Brazil: President Rousseff ousted by Senate, Temer names right wing Cabinet

In a late-night session May 11, the Brazilian Senate voted 55 to 22 to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.  This was well above the simple majority the pro-impeachment forces needed.  The lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, had voted to propose impeachment on April 17, by a similar lopsided majority.

The accusation was that Rousseff’s government had filled budget shortfalls in 2014 and 2015 by shifting money from the central bank to cover social welfare programs’ needs. Advocates of impeachment claimed that this was a “crime of responsibility” carried out to conceal the size of the budget deficit, but Rousseff’s supporters saw it as an effort to defend the social gains of the poor and working class that were threatened by a severe economic turndown. 

The impeachment takes place in the context of both the economic troubles and a huge corruption scandal which has enmeshed a large proportion of the Brazilian political elite.  Rousseff, however, is not accused of anything related to the corruption scandal.

Yet some of the politicians who have been most gung-ho about impeaching the president are accused, some formally, of serious corruption charges. Eduardo Cunha, the former president of the Chamber of Deputies, was removed from office on May 5 by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s Supreme Court, for his alleged part in the “Lava Jato” (“Jet Car Wash”) scandal, in which politicians got bribes from construction companies for steering business their way from the huge state oil company, Petrobras.  Ironically, Cunha was the main leader of the impeachment efforts in the Senate, and many suspect his motive in promoting impeachment was to protect himself from eventual prosecution.

Rousseff is now suspended from the presidency for 180 days while the Senate carries out a trial.  If she is found guilty by a two-thirds vote in the Senate, she will be removed from the presidency permanently.  If she is found innocent, she will serve out the term to which she was elected in 2014; that is, until the next elections in 2018.

As of today, Vice President Michel Temer, of the right wing PMDB (Democratic Movement Party of Brazil), the same party to which Cunha belongs, is the acting president of Brazil, and he has moved fast to name his cabinet.  His choices reflect a definite turn away from the moderately left wing policies of Rousseff and her immediate predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, both of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores).  In addition, at least seven of Temer’s appointees have been named as possibly implicated in the Lava Jato affair or have other serious legal baggage.

The new minister of justice, Alexandre de Moraes, of the right wing Brazilian Social Democratic Party comes to the job with a history of repressive policies in his former job as Director of Public Security for the City of São Paulo, a right wing bastion.  Besides repressing demonstrators with what was widely regfarded as excessive force, police on his watch were accused of many violent crimes.

Temer’s finance minister, Henrique Meirelles, has links to transnational and especially U.S.  high finance, and will be in charge of launching an attack on pensions, wages, social welfare and labor rights, in the name of balancing the budget and pleasing potential investors.  Though he also served as head of Brazil’s Central Bank under President Lula da Silva, Meirelles will now be in charge of dismantling much of what the Lula-Rousseff presidencies accomplished to benefit poor and working-class Brazilians. 

Several of the new ministers in Temer’s  cabinet have had serious scrapes with the law, but it will be difficult to prosecute them once they hold ministerial portfolios.   The new minister of planning, Romero Jucá, of Temer’s PMDB, is seriously implicated in the Lava Jato corruption scandal.  And the new minister of Development, Industry and Commerce, Marcos Pereira, a pastor in one of Brazil’s many right wing Evangelical churches, was jailed for sexual molestation of a parishioner and money laundering, though he was subsequently released on a habeas corpus court order.

Will Temer’s government present a clean new face to the world?  The new foreign minister, José Serra (of the Social Democratic Party of Brazil) is suspected, on the basis of Wikileaks revelations, of having unsavory dealings with the U.S. oil company Chevron to give them a leg up over the national oil company, Petrobras, in access to the exploitation of vast offshore oil deposits, called Pre Sal, resources which have figured mightily in the Lava Jato scandal. 

Internally, the removal of Rousseff is a blow to the poor, to workers, to Afro-Brazilians and other minorities and to women, all of whom benefited from the policies of Lula da Silva and Rousseff. These advances caused great resentment on the part of the racist and sexist upper classes of the country, and on the part of right wing elements in the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant churches. Affirmative action, gay rights and abortion rights will now be under fierce assault.

José Reinaldo de Carvalho, the International Relations Secretary of the Communist Party of Brazil, pointed out that the illegal takeover by the right and the removal of Rousseff as president will have strong negative international implications.  Brazil, under Temer and his ilk, will no longer play a constructive role in the BRICS group, in aid to Africa and in the horizontal integration of the Latin American region. Now Brazil’s foreign policy, as well as its economic interests, will be subordinated to those of the United States instead of being independent and progressive.

Though Rousseff has left the presidency temporarily, she swore on Thursday to continue the fight to restore democracy and the sovereignty of the Brazilian voters, so criminally violated by the organizers of the impeachment vote.

The Workers’ Party put out a strong statement against the legislative coup, calling for a united front of urban and rural workers, youth, women and all who reject the reactionary politics that the Temer government is proposing.

The allied Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil) also swore to fight in the courts and on the streets to overturn the impeachment coup.  Luciana Santos, who is a federal deputy as well as the chair of the Communist Party, said that a new phase of democratic and people’s resistance has now begun.  “The country will go through a period of great uncertainty and experience a tense, unprecedented situation.” Santos raised the possibility of a plebiscite to authorize new direct elections for the presidency,” before the scheduled elections in 2018.  The idea is that Temer is extremely unpopular as are the policies he is likely to promote, and that he is himself threatened with impeachment and corruption investigations.  The Brazilian people should be allowed to decide directly if they really want that kind of leadership with that kind of policy.

Photo: A demonstrator holds a Brazilian flag with stickers in support of the president in Sao Paulo.  |  Andre Penner/AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.