A Final, Farcical Footnote to Impeachment in Brazil

As many already know, Brazil’s Senate formally removed president Dilma Rousseff from office this week, voting 61-20 in favor of removal (59 votes were needed). The process had been a farce since the moment Eduardo Cunha, leader of the PMDB in the Chamber of Deputies, broke with Dilma’s coalition last summer, and the farcical nature seemed to reach its peak with the painfully demagogic performances when the Chamber moved to impeach in  April.

While the Senate’s vote was pretty much a foregone conclusion, there still remained a surprise. While the Senate voted to remove Dilma from office, they did not vote to strip her of her political rights for ten years (a decision that accompanies removal from office for politicians). This may not seem like a big deal, but the insanity becomes clear when one realizes that this is now the reality in Brazil: Dilma Rousseff, who was removed from the presidency over poorly-defined and unsubstantiated allegations of “corruption,” can run for office in 2018, but Michel Temer, who is now actually serving as president in the wake of Dilma’s removal, cannot run for office in 2018 because he actually has had his political rights stripped due to his own corruption.

[And of course, let’s not forget that, in the first month of his then-temporary administration, no fewer than three of his cabinet members had to step down over corruption.]

Dilma’s removal from office may have seemed to mark the end of the farce that was the use of impeachment this year. Yet with every day, it becomes even more painfully clear how naked this undemocratic power grab was. One can never underestimate the kleptocratic elite in Brazil’s Congress, and so yesterday, they offered one final, farcical footnote to the whole process. Less than 48 hours after Dilma’s removal, Congress voted for a rules change that allows presidents to use supplementary credit when establishing the federal budget without needing Congressional approval. That may sound uninteresting and technical, but there’s another more commonplace term for this practice: pedaladas fiscais, or fiscal maneuvers.

In other words: Congress just legalized the very practice that they removed Dilma Rousseff over.

More specifically, Dilma’s impeachment was never about “corruption” (claims without evidence notwithstanding). The impeachment process centered on allegations that her use of pedaladas fiscais in 2014 was unconstitutional. Nevermind that the practice was only declared illegal (by Dilma’s government itself) in 2015; nevermind that pedaladas fiscais had been common practice not only among presidents dating back to the mid-1990s and among governors even in the present. [And one can say it’s an unsavory practice, and that’s fine, but it wasn’t illegal, which is what impeachment is about – removal from office for illegal activity.]

So the Senate removed the president from the PT from office over an act, and less than 48 hours after she was out of office, Congress legalized that very same act once again for the Michel Temer, the vice president who replaced her and who worked against the very president whom he served as he collaborated with the PMDB and PSDB throughout the entire impeachment process.

It was already quite visible that the impeachment was never about corruption – again, a majority of the senators are facing actual charges and documented allegations of criminal activity. Yesterday’s new law made clear that it wasn’t even about the allegedly “unsavory” (when Dilma used it) practice of pedaladas fiscais. It was about two parties (the PSDB and PMDB) seizing power after being unable to electorally win the presidency in 13 years. In the process, they removed from office a president whom a majority of Brazilians elected, vetoing the social, economic, and political projects of the PSDB in the process. This is a cynical and undemocratic politics, and one that becomes impossibly more naked and evident every day. It is a massive, unquantifiable step backwards for Brazilian democracy, and it will take many, many years – likely well past the next election in 2018 – to recover.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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