LA PAZ, Bolivia – Following the controversial vote in the Brazilian Senate that impeached President Dilma Rousseff, a move that many equated with a soft coup, several South American nations including Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have recalled their ambassadors from Brasília.
On Wednesday, by a vote of 61 to 20, the democratically elected Rousseff of the center-left Workers’ Party (PT) who has still not been linked to any corruption scheme, was permanently removed from her position by a Senate where nearly 60 percent of the representatives are under investigation for a plethora of crimes.
In the days leading up the Senate vote, groups of pro-Dilma and anti-coup demonstrators gathered in São Paulo, Brasília and elsewhere and clashed with security forces. The protesters were mostly dressed in red, the color of Rousseff’s PT.
Following the marathon defense by Rousseff in the Senate and the subsequent vote that permanently impeached her following a three-month suspension for budgetary discretions, more disturbances were reported in São Paulo as protesters denounced the move and clashed with security forces while several major-scale protests were held in other major cities.
Rousseff’s former Vice-President-turned-interim leader Michel Temer of the catch-all but currently right-leaning Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) is now the President of the Republic and is set to rule for the remainder of Rousseff’s mandate (January of 2019) barring any unforeseen events.
Less than two hours after the vote took place, Temer arrived in the Senate to cheers and slaps on the back from his PMDB colleagues and other political allies. In a hasty ceremony, the national anthem was played, Temer signed the pertinent papers and was officially sworn in as President. Minutes later, he was gone as he hurried to catch a flight to Hangzhou for the 2016 G20 Summit.
Meanwhile, at the presidential Palácio da Alvorada, Rousseff once again denounced the impeachment process and lamented that she had “suffered two coups in her lifetime; the one that led to the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and now again.”
Nearly 55 percent of Brazilian parliamentarians have some sort of criminal case opened against them, mostly in relation to corruption, bribery or money laundering while others are accused of assault and even kidnapping. Those same politicians, however, voted to unseat Rousseff, one of the very few politicians in the nation that has not been directly accused of illegal enrichment.
The official reason given for the action against Rousseff is that she allegedly transferred parts of the national budget between different fund sections in order to present a better picture of the national economy; more specifically, she publicly presented the budget of a government ministry with a monetary figure that was higher than it should have been because there was a delay in payment from the ministry’s budget to a public bank.
While the action did present a murkier view of a government and its transparency, budgetary discretions have never come close to toppling a national leader, especially in Brazil where such economic moves by a leader have been commonplace. Even Brazil’s Constitution outlines impeachment proceedings only for leaders that have committed much more grave crimes compared to Rousseff’s actions. In truth, judicial experts in Brazil and worldwide have blasted the whole process as “irregular” and “unprecedented in a democracy.”
Instead of punishing Rousseff’s party via democratic elections, politicians like Temer have used public discontent over a stagnant economy and rampant cases of corruption (in which most of those politicians and their parties are involved) to use Rousseff as a scapegoat. In particular, most members of the PMDB, which withdrew itself from the ruling coalition after previously supporting Rousseff, have come out against the now-impeached leader, as have members of other parties that were once allies.
The most notable PMDB members to do so include Eduardo Cunha, the man who started the impeachment effort by digging up an old report made by three lawyers that outlined Rousseff’s budgetary moves.
Cunha was the President of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil until mid-May when he was removed due to allegations of corruption and obstruction of justice. He stepped down from the position definitively in July. Ironically, he launched the impeachment process because PT members would not acquiesce to his request for them to vote against an investigation into his wrongdoings, which include lying about his role in the Petrobras scandal and about having illegal, multi-million dollar accounts abroad in Switzerland and embezzling millions more with his wife Cláudia Cruz.
Another notable figure is Temer himself who was recorded speaking and referring to himself as President and about his presidential plans two months before the Senate’s temporary impeachment vote even took place.
Lawyers speaking on behalf of Rousseff, who has still not been implicated in any corruption case herself, said that she was removed from power by other politicians with the sole purpose of putting an end to the massive corruption investigation known as Operation Lava Jato. The operation has focused mostly on the Petrobras scandal, in which prosecutors allege that over $1 billion was doled out and laundered to the the semi-state-owned energy company’s executives in exchange for valuable contracts with construction and engineering companies.
With Rousseff out of the way, her legal team argued, the investigation would be sidetracked or stopped altogether by the interim government. In turn, the citizenry would not object to the stoppage of the investigation because the most powerful politician in the country would be impeached as the biggest result of the ‘anti-corruption’ campaign and other politicians would be safe.
Rousseff’s lawyers presented tons of evidence to back their claims including numerous recordings held between members of the PMDB (whose members are the most represented on the corruption lists compiled by prosecutors) in which the dialogue clearly suggests ousting Rousseff with the aim of saving themselves by stopping the investigation. In fact, Temer has already seen three cabinet members resign since he assumed power on May 12 as each became implicated in the corruption case.
Several prosecutors overseeing the Lava Jato case, which began to filter out to the public in March of 2014 and is being called the biggest corruption case in Brazilian history, have cleared Rousseff of any wrongdoing and say that she did not know what was happening behind her back. According to the Attorney General handling the case, the corruption involving the semi-statal energy company Petrobras and construction goliath Odebrecht, among others, began with kickbacks in 1997 (14 years before Rousseff even became President) during the administration of center-right Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).
Regardless, Rousseff, who admitted to “making mistakes but committing absolutely no crimes” during her mandate, was ousted and permanently removed from her position. In an unexpected move, however, the Senate did not ban her from holding any other political office for a period of eight years as the impeachment proceedings outline.
Given these developments to what essentially equated to a soft coup, several nations including Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela announced that they had recalled their ambassadors from Brasília in protest.
The Venezuelan government went a step further and announced that they are “freezing the political and diplomatic relations with the current Brazilian government that emerged from an illegal and unconstitutional parliamentary coup.”
“The political and economic oligarchies have worked and continue to work with imperial factors and they have succeeded in carrying out a coup d’état against President Dilma Rousseff. They have resorted to using anti-juridical ruses and political warmongering to get to power the only way they know how, which is through fraud and immorality,” read a statement released by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry.
To make matters more complex, Venezuela holds the pro-tempore leadership of the Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur), or the Southern Common Market, a union of South American nations that are locked into economic and political agreements. The union includes Argentina, Bolivia (pending ratification), Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela while Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname have associate member status.
President Rafael Correa of Ecuador equated the impeachment of Rousseff to an “apology to abuse and betrayal” and a “return to the darkest hours of our America” in a reference to the wave of right-wing military dictatorships that surged throughout the region in decades past with the aid of Washington and major domestic corporations.
A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Quito said that “political opponents and other forces of opposition conspired against democracy to destabilize a government and illegitimately remove President Rousseff from power.”
Nicaragua soon joined the others in recalling their ambassador while Bolivia’s Evo Morales took to Twitter to denounce the “parliamentary coup against Brazilian democracy.” Morales said that his nation would join several other regional states in bringing the issue to discussion before the Organization of American States (OAS).
The former President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), also spoke out against the removal of Rousseff and said that a new plan to sweep progressive governments out of Latin America was in place, just like in decades past.
Her successor, however, the conservative Mauricio Macri, said that he “respects the institutional process completed in the brother nation of Brazil” and that regardless of leadership, the two nations “need to continue on a path of integration on all bilateral issues within the frame of international law.”