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This is a moment of triumph for those who used the government to shield themselves from very serious corruption charges, revealing the failure of Brazil’s so-called democratic institutions, says Harvard University professor Sidney Chalhoub

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In breaking news, Brazil’s senate voted 61 to 20 to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office. Vice President and acting President Michel Temer, a conservative, will probably be sworn in this afternoon to take Rousseff’s place for the remainder of her term until 2018. The impeachment of Brazil’s first female president has divided a country that is undergoing severe political and economic crises. Protests in support of Rousseff and her own testimony yesterday in senate did not deter the senators from their final vote and the outcome to impeach her. So now joining me to discuss the unfolding news is Sidney Chalhoub. He is a professor of history and of African and African American studies at Harvard University. I thank you so much for joining us, professor. SIDNEY CHALHOUB: Thank you. Glad to be with you. PERIES: So professor, as we speak there’s riot police outside of the senate firing tear gas at the crowds that have gathered who opposed the position that the senate has taken against President Dilma Rousseff to impeach her. Do you think this is a sign of things to come in Brazil? CHALHOUB: Well, it’s very hard to say. I think everybody in Brazil has a very clear–they know very well that the legal basis for this impeachment is very weak or nonexistent. This has been a divisive issue for a long time now. However, it’s very hard to know whether people are going to be out on the street protesting because this process has also been very tiring, very difficult for everybody. And what is going to happen next is going to depend a lot on what the right wing government is now in power without having been elected. How aggressive of it. This government is going to push this right wing agenda that they have. It’s going to be decisive what’s going to be happening these next few months. PERIES: Now what was indicative, professor, throughout this whole process since May when they first removed President Dilma Rousseff from office temporarily and started this process? During this time, the only thing that has become absolutely clear is that while President Dilma might have juggled some accounts back and forth that various other presidents in the country have also done in the past, that she had not actually done anything that constitutes a crime of any significant nature. But what this period has also exposed is the number of other political figures in the country that are tied up in various accusations of corruptions and corruption scandals, including Vice President Michel Temer, who’s about to take office himself, who’s been declared by the courts that he himself cannot run for office for the next 2 years as well. So what has this exposed in terms of Brazilian politics, and will the current governing politicians be able to withstand this against the protests that are going on outside? CHALHOUB: You’re right. I mean, the interesting aspect of this process and the side aspect of this process is that perhaps Dilma is one of the most honest politicians about whom nothing was really found out of any importance in terms of corruption charges against her. And the people who are against her and senators in the chamber of deputies and the vice president are all people who have been very seriously involved in corruption charges. And Dilma I think, even the budgetary manipulations that they tell that she was engaged with. One thing that people must pay attention to is that the [inaud.] business for impeachment had to do with 2015. In 2015 not any of these budgetary manipulations were proved. So the charges about 2014 were discarded when the impeachment process was accepted by the chamber of deputies. So the whole legal aspect is completely debased. There is no base for it. So I think in terms of corruption charges Dilma is paying a very heavy price for the fact that herself and the workers party in general has a [strengthened] institution in charge of investigating corruption. So the federal police and the judiciary have had conditions to conduct investigations and go after corrupt politicians in ways that they had never had before. And also, actually, there’s a very important episode when right after Temer took power when one of his main minister called Romero Juca was caught in a tape saying that Dilma–the tape was made before of course, Dilma was suspended–saying that it was very necessary to bring down Dilma because she doesn’t do anything against the judges and the federal police, the people who are in charge of investigating corruption. So in many ways what you have here is really the process going upside. I mean, the corrupt individuals are getting rid of a very honest president because they want to stop corruption. So it’s very ironic that the fact that corruption has been investigated so thoroughly in Brazil in the past few years needs to decide of a result at least immediately which is a real triumph for the people who want to defend themselves against corruption charges. PERIES: Now of course, President Dilma Rousseff is going to most likely appeal this decision to the highest court in the country. Do you think that is going to be a process that’s going to be more fair than the one that she has just undergone? CALHOUB: It’s hard to say. The Supreme Court has tried to adopt a very careful conduct in this process. Try not to interfere. However, this has brought up other problems. For example, [Edward Kacaj] who was the deputy who land the process in the chamber of deputies has been accused of corruption charges and the Supreme Court took 140 days. The [central] waited. The chamber of deputies passes in the chamber to go through in order to proceed with the charges against them. Which isn’t something that has been heavily criticized in terms of the conduct of the Supreme Court. There is also some legal controversies. Some people think that the Supreme Court oversaw all this formal aspects of the impeachment process but it should not give an opinion regarding the content itself of the process because this is a political impeachment. It’s a political process, and it wouldn’t make sense for the Supreme Court to evaluate what the senate has already evaluated in political terms. But this is also very ambiguous because the law of impeachment, the way it is described in the constitution says that for the impeachment to take place you must have a legal basis and then the political evaluation makes sense. Since there is a law it’s like, sad. There is a lot of questions about the legal basis of the impeachment process. It may happen that the Supreme Court thinks that you can’t evaluate this aspect, the legal aspect of the process. And then I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I confess that I’m not optimistic. I mean what this process has been showing is that in contrast to what many of us believed democratic institutions in Brazil are not work. I mean they are formally in place. There is a democratic façade which is for the world to see. But what we also saw in the past few months is that sectors of the judiciary, the legislative, the media, they all were able to took a concerted stand to bring down a government whose major thought has been to put forward very aggressive social policies to reduce social equality in Brazil. And then including these initiatives to allow corruption investigations to go ahead without the executive trying to impeach them. So unfortunately I cannot be very optimistic about the next steps as to whether there can be any justice made to President Dilma and the Supreme Court. Even if–in the case the Supreme Court decides to actually investigate or examine the impeachment in terms of its legal basis. If it does that then something can happen. But I don’t believe–they’ll find a way of saying that they cannot–they offer [inaud.] aspect but they should not have an interference in the political content of the process. PERIES: Professor Chalhoub, I thank you so much for joining us today. We have a lot more to unpack in terms of what’s going on in Brazil further. Sort of the historical context of how Brazil has gotten here and similar historical moments Brazil has experienced. But we are in a rush to get this out to the press right away so we’re hoping to come back to you again very soon to give use more of that context. Thank you so much for joining us today. CHALHOUB: Thank you very much. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Sidney Chalhoub is Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He has taught Brazilian History at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP, Brazil) for 30 years before coming to Harvard. His books and other publications are mainly about labor history in Brazil, especially about the history of slavery