Brazilian Congress ousts chief plotter of legislative coup against Rousseff

Eduardo Cunha, the Brazilian politician who is generally considered the mastermind of the successful effort to remove Dilma Rousseff from the presidency, has now been permanently kicked out of office and barred from political life for eight years.  But he is also threatening to bring down a large number of his colleagues, likely including Michel Temer, the man placed into the presidency by Cunha’s own machinations.

Cunha’s definitive removal from his seat in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian National Congress, came on  Monday September 12, when his once fawning colleagues voted by a huge margin, 450 votes to expel and only ten in his defense, to throw him out.  In July, he had been forced by the Ethics Committee of the Chamber of Deputies to resign from his position as Speaker because of corruption allegations.  The large voted margin indicates that Cunha’s fellow power brokers and movers and shakers decided to sacrifice him; although Cunha is extremely unpopular, such a vote shows that people who would normally have shamelessly sprung to his defense decided to throw him to the wolves.

No honor among thieves

What wolves?  Cunha now has to worry that on being expelled from the legislature, he loses the immunity which would have protected him from being tried by any but the Supreme Court.  Now any of the charges that have been raised against him might actually land him in jail.  But the speech he gave after being booted out of the Chamber suggests he is not going to quietly submit.

Eduardo Cunha, a vociferous right wing Evangelical Christian (Assembly of God), was a leading force in the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB.  The PMDB is a great umbrella party for political opportunists of various kinds.  It is ideologically a chameleon entity, which changes its principles according to its own interests.  Although it is the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies, its numbers are far from constituting a majority, as it has only 66 seats in the 513 member Chamber and 18 in the 81 member Senate.  But the PMDB’s avoidance of anything resembling political principles means that those legislators are able to negotiate very flexible coalition relationships; that is a source of power to their party.  In a body in which no fewer than 27 different political parties are represented, this ability to wheel and deal in all directions has been a big asset.  Until recently, the PMDB had been an ally of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) of Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003 to 2011) and Dilma Rousseff (2011 to 2016), and had portfolios in the cabinet.  But when economic troubles cut into the popularity of Rousseff, the PMDB, and most of all Mr. Cunha, had no compunctions whatsoever about ditching Rousseff, allying themselves with the far right, and leading the charge to have her impeached and deposed in what Rousseff’s supporters are calling a legislative coup.

Other PMDB members include Michel Temer himself, the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, and many other well placed figures.  Numerous of these are seriously implicated in the Lava Jato (Jet Car Wash) scandal, in which scores of politicians, officials and business leaders are accused of giving or receiving kickbacks in exchange for lucrative subcontracts with the huge national petroleum company, Petrobras.   A number of people have been giving testimony against fellow conspirators in the hope that they can be allowed to plea bargain for lesser punishments. Cunha, Temer and Calheiros have all been implicated in one way or another.

But Cunha was more powerful and dangerous than the others, and more blatant in his corruption and influence peddling. He also lied about massive amounts of money he turns out to have squirreled away in Swiss bank accounts, far more than the income he has declared for tax purposes.  Currently, he awaits charges for money laundering, tax evasion and corruption now that he has lost his legislative immunity.

How far will damage spread?

Cunha’s downfall will bring a sense of satisfaction to many Brazilians, and encourage the left to go after other corrupt right wing figures.  As Daniel Almeida, leader in the Chamber of Deputies of the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil) put it, “This is the result the Brazilian people was waiting for.  There is no more tolerance for lies and violations of democracy.  Turning this page, we are going to firmly confront the poisonous agenda of the coup president Michel Temer, who wants to extinguish social and workers’ rights.”

Can Cunha now bring down other politicians, perhaps including Temer himself as he has hinted he might do?   He certainly is in a position to threaten a lot of powerful people.  But can he do himself any good by doing so?  Those who voted for his expulsion on Monday must have thought not; otherwise how would they have dared?  The next acts in this drama won’t be dull.

On Monday, Cunha attacked Wellington Moreira Franco, a close ally and advisor of Temer, accusing him of being the “grey eminence” behind the plan to oust him from the Chamber.  Moreira Franco scoffed at the implied threat.    Cunha told the Brazilian press that he did not intend to seek a plea bargain by denouncing others, because he is not a criminal and only criminals do that.  However, he says he is writing a little book about the Rousseff impeachment: “I am going to tell everything that happened” including recounting all the discussions he had with various people about that case.  This alone must sound like a threat to many of his former colleagues.   Earlier, recorded evidence had emerged that people in Temer’s circle had perhaps cooked up the impeachment and removal of Rousseff, who has not been accused of corruption, for the purpose of quashing investigations into the Lava Jato matter.  Some people certainly may have reason to fear what Cunha will write in his little book.

He added that he is not afraid of the prosecutors-he only fears God.  That makes sense; God has a reputation of not being susceptible to bribes or threats.

Photo: Cunha.  |  The


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.