Brazil’s Defiant Rousseff Takes the Stand, But Will Democracy Survive?
The Brazilian oligarchy is on the cusp of achieving its major objectives through the parliamentary coup says James Green, Professor of Brazilian History and Culture at Brown University
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Brazil’s suspended president, Dilma Rousseff, who was temporarily removed from office in order to face an impeachment trial, gave her testimony to the Senate committee on Monday. Let’s have a look.
DILMA ROUSEFF, PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL (SUSP.) (VO TRANSLATION): In the face of these accusations against me in this process, I cannot stop feeling in my mouth the sharp and bitter taste of injustice and the arbitrariness. And that’s why, as in the past, I resist. Don’t expect from me the silent obsequiousness to cowards who in the past used weapons and today the judicial rhetoric that aims anew to undermine democracy and the rule of law.
PERIES: Despite her impassioned defense, it looks like the required two-thirds majority of the Senate will probably vote to impeach her on Wednesday, August 31.
Joining us now to discuss this historic event in Brazil is James Green. James is professor of Brazilian history and culture at Brown University. James recently had the opportunity to interview Dilma Rousseff.
Thank you so much for joining us, James.
PROF. JAMES GREEN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: My pleasure.
PERIES: So, James, Dilma Rousseff gave her impassioned defense against her impeachment and accusations levied against her, explaining how she is innocent of the wrongdoing she’s accused of. This also comes after a commission appointed by the Senate itself that is now hearing her defense already exonerated her of the wrongdoing. Do you think that this testimony will have any impact among the senators that’s going to vote on Wednesday?
GREEN: Unfortunately not. I think that the senators have made a decision about how they’re going to vote. She would need to pick up five undeclared votes. I’m not sure that she’ll be able to do that, unfortunately. I think she will be impeached in two days.
PERIES: And in her testimony, what did she say in her defense?
GREEN: Well, she first of all explained that everything she had done was within the limits of the law, that she had followed the Constitution and the lay for fiscal responsibility, the budgetary requirements, that she had consulted with Congress and she had followed all the rules.
She also made a very impassioned defense of her commitment to Brazil and democracy in Brazil, making references to the period in the 1970s when she was arrested and tortured as a political prisoner and the willingness that she has had through her entire life to fight for the country and the improvement of the people in the country of Brazil. It was a very powerful speech that I think will be seen historically as important as speeches made by other presidents who faced similar crises in the past.
PERIES: Now, speaking of similar crises, now, we all know–and we’ve been covering this issue for a long time–that most of the people that are about to exercise their vote in Senate, many of them are also accused of various kinds of corruption, and charges have been levied against them as well. How do they with a moral conscience vote against her? What kind of politics are happening in Brazil that allows them to do this?
GREEN: Well, I mean, if we look back at what happened in the earlier part of the year, when the Council of Representatives, the CÃ¢mara dos Deputados, basically voted for the charges against her, the person who presided over that hearing, Eduardo Cunha, was basically charged with serious infraction of campaign laws, of influence peddling, holding millions of dollars abroad, and yet he was able to preside over those hearings and still has not been removed from office. In the Senate there are numerous senators who have been charged with receiving illegal campaign contributions and monies for their campaigns by contractors and construction companies. And they have no problem (a) receiving the money and (b) going against Dilma Rousseff. In fact, it has been thought that the intentions of many of these politicians is to impeach her, allow the new president to be installed, Vice President Michel Temer, and then basically wind down all the corruption investigations so that they will not be eventually charged, and so that they will either be exonerated or amnestied at some time in the future.
PERIES: And Dilma Rousseff herself is no lightweight politician here. She’s stood up to a lot of stress thus far. What do you think she will do upon the decision on Wednesday?
GREEN: I think she’s going to leave the office with tremendous dignity. She will probably go to Porto Alegre, the home where she lives in the south of Brazil in her very modest two-bedroom apartment with her mother and I think probably take some time off to recuperate from this tremendously stressful period. And then I’m sure she will find her way to come back and contribute to what has been her lifetime commitment, which is the improvement of the conditions of poor and working people in Brazil.
PERIES: James, you’ve had the opportunity to interview her for a long period of time that she gave you during this period where she’s been under so much scrutiny and Senate investigation and this hearing underway. When you spoke with her, what was her attitude towards what’s going on? And, of course, what did she say to you in her defense?
GREEN: Well, I mean, first of all, she told me very blankly that–forthrightly that she is not afraid, she’s never been afraid, and she’s willing to confront all of this and fight. And if I might say, to draw an analogy to the way in which the hard right in this country is attacking Hillary Clinton, although they’re different figures with very different agendas, the misogyny against women as being powerful leaders is enormously evident in both cases, in which she is not forgiven for postures or attitudes or actions that any man could do with no scrutiny at all. So she has been labeled as a person who is very hard and difficult work with, authoritarian, short-tempered. I found her to be a relaxed, charming, engaging, sweet person. She might under the stress of her job be very administratively executive, as many men are, but she certainly wasn’t that person when we talked. She understood the difficult situation she was in. She was willing to fight. She communicated indirectly that she perhaps might not be successful, that that was not going to deter her.
PERIES: And upon the decision on Wednesday, I imagine that is going to be difficult for her, yet there is some speculation that PT and President Lula might actually consider running in the next election, in 2018. What is your prognosis of all of that? Do you think that will happen? And will Lula himself be cleared of the charges now pending against him in a corruption case in order to be able to run in the 2018 election?
GREEN: Right. This whole process has been characterized as a parliamentary coup. And I would agree with that assessment and say that it had five points to its program. The first point was to overturn the elections of 2014 and impeach President Dilma Rousseff.
The second was to put into power a new kind of government with a new program that would basically adopt what are called internationally neoliberal policies to encourage privatization of the economy and the expansion of the investment and opportunities for foreign companies.
A third would be to make it impossible for Lula to run for president in 2018. At this point he, in any mock election, has the largest favorability among voters, although he has a very strong unfavorability rate as well. So the charges that have been made against him, if they stick, will invalidate his candidacy in 2018. And the powers that will be taking over if Dilma is impeached are also, I think, interested in finding a way to make the Workers’ Party, the PT, actually illegal, prohibiting the party from existing. I think that’s one of their goals.
A fourth goal is to overturn all of the social programs or eliminate all the social programs that were established over the last 13 years, including a very important basic health program that reached out to millions of Brazilians who had not had good access to health care heretofore.
And, finally, to carry out a conservative agenda for social issues that is led by evangelical Christians in the Catholic church, much like the campaigns of the hard right in this country against LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, rights of minorities, overturning affirmative-action programs, etc.
So I think this is the intent of the government that will be coming to power as of Wednesday. They’ve sent signals already that that is their intent in the way in which the interim government, instead of being a holding government, immediately switched 180 degrees and started implementing many of these initiatives that I’ve outlined here. And I expect them to intensify over the next few years.
PERIES: And the ordinary Brazilians, as we saw during the Olympics, is not staying quiet while all this is going on. There’s been enormous protests mounted against the current interim government, and they will of course continue. Give us a sense of what that resistance look like.
GREEN: Well, it’s very complicated, because one has to take it into consideration that there have been tremendously alarming revelations about individual politicians, most in the coalition government of the Workers’ Party but not in the Workers’ Party, who are benefiting by basically stealing money from the major oil company, the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, and other government entities. And so there has been a certain weakening of the support of the Workers’ Party through constant revelations of these corruptive practices that have taken place. So on one level there’s a lot of demoralization.
On the other hand, the program of the new government, which is to eliminate many of the social benefits that have been won over the last 60 years in Brazil, I think will engender resistance and opposition from the trade union movement, from the social movements that exist, and from large sectors of civil society. How that will manifest itself depends on how quickly the pace of dismantling the social services and the benefits that workers have received over the years is implemented.
PERIES: Alright, James. Much more to talk about. And we look forward to having you on again where we can take on some of the more historical context of how Brazil got to this situation. I thank you so much for joining us today.
GREEN: My pleasure.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.