The ouster of Brazil President Dilma Rousseff from power, just weeks before that nation will host the Summer Olympic Games, smacks of abuse. Her impeachment is being used to distract voters from widespread corruption in the government, and from a power grab by right-wing politicians.
Rousseff is not facing any corruption charges. The basis for the impeachment is her use of a common financial mechanism of borrowing funds from public banks to cover social program expenses in the federal budget. Other national and local administrations have used this same tactic. If the same criteria were used against Brazil’s state governors, 16 of them would be facing impeachment today.
Mainstream media in Brazil has created the illusion that Rousseff’s removal from office was needed to solve corruption and an economic crisis. For more than a year, the main television networks called for demonstrations against the government and dedicated day after day of live coverage to them. At the same time, these media ignored large demonstrations in defense of the democratic process that re-elected Rousseff in 2014 with 51 percent of the vote. A key player is Globo TV, which is known for supporting the military dictatorship that lasted more than 20 years in Brazil.
The impeachment votes in the Senate and in the Lower House were predictable, since most lawmakers expressed their opinions previously. There was clearly political maneuvering going on. Most House members declared that they were supporting the impeachment in the name of God, or their families. One member even praised a former military commander who tortured several political activists during the military regime.
The vote to impeach Rousseff is being used to distract people from threats to their democracy.
More than half of the members of Brazil’s Congress face serious investigations of corruption. Former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who orchestrated and conducted the impeachment vote on April 17, has since been forced to step down by the Supreme Court on charges of corruption and maintaining illegal Swiss bank accounts. The interim president, Michel Temer, along with seven ministers all appointed by him, are also under investigation for corruption charges.
Worse, only five hours after taking power, Temer eliminated the Controladoria Geral da Uniāo, a federal agency responsible for monitoring governmental contracts with private businesses, which was key to investigating corruption. That same day, he also eliminated the Ministers of Culture, of Communications, of Human Rights and Racial Equality, of Women, of Agriculture Development, and the Secretary of Control of Ports and Airports.
Temer has announced cuts in social programs, including education, health care and retirement plans. His new cabinet consists of the most conservative sectors of the political spectrum, representing an agenda that has been rejected by Brazilian society in consecutive elections since 2002. The austerity measures will increase economic inequality and instability, as well as repression against social movements.
At the same time, Congress members are planning to approve legislation to dismantle environmental agencies and facilitate the exploitation of Brazilian oil reserves by multinational corporations.
The international community needs to support the democratic process. Widespread acceptance of an illegitimate regime change in Brazil sets a dangerous precedent for the whole region.
Maria Luisa Mendonça is director of Brazil's Network for Social Justice and Human Rights. She is also a professor in the international relations department at the University of Rio de Janeiro.