Glenn Greenwald: President’s Impeachment Process in Brazil is a Trojan Horse for Neo-liberalism
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald says that President Dilma Rousseff’s Vice President and would-be successor, Michel Temer, is a corrupt politician who would take the country on a sharp neoliberal turn
SHARMINI PERIES, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The festivities for the arrival of the Olympic Flame in Brazil ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics was overcast with President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment proceedings underway in the Senate. The impeachment vote is centered on charges relating to misrepresenting government budgets.
However, a careful analysis of the politicians governing Brazil show that they may have engaged in levels of corruption far greater than anything that the president is accused of. The Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail reported that 318 of the 594 members of congress face allegations of financial impropriety far greater than anything that the president is charged with, they said.
So, what are we to make of all of this impeachment proceedings underway in Senate? On to discuss this is Glenn Greenwald. He is an award-winning journalist, a constitutional lawyer and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. His most recent book is “No Place to Hide.” Greenwald is a founding editor of the Intercept.
Good to have you with us, Glenn.
GLENN GREENWALD: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
PERIES: Glenn, if the Senate vote to uphold the lower house’s impeachment vote, this would mean that Vice President Michel Temer of the center-right PSDB will take over as president, at least for a period, until the final decision is made. But until recently, he himself was a part of the coalition, but we knew that he was also charged with corruption, or at least allegations of corruption. His political party, PSDB, what do we know about it? Who is he? What is the corruption scandal around him?
GREENWALD: So the PSDB is, as you said, the center-right-wing party that has run four straight elections against the Workers’ Party, which is the party of the current president, Dilma Rousseff, but also her predecessor Lula Da Silva.
Michel Temer is actually is actually in the PMDB party which is kind of this, like, centrist, non-ideological party that often has a lot of people that are elected to the congress and so they’re kind of the kingmaker. They can go to to right and help the right wing form a government, as they did in the early ’90s, or they can go to the left and help the Workers’ Party form a government, as they’ve done for the last 16 years. And, so, they’re kind of this shape-shifting, transactional party.
And there’s no question that his intention, Michel Temer’s intention, if he’s installed as president, and this is somebody who could never, ever get elected president on his own. In fact, almost 60 percent of Brazilians say they want to see him impeached as vice president, let alone put in power, but if he is put in power there’s no question that Brazil, especially in terms of domestic policy and economic policy is going to take a very sharp turn to the neoliberal right. They’re going to slash social programs, impose austerity. They’re going to put into place as economic ministers and key economic advisers the head of Goldman Sachs in Brazil, former World Bank and IMF officials.
And so, the plan very much is to take a set of economic proposals [inaud.] never could get the approval of the Brazilian people economically and impose them by removing the party that has won four straight elections, which is the Workers’ Party, and imposing him.
PERIES: So, turning to the US. On the surface the United States appears to be rather quiet about all of this and they appear to be on the sidelines, but the US, obviously here, is concerned about the instability in Brazil. We know for a fact that the US considered it important enough for the NSA to spy on them, according to the Snowden leaks. So, give us a sense of where you think the US is at on the proceedings underway against Dilma Rousseff.
GREENWALD: So, the context for all this is really crucial. Brazil is a very young democracy. It only became a democracy in 1985, and that’s because in 1964 Brazil had a democratically elected, left-wing government, just like it has now, and there was a military coup that removed the democratically elected president and proceeded to install a very oppressive, brutal, 21-year military dictatorship on the country, this right-wing military dictatorship.
And, for many years, the United States government vehemently denied, in response to suspicions in Brazil, given the US history on the continent, that they were in any way involved in the coup. They said they had no rule in the coup, they really didn’t even know about it until it was reported in the newspapers.
And, as it turned out, documents were released at the late stages of the Johnson administration which proved that not only was the US aware of the coup but participated actively in plotting it with Brazilian military officials, and then they, along with the British, provided huge amounts of support and training for the military dictatorship, including training in various torture techniques. So, there’s obviously a great [inaud.] when you’re talking about removing a democratically elected, left-wing government in Brazil to what role the United States is playing.
And so, certainly, whatever role the United States is playing they’re going to keep very much in the dark, because that would be really volatile for them to appear to have a hand in it. I don’t think there is evidence that, yet, anyway, that the US has a role in impeachment, but there’s no question that they would vastly prefer the economic policies, the austerity, the pro-capital approach that the government would take under Michel Temer as opposed to the Workers’ Party.
PERIES: Now, is it correct to say that Brazil and the US has had good relations? I mean, there’s been visits on the part of Dilma Rousseff and President Obama, visits to the White House. There have been very congenial relations, and even when the NSA spying story broke through the leaks there was an effort to sort of mend those fences and have a closer relationship.
Did President Obama play any role in bringing Brazil closer to its economic relations?
GREENWALD: The relationship between Brazil and the US is a complicated one. They’re the two largest countries [inaud.] hemisphere. They historically have had very close relationships because of the US support for the military dictatorship, and so a good part of the country, the sort of pro-military right [inaud.] capitalists in Brazil [inaud.] very pro-American and continue to maintain really good relationships with American power centers.
But, under President Lula, who became president in 2002 as part of the Workers’ Party, he ushered in this more kind of independent foreign policy. He wanted to align Brazil with the non-aligned states, and it really all came to a head when the US was trying to isolate Iran as part of its effort to secure a better negotiating position with Iran, and instead Lula went with Turkey and negotiated their own side deal with Iran as a way of bringing Iran back into the world community, and it created a lot of anger on the part of the US, and then the NSA revelations that you referenced really damaged relations.
The president, by then Dilma Rousseff, actually canceled the first scheduled state visit in 40 years in anger over the revelations. She denounced the US and President Obama from the podium at the UN while President Obama waited out in hall. But, you’re right. You know, there’s, especially in the wake of the economic crisis, there’s a lot of trade to be done, a lot of economic benefits to be had from the relations between these two countries.
And so, you know, the US never has good a relationship with any really left-wing government, but the government in Brazil is not like other left-wing governments in Latin America. They’re not Chavez, they’re not Bolivia, they’re not Ecuador. They’re much more, sort of, pragmatic, much more centrist, and so they’re willing to do business on the world capital stage, and so the US and the Obama administration has been, I wouldn’t call it friendly, but maybe amiable, and that continues through today.
PERIES: Right. And Glenn, since president Hugo Chávez’s death and Lula’s departure from the presidency we’ve witnessed quite a bit of allegations against leaders and left-leaning leaders of Latin America. Cristina Kirchner is currently under scrutiny and a case is going on against her. In addition to what’s happening to Dilma, President Lula himself is under scrutiny and investigation, and maybe charges would be forthcoming there. What’s happening in terms of the larger picture in Latin America? Will we see a right-wing dominance back in the region?
GREENWALD: Obviously, always lurking over politics and the political dynamic in Latin America is the world’s largest and most powerful country, or at least the world’s most powerful country, hovering not all that far to the North, which is the United States, and of course it’s been US doctrine for over two centuries that dominance in the hemisphere is an intrinsic US right, and there has been this extreme preoccupation with the possibility of left-wing influence in Latin America. Obviously, in the Reagan years it culminated with the covert wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Obviously, you know, the Kennedy administration almost brought the US, the world, to nuclear armageddon over the possibility of Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba.
And so, there’s definitely been a strong, systematic effort on the part of the US and their allies to undermine the left-wing evolution here in Latin America but, you know, these countries are democratic. The left-wing leaders, in some of those cases, remain popular. In other cases they remain just popular enough to continue to beat the right-wing faction and so, you know, it’s something that they’re not as strong as they were, say, 10 years ago, but they continue to exert some pretty significant influence, although I think you could say it’s on a downward spiral.
PERIES: But what is your prognosis in terms of the decision being made in the Senate through this committee for impeachment?
GREENWALD: So, there’s a two step process to this committee, to the Senate process. They’re first going to vote on whether or not to accept the impeachment trial, and that only requires a 50 percent plus one vote. That scheduled vote is next week, and it’s almost certain, I would say it is certain that that will pass. And as soon as the Senate accepts the impeachment petition, which means they agree to hold the trial, the president is automatically suspended for 180 days, for six months, and is barred from exercising any of the powers of her office, including through the olympics, so that seems 100 percent certain.
It also seems highly likely that there are enough votes in the Senate to actually remove her from office once there is a trial. I think the only variable, the only significant, unknown variable that could stop that is if people in Brazil who have voted for the PT for 16 years stop focusing only on Dilma and start to look at who’s being empowered, to see the corrupt leaders who are going to take her place, to see the agenda that’s going to be ushered in when she’s removed, and I think there’s a serious, open question about how much instability and street uprising, and the potential for violence, there will actually be, and I think if Brazilian elites perceive that removing Dilma [inaud.] like sustained, serious, threatening unrest, they may have second thoughts about actually removing her, but short of that I don’t see how it would be stopped.
PERIES: And Glenn, it’s difficult to get a sense of the level of support for Dilma Rousseff. I know that much of the western press keep talking about how unpopular she is as a leader, but when you look at the marches in support of her there seem to be a lot of people on the ground, but then we’re weighing that against the millions of people on the right that did show up to protest against her. What’s the real situation on the ground?
GREENWALD: Well, so, the economy in Brazil is horrific. The country is in the middle of a very severe recession. There are tens of millions of people who are now unemployed who weren’t a short time ago. A lot of the gains that were made under the PT party have, I wouldn’t say reversed, but have started to erode. So, you combine that with the fact that Dilma herself is not a very skilled politician, she doesn’t have very much political charisma, she doesn’t have a strong political base, she was kind of handpicked by her predecessor, Lula, who is the one who commands political popularity because he thought she’d be a really effective, technocratic president, but she doesn’t have political skills or a political base. And so, it’s hard for her to navigate through this difficult economic crisis.
And so, she is genuinely unpopular, including among a lot of the supporters of PT who have become very disappointed with the party. At the same, these protests, the pro-impeachment protests, studies have shown, over and over, tend to be much whiter and much richer than the party as a whole. So, they’re basically the same people who have hated PT for the last two decades and who have been voting against it, so the fact that they’re out on the street isn’t very impressive.
There are a lot of people actually in defense of not the government, but what they call democracy. These are people who don’t actually like Dilma and don’t necessarily like PT, but who believe that when you have a democracy and a leader like Dilma wins with 54 million votes, as she just did only 18 months ago, that you don’t just remove her from office because she’s unpopular, that it’s a genuine threat to democracy, a dismantling of democratic institutions.
And so, yes, she is definitely unpopular. There is no doubt about that. She’s very unpopular, mostly due to the economic suffering in this country, but at the same time there’s a growing recognition that you don’t have to support Dilma in order to realize that this country’s very young and fragile and, until recently, thriving democracy is under serious threat, and I think the more people start to think of it that way the more support that there’s going to be for keeping her in place.
PERIES: And today we heard that they might be moving forward with the proceedings against Lula himself once again, because he was also under scrutiny just a few months ago. How serious is that, and do you think that will proceed?
GREENWALD: It’s a huge question about how much they can actually do to Lula. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Lula in the public consciousness, especially among the poor and racial minorities and the working class and the disenfranchised. You know, his back story is, he grew up in a really poor environment. He didn’t learn to read until he was 10. He became a union leader and then he led this remarkable social movement to empower the poor and workers in Brazil who had been treated hideously for centuries and led it to power, and then turned Brazil into a world power, and he left office with an 86 percent approval rating.
There’s definitely some evidence, important evidence, that he has been involved in corruption. But, at the same time, there’s a question about how much the people who have, for so long, revered Lula, are willing to watch him be put into handcuffs and put into a prison and have the party that they’ve been voting for removed from power. That’s why I say that I think the big variable here that Brazilian elites haven’t paid much attention to, although they should, is how much can they really get away with without triggering a really serious backlash.
PERIES: I understand that former president Lula may be able to come back to power by sitting out one term. Is that any part of the discussions?
GREENWALD: That’s a huge part of the discussion and it’s actually really fascinating and will [inaud.] be so ironic which is, they seem pretty set on removing Dilma from office, as we discussed earlier. So, then the question becomes, are they going to get away with being able to put this kind of old, uncharismatic, corruption-tainted, neoliberal, pro-business, non-entity, unpopular Vice President Michel Temer into office and just have the population swallow it, and I think the answer to that is going to be no. I think already you’re seeing a real backlash. Like, how can you tell us that you’re removing Dilma for corruption when you’re replacing her with somebody who also is implicated in corruption?
Which means their only alternative, because the person who’s third in line to the presidency, the head of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, is the most corrupt of all. He’s the one who got caught with millions of dollars in bribes hidden away in Swiss bank accounts, so he’s a non-option. So the only other option becomes new elections, earlier than Dilma’s term was set to expire, which is 2018, and the huge fear there is that if you have new elections Lula will win again.
He could definitely run. He’s only barred from serving two consecutive terms, not more than two. He’s barred from serving more than two consecutive terms, but not more than two if he has a pause, as he’s had, so he can definitely run again, and there’s a really good chance that Brazilian elites will have torn themselves apart, torn the country apart to get rid of Dilma only to end up with Lula again, and one of the reasons a lot of people believe, and I think it’s certainly true, that they’re so intent on dragging him into this corruption investigation and putting him into prison, is precisely to prevent him from winning another election.
PERIES: All right, I think there’s enough material there for another book, Glenn. Thank you so much for joining us.
GREENWALD: All right, great to talk to you, bye bye.
PERIES: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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