Monday, April 18, 2016

Dilma impeached by House of Deputies (April 18, 2016)

After three days of impassioned debate, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff yesterday evening. The final vote was 367 for impeachment, and 137 against. (See Friday's post.)

El País has full coverage of the debate.

The Senate will now vote, by simple majority, whether to take on the case against the president, that charges that she illegally concealed a budget deficit using state-owned bank loans, reports the New York Times. That vote is expected for next month, and if it is positive, Rousseff will temporarily step down while legislators determine her fate.

The Guardian has a step by step of how the impeachment proceedings will continue: by mid May the Senate must decide whether to accept the case, at which point Vice President Temer would assume the presidency on an interim basis. If the Senate takes the case, a full plenary of the chamber would have to vote two-thirds to impeach her, which is uncertain. Though some politicians are calling for an early election, such a move would require new legislation and possibly a constitutional amendment.

However the budget accusations were barely mentioned in the heated debate that led to the vote yesterday, reports El País, which also notes several important "betrayals" from legislators who were expected to stay loyal to the government.

"The fight is now in the courts, the street and the senate," said Jose Guimarães the leader of the Workers' Party in the lower house, reports the Guardian.
The numbers represent a "humiliating loss" and mean she will likely be forced to step down in coming months, reports Reuters.

The Wall Street Journal heralds the "historic and emphatic repudiation" of Rousseff.

Analysts say the wider than expected margin in favor of impeachment in the lower house indicates a likelihood that the Senate will remove Rousseff from her post, according to the NYT.

"Politicians know how to read society pretty well, and they can sense that the people want her out," Paulo Sotero, the director of the Woodrow Wilson's Brazil Institute told the NYT.

Yesterday's vote turned into a stunning repudiation of the 13 years of Worker's Party government, according to the Washington Post.

But many experts also voiced concern that the impeachment movement could harm Brazil's relatively young democracy. They note that the budgetary juggling is a relatively common trick, though not at such a scale.

Legal scholars are split as to whether the charges are sufficient grounds for her removal, reports the WSJ.

"It's putting a very large bullet in Brazilian democracy," Lincoln Secco, a professor of history at the University of São Paulo told the NYT. "This will set a very dangerous precedent for democracy in Brazil, because from now on, any moment that we have a highly unpopular president, there will be pressure to start an impeachment process."

It is the second impeachment since Brazil reestablished democracy 31 years ago, but Rousseff's case is different from that of Fernando Collor de Mello who resigned in 1992 just before a Senate vote to remove him from office.

Rousseff has not been accused of illicit personal enrichment, unlike a significant portion of those who voted against her yesterday. House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a driving force behind her impeachment and second in line of succession has been accused of using a Swiss bank account to conceal $40 million in bribes, for example.

Congresso em Foco, a prominent watchdog group in Brasilia, said more than 300 of the legislators who voted - well over half the chamber - are under investigation for corruption, fraud or electoral crimes, reports Reuters.
But the fact of Rousseff's honesty was unable to overcome the issue of her inefficacy as president, according to El País' analysis.

The Guardian emphasizes a particularly low point in yesterday's debate, when Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his vote in favor of impeachment to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era. Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was among those tortured.

The vote was orchestrated by Rousseff's enemies who never accepted her 2014 reelection, presidential chief of staff Jaques Wagner in a statement today, reports Reuters.

El País columnist María Martín wittyly notes that most legislators ignored the actual charges against her, and instead invoked family members by name and god as justifications for their vote in favor of impeachment. (Xuxa fans will enjoy the reference in the piece.)

The vote ushers in a period of political limbo in Brazil, notes France 24. There is considerable uncertainty over how the political crisis will continue to unfold. While Rousseff may be a clear loser, the benefits for her opponents could prove fleeting.

While Rousseff is unpopular, only 61 percent of Brazilians support her ouster. And Vice President Michel Temer, who would step in if the Senate suspends the President, is also very unpopular and could face impeachment motions for the same fiscal crimes as Rousseff. (See April 6's briefs.)

In fact, rejection of Temer is one of the few factors that unites both the pro and anti impeachment camps, reports Folha de S. Paulo. There are considerable doubts as to whether he could forge a united government, however, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Nonetheless he's the big winner of yesterday's vote, according to El País, which profiles the sneaky VP who is seen as wanting the top job a little too much. The BBC describes him as a politician who "seems always to be hovering around the center of everything important, yet never in the spotlight." (Comparisons to House of Cards have become trite in recent months.)

Temer will avoid public statements until the Senate vote, but is quietly putting together a government team and a raft of policy measures, reports Folha de S. Paulo. His focus will be strengthening the economy and disproving rumors that he would dismantle the Workers' Party social policies.

Cunha himself is also reportedly angling for benefits after orchestrating the vote against Rousseff. He's seeking protection from his own ouster, which would open him up to investigation as part of the wide-ranging probe into corruption at Petrobras, according to El País.

But he's being lynched in public opinion: both pro and anti impeachment protesters said they'd favor his ouster by a wide margin, according to a Datafolha poll from this weekend. And several deputies denounced Cunha and warned that he would be the next to fall during voting, reports the WSJ.

Business lobbies have thrown their weight behind the ouster movement, notes Reuters separately. Investors hope Temer will institute more business friendly policies after 13 years of Workers' Party government in Brazil. Brazil's stocks and currency have been among the world's best-performing assets so far this year, as Rousseff's ouster has grown increasingly likely. The buzz might not last, however, according to FT's analysis.

In the meantime, the political fight is taking a toll on the country's social fabric, as supporters of both sides find themselves in an increasingly heated battle. Political rallies have devolved into shouting matches, and even one brawl last month. Social media is filled with invective that is tearing friends and families apart, reports the New York Times.

It's an ideological battle for the country's political soul, according to the Washington Post, which points to a division on what citizens want for the future and how to read the legacy of the past 13 years of government.

Divisions are deeper than at any other time since then end of military dictatorship in 1985, according to Reuters.

The economic and political crisis in Brazil has chipped away at Rousseff's support among her Workers' Party stalwarts, reports the New York Times separately.Rousseff’s approval among the poorest Brazilians has dropped to 16 percent, down from 50 percent in December 2014, according to a recent Datafolha poll.

Is this the final nail in the coffin of the pink tide?

"Brazilians are now part of a regional backlash against the leftist ideas of the Foro de São Paulo, a Latin American conference founded in 1990 by former President Lula da Silva," writes Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal. "Lula and Dilma are great admirers of Fidel Castro and they have used the Brazilian state to promote the Cuban model throughout the hemisphere. But at home, as these impeachment proceedings demonstrate, Brazilians are having none of it."

News Briefs
  • At least 272 people were killed and over 2,500 injured in a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Ecuador's central coast on Saturday. President Rafael Correa cut short a Europe trip and the episode has left the country in shock, reports the New York Times. The Spanish Red Cross says as many as 100,000 people may need assistance, reports the Associated Press. The quake could also alter political dynamics ahead of next year's presidential election, reports Reuters.
  • Cuban President Raúl Castro inaugurated a four day Communist Party congress with criticisms of his government's slow pace in implementing economic reform. He said only 21% of the 313 economic guidelines adopted five years ago had been fully implemented. He also advised wariness towards the United States, despite the recent diplomatic detente between the two countries, reports the Wall Street Journal. He pointed to U.S. support of the island's small private sector as an attempt to undermine the system, reports the New York Times. Analysts say his speech aimed at defending economic reforms from internal party criticism that they undermine the spirit of the revolution, according to the WSJ. Future Communist Party leaders should retire at 70 in order to make way for young blood, said Castro in his speech, reports Reuters. He suggested the elderly continue as party activists and spend more time with their grandchildren.
  • The New York Times has an in-depth report on files showing how high-level Honduran police officers carried out the assassination of anti-drug officials in collusion with drug traffickers. (This was reported on earlier this month by El Heraldo, see April 6's post.) Though police have long been suspected of involvement in the murders, which took place in 2009 and 2011, case files show that police investigators rapidly found the culprits, but kept the results secret.
  • At least nine people were injured at an environmentalist protest in Honduras on Friday, reports EFE.
  • Theme of the week: the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs: Despite an ample lead up debate, in which activists pushed for a paradigm shift of global drug policy away from prohibitionism, a substantial change is unlikely, notes Nueva Sociedad. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • After a lot of criticism, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will be attending the session after all, reports VICE.
  • And Uruguay will soon be testing the country's first batch of legal marijuana, reports the Guardian.
  • A graphic video showing two soldiers and a federal police officer torturing a woman spurred an official apology from the Mexican Defense Minister, reports the Associated Press. The video of a young woman having a rifle muzzle pressed to her head by a female military police officer and having a plastic bag placed over her head by a female federal police officer has stirred outrage in a country which has long been criticized for use of torture by security forces seeking confessions or extracting information from suspects.
  • The Wall Street Journal has an interview with the Argentine Finance Minister, Alfonso Prat Gay, in which he assures that the new government's ambitious overhaul will be financed by the country's return to world capital markets.
  • New U.S. State Departmetn travel guidelines now place most of Mexico's Guerrero state, including Acapulco, off limits for U.S. government employees, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Argentina will resume annual fiscal checkups with the IMF after a ten year hiatus, reports AFP.
  • New accusations against former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and his VP Roxana Baldetti: the CICIG and the Public Ministry have accused them of leading a criminal organization that collected millions of dollars in bribes to award a contract to build a port terminal, reports the Wall Street Journal. They are accused of taking at least $25m in bribes from a Spanish port company, reports the BBC.
  • After U.S. President Obama's call for reflection on his country's complicity with Argentina's bloody dictatorship, it's time for the U.S. to revisit it's far more active role in El Salvador's "dirty war," argues Raymond Bonner in The Nation. The piece reviews the history of atrocities in El Salvador and their connection with the U.S. "In El Salvador, more than 75,000 [civilians] lost their lives during the civil war, which lasted from 1980 until the 1992 peace agreement. The guerrillas committed atrocities, but the United Nations Truth Commission, established as part of the accord, found that more than 85 percent of the killings, kidnappings, and torture had been the work of government forces, which included paramilitaries, death squads, and army units trained by the United States."
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Haitian politicians that patience is wearing thin in regards to the oft delayed presidential elections, reports the Miami Herald.

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