Brazil’s suspended president fights for political life

29 August 2016 21:50 Source:ICIS News

In a 45-minute speech to the Senate on Monday, Dilma Rousseff called the impeachment process a coup d’etat. If two-thirds of the 81 lawmakers vote Tuesday to impeach, she will be permanently removed from office. (Xinhua News Agency/REX/Shutterstock)
In a 45-minute speech to the Senate on Monday, Dilma Rousseff called the impeachment process a coup d’etat. If two-thirds of the 81 lawmakers vote Tuesday to impeach, she will be permanently removed from office. (Xinhua News Agency/REX/Shutterstock)

MEDELLIN, Colombia (ICIS)--Brazil’s suspended president, Dilma Rousseff, was fighting for her political life on Monday during an impeachment defence in which she pleaded with members of the nation’s upper house to “vote for democracy”.  

Rousseff’s 45-minute speech to the Senate almost marks the end of a long and sticky impeachment process that began after opponents accused her of doctoring budget accounts in the run-up to her 2014 re-election.

Rousseff, who has been suspended from office since May, described the charges as “unfair and arbitrary”, and the impeachment process itself as an attempt at a “coup d’etat”.

“Never would I violate what I believe in, or commit any acts against the interests of those who elected me,” she told a packed Senate floor. “I ask you to do justice to an honest president who has never committed any illegal actions.”

“I urge you to vote against impeachment and for democracy.”

Brazil’s 81 senators, who had a chance to cross-examine Rousseff after her defence, will cast their final votes on Tuesday, with a result expected shortly after. A two-thirds majority is required for her to be permanently removed from office.

If that is the case, acting president Michel Temer will continue his duties until the next presidential election in 2018.

Since taking office, the right-leaning Temer has stamped his mark on domestic policy after introducing a raft of austerity measures in an effort to pull Brazil out of its economic malaise.

The acting president has also pledged to restore investor confidence amid an ongoing investigation into corruption at state oil firm Petrobras.

The so-called Lava Jato, or car wash, probe has uncovered an intricate scheme whereby a small number of Petrobras officials allegedly colluded with a cartel of companies to overcharge the state firm for lucrative construction work.

The impeachment trial and the fallout from the corruption investigation have been hugely damaging for Brazil’s image abroad, overshadowing Rio de Janeiro’s hosting this year of the Olympics and Paralympics.

In the latest Lava Jato twist, Brazilian federal police on Friday urged prosecutors to file corruption and money laundering charges against former president and key Rousseff ally, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and his wife, Marisa Leticia.

The allegations against the couple centre on the acquisition and renovation of a triplex apartment in the exclusive beach resort of Guaruja in Sao Paulo state. Police say they accepted some Brazilian reais (R) 2.43m ($750,000) from construction firm OAS in “unlawful advantages” linked to the luxury property.

OAS is one of 31 contractors accused of skimming off Petrobras contracts.

Lula’s lawyer, Cristiano Martins, told official state news Agencia Brasil that the police report was “a piece of fiction” based on “false premises and grave legal errors”, as the former leader has never owned or occupied the triplex apartment.

A number of Rousseff’s supporters have also questioned the timing of the police recommendation, according to a report in Agencia. 

($1 = R3.23)

By Simon West