also have had a role in that, I think it will be very important for the U.S. audience to pressure their representatives to criticize the impeachment process in Brazil the same way as other international organizations as the OAS have done. The UN, the Organization of American States, UNASUR, several multilateral organizations have criticized the impeachment process in Brazil when we expect that the U.S. government will play a positive role in this case. PERIES: Especially in light of the fact that they’ve had very good relationship with Dilma Rousseff and Lula government and the Brazilian government led by the PT all together. Now when you look at mainstream media in the United States, I was just reading a Bloomberg article, it’s almost as if they’ve already moved on and is now looking at the potential replacement and what the investment portfolio and favorability is as far as interests are concerned with the Vice President. Now, do you consider this a done deal or do you think there is lots of space here as the impeachment process moves into Senate and higher levels of decision making? MENDOZA: Yes, I think it’s very important to have a broader view about the situation in the U.S. because usually the media coverage is very simplistic and actually not accurate because it portrayed a situation as if the President has committed a crime and the congress was voting an legal basis which is not true. Also there has been little coverage about the protest against the impeachment and in support of democracy in Brazil. So I think that giving this ability to the real issues and pressure the US government in defending democracy in Brazil is very important. PERIES: And one thing that’s becoming clear and New York Times to be fair had done a good job of describing is the magnitude of the problem not only with the PT but the ruling process altogether and the number of people who were involved in the charges and the investigations that are underway. But most importantly one has to recognize that this process of dealing with corruption was entirely opened up by Dilma Rousseff herself who alluded to that in a speech she gave a few days before. Tell me about what she said and also about the kind of charges that her accusers and the people involved in the decision making process at the vote in the House of Delegates that we were talking about. MENDOZA: Yes, the leader of the opposition in the house is being accused of corruption and actually the Swiss government has released accounts that he has hidden in Switzerland with over 5 million dollars. So he is definitely someone who would not be interested in this investigation to continue. PERIES: Maria what is holding up their case? Those who are driving to have Dilma Rousseff impeached? MENDOZA: Well the main problem is that by impeaching the president without a legal basis there would be an open situation in which we would not be able to trust the Brazilian institutions. We would not be able to trust any legal process, any serious investigation against corruption. So it’s very serious that we defend democracy. It’s very important that people understand what is at stake right now because it’s not about only defending one person for a government or a particular party. It’s about defending democracy and defending the state institutions in Brazil right now. So if we let this happen, the whole political process will be unclear. There is no way to know what is going to happen in the future because the people who were pushing for independence are pushing for corruption cases and serious cases of corruption. So the main thing here is to defend the democratic process. PERIES: And many people are saying that the PT, Dilma Rousseff, as well as former President Lula are not coming out strong enough defending themselves. What could Rousseff have done differently for her to be perceived otherwise? MENDOZA: Well she recorded a very good speech just a few days ago. But one of the main problems is that the mainstream media in Brazil, all the major networks and newspapers are against the government and they’re pushing very openly for the impeachment that has been huge for [ ] pieces, paid pieces by the industrial elites in Brazil defending the impeachment. So that is very little space in the Brazilian media to voice a different type of opinion. The media monopoly is a huge problem in Brazil. So perhaps if the government had taken stronger measures in the past to democratize the media to support the demands of social movements, maybe the situation would be different right now. PERIES: Alright Maria Mendoza I thank you so much for joining us today and we’ll be following this issue, as I’m sure you will be, and hope to have you back again. MENDOZA: Okay, thank you very much. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.