a researcher and reporter for The Intercept. His most recent piece is called "After Vote to Remove Brazil’s President, Key Opposition Figure Holds Meetings in Washington," co-authored by Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda.
co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and president of Just Foreign Policy. His recent article for The Huffington Post is titled "Brazilian Coup Threatens Democracy and National Sovereignty." Weisbrot’s new book is called Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy.
On Sunday, Brazil’s lower house of Congress voted 367 to 137 to start impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. Early next month, Brazil’s Senate will vote on whether to put Rousseff on trial on allegations of manipulating budget accounts. On Tuesday, Rousseff said attempts to impeach her constituted a "coup" and an "original sin." Brazil has been engulfed in a major corruption scandal, but Dilma Rousseff herself has not been accused of any financial impropriety. However, 318 members of the Brazilian Congress, including many who backed her impeachment, are under investigation or face charges. Leading the impeachment process has been Brazil’s Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha, who has been accused of squirreling away $5 million into Swiss bank accounts.
Meanwhile, The Intercept is reporting a key Brazilian opposition leader has traveled to Washington, D.C., to partake in closed-door meetings with various U.S. officials and lobbyists. Sen. Aloysio Nunes of Brazil’s center-right PSDB party reportedly is meeting with the chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, and others to discuss the situation in Brazil. He also apparently attended a luncheon hosted by the Washington lobbying firm Albright Stonebridge Group, headed by former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kellogg Company CEO Carlos Gutierrez. We speak to The Intercept’s Andrew Fishman in Brazil and economist Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, on the road on our 100-city tour, in Denver. We’ll be headed to Boulder and Colorado Springs and beyond through the weekend. Check democracynow.org. Juan González is sitting there right in the studios of New York.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now to the political crisis in Brazil. On Sunday, Brazil’s lower house of Congress voted 367 to 137 to start impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. Early next month, Brazil’s Senate will vote on whether to put Rousseff on trial on allegations of manipulating budget accounts. On Tuesday, President Rousseff said attempts to impeach her constituted a "coup" and an "original sin."
PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] What I feel is unjustifiable is the attempt to diminish the fact, the necessity for a legal basis to propose and seek the impeachment of the president of the republic. So I ask you all, why then is this not a coup? It is a coup. It is a coup dressed as original sin, which is the fact that there is no legal basis for my impeachment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Brazil has been engulfed in a major corruption scandal, but President Rousseff herself has not been accused of any financial impropriety. However, 318 members of the Brazilian Congress, including many who backed her impeachment, are under investigation or do face charges. Leading the impeachment process has been Brazil’s Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha, who has been accused of squirreling away $5 million in Swiss bank accounts.
Meanwhile, The Intercept is reporting a key Brazilian opposition leader has traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in closed-door meetings with various U.S. officials and lobbyists. Senator Aloysio Nunes of Brazil’s center-right PSDB party is reportedly meeting this week with the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, and others to discuss the situation in Brazil.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we’re joined by Andrew Fishman, researcher and reporter for The Intercept. Along with Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda, he wrote the piece, "After Vote to Remove Brazil’s President, Key Opposition Figure Holds Meetings in Washington."
And we’re joined in New York by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Weisbrot’s recent article for The Huffington Post titled "Brazilian Coup Threatens Democracy and National Sovereignty." His new book, Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mark, why don’t we start with you? What do you believe is happening right now in Brazil?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think it is—it is definitely a coup. And, you know, the international media has actually shifted in the last couple of months, and especially more recently. They had been like the Brazilian media, just really reporting it from a pro-opposition point of view as though this were a legitimate impeachment. And now you see more and more they’re saying it’s not legitimate, of course, because there’s no real charges against the president that would warrant impeachment. And it’s really an attempt by the opposition to reverse the results of the 2014 election, to take advantage of the fact that the economy is in recession and go after her.
I think that, you know, that article in The Intercept was very important, and Andrew will talk about it. But one point that they made about the visit of Senator Nunes from the opposition in Brazil to Washington this week was—is it didn’t get attention from the media, but it really should, because he met with Tom Shannon. And Tom Shannon is the most influential person on Latin America in the State Department. He’s going to be the one telling—recommending to Secretary of State Kerry what he should do, what—where the U.S. should come down on this process. And that’s extremely important, because Shannon didn’t have to meet with him. He’s just a senator, you know? By meeting with him, he sends a message to everybody who’s paying close attention in Brazil that the U.S. is OK with this process. It’s very similar to the coup in Honduras. You know, anybody paying close attention to that and everybody in Washington knew the very first day of the coup, when the White House put out a statement that didn’t say one bad thing about the coup, well, that’s the strongest statement you could make in support of a coup, a military coup, in the 21st century. And so, it’s a very similar thing. The media totally ignored it, but that was a signal. And I think it shows what we already know: The United States really does want to get rid of the Workers’ Party and always has.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mark, what specifically are the charges against President Rousseff?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, specifically, she’s charged with using money from the—not using the money, but in an accounting sense, counting money from the public banks to lower the—or increase the primary fiscal surplus—so, in other words, to make the national accounts look better by using money from the public banks, by counting that in the budget balance. But it’s really—you know, an example I like to give is 2013 in the United States, when the Republicans were, you know, threatening to default on the debt, and there was a deadline for when the debt ceiling would be reached, and the U.S. Treasury just kept changing that deadline by accounting manipulations, you know, and—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So she’s not specifically accused of bribes or—
MARK WEISBROT: No, nothing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —or of any kind of a personal enrichment.
MARK WEISBROT: No, no. And what the media did for a long time, both national and international, was made it look like, so I’m sure most of your listeners believe that her impeachment has something to do with a corruption scandal. And, in fact, it doesn’t.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Andrew Fishman in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Andrew, the piece in The Intercept that you wrote, headlined "After Vote to Remove Brazil’s President, Key Opposition Figure Holds Meetings in Washington," talk about his significance and what’s happened.
ANDREW FISHMAN: Good morning. Senator Aloysio Nunes is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Brazil. He was the vice-presidential candidate for the opposition party that lost to Dilma Rousseff in 2014. He’s been one of the leading opponents of Dilma Rousseff’s government and the Workers’ Party. And when he was—when he became the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of his core tenets was that he wanted to bring Brazilian foreign policy closer to the United States, which had been damaged after the Snowden revelations that the United States, that the NSA was spying on Petrobras and on Dilma specifically. And it’s been—it’s been a very tense relationship since then.
His trip, he says that he was—he had planned to go previously, but he acknowledges that Michel Temer, who’s the vice president, who will take over if Dilma Rousseff is removed from office, which seems likely, at least temporarily—he said that president—Vice President Temer called him, asked—said that the international press was giving a bad image to the impeachment process, and he wanted him to go to Washington and give it a—it’s basically a PR trip.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Andrew, you’ve written in one of your articles that Brazil’s extraordinary political upheaval shares some similarities with the Trump-led political chaos in the United States. Could you explain?
ANDREW FISHMAN: Yeah. This is a very strange moment in Brazil. It’s not common that such tensions and such strong feelings are felt on the streets of the country. I mean, because of this political scandal that’s going on right now, there have been fistfights in the street over politics. I went to a protest on Sunday on Copacabana Beach in Rio. And they had one scheduled early in the morning for—in support of the government, some—or at least in support of democracy, depending on who you ask. And they put up a barricade in the middle of Copacabana and ended the protest early, so that later in the day the pro-impeachment protest could come onto the streets and there wouldn’t be any overlap, so that—to reduce the potential for any violence. This is very strange in Brazil. This is not, you know, something that’s happened in living memory. And in that way, the high tensions, the high potential for violence, the extreme rhetoric is very similar to what’s happening with the Trump phenomenon in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, who you wrote this piece with, Andrew, recently interviewed the former Brazilian president, Lula da Silva. Lula described the situation in Brazil also as a coup.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I’ll tell you why it is a coup. It is a coup because while the Brazilian Constitution allows for impeachment, it’s necessary for the person to have committed what we call high crimes and misdemeanors. And President Dilma did not commit a high crime nor misdemeanor. Therefore, what is happening is an attempt by some to take power by disrespecting the popular vote. That’s why I think the impeachment is illegal. There is no high crime or misdemeanor. As a matter of fact, I believe that these people want to remove Dilma from office by disrespecting the law, carrying out, the way I see it, a political coup. That’s what it is, a political coup.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was the former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, being interviewed by Glenn Greenwald. Now, they’re attempting to charge him, too, right? And so, the president, the current president, Rousseff, has appointed him to work for her so that he would share immunity. Andrew, can you talk about his role right now and also what the media is doing in Brazil?
ANDREW FISHMAN: Yes. So, President Dilma brought Lula back in to be her chief of staff a few weeks ago. That was—that was approved, then blocked, and approved, then blocked, and it’s this whole back-and-forth. And right now he’s still not officially in the position. That will be decided by the Supreme Court, I believe, today. She brought him in ostensibly to help build a coalition to push back against the move for impeachment. In the lower house, that didn’t work. But he’s been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes dealings and trying to offer ministries or different positions, or doing the backroom dealings that—that’s basically how Brasília works and most politics works in the world.
He said that this process is a coup. Most of the international observers that are—that have been paying attention to this agree with him that this is an anti-democratic movement. The New York Times, The Guardian, even The Economist, the secretary general of the OAS and of UNASUR, both of them—all of them have said that this is—there’s no basis—there’s no legal basis for impeachment. He has not—Dilma’s crimes, if they are crimes, have not reached the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, which is the standard for impeachment, and therefore this is an legitimate, anti-democratic motion. I don’t call it a coup necessarily, nor do most of those people, because a coup, in the common parlance, generally connotes some sort of either a military group suddenly taking power—they are using the judiciary and the legal processes to do this action, but they’re doing it in a way that has no basis in legality.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mark, I’d like to ask you how we got to this point in Brazil. For years, Brazil had become a darling of international finance, was seen as an economic miracle, even during the period when a avowed socialist and workers’ leader, Lula, was president of the country. And now, how is—if this is not a truly legal situation that’s happening with the Congress, why is there so little apparent support for Dilma in the rest of the country?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, there is support. I mean, there’s a base within the Workers’ Party, and they’re in the streets, too. And the media was ignoring them for quite a while, and still does to a large extent. So—but I think the reason—well, the media is a huge part of the thing. I mean, imagine if we had—Fox News was, you know, 70 percent, 80 percent of the media here. Would Obama even have gotten elected, you know? So, that’s a huge, huge part of it. Again, they could convince the whole country that she’s tied up in corruption, and Lula is, too, and all that kind of thing.
I think the biggest part of it is really the recession. And, you know, the economy did very well for 12—you know, for really all the way 'til a couple of years ago, under the Workers' Party. It was an enormous change, you know? They reduced poverty by 55 percent, extreme poverty by 65 percent, doubled the real minimum wage, reduced inequality significantly. And this had not happened. Brazil had 23 years with almost no growth of income per person, you know, prior to their election. So they did extremely well. And I think they made mistakes. And, actually, Lula said this the other day, that Dilma made a mistake by trying to please the banks. And that’s been their problem in the last few years. Basically, they implemented austerity policies, raised interest rates, cut public investment enormously, and really pushed the economy further into recession. That’s the big mistake they made. They wouldn’t be having these problems if it weren’t for that.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Andrew Fishman about the role of former secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and also the CEO of Kellogg Corporation.
ANDREW FISHMAN: Yes. Senator Aloysio Nunes is in Washington. Yesterday, he was hosted in a private luncheon by the Albright Stonebridge Group, which is Madeleine Albright’s firm, and the former CEO of Kellogg is also the co-chair of the firm. We’ve tried to get in contact with them. We asked them who would be attending. They said it’s a closed-door meeting, with no media access, for Washington political leaders and for business leaders. One of the—one of the senior advisers affiliated with the Albright Stonebridge Group has been—is the leader of an organization down here that’s very involved in the push against the Dilma government. And so, as Mark was saying, it seems that while the U.S. government hasn’t made any official stance on their opinion with—in terms of Lula and Dilma and impeachment, it seems pretty obvious as to what their stance is and which side they’re supporting or would support.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Andrew Fishman, researcher and reporter for The Intercept, we’ll link to your piece, "After Vote to Remove Brazil’s President, Key Opposition Figure Holds Meetings in Washington," co-authored with Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda. And thanks so much to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, president of Just Foreign Policy.
That does it for our show. Yeah, we’re on the road, and we’re here in Colorado. On Thursday, I’ll be speaking at Boulder College and then—I’ll be speaking at the Boulder Theater; and then, on Friday, Colorado Springs; Saturday, Eagle, Colorado, then Carbondale and Paonia; Salida, then Taos, New Mexico, on Sunday; Albuquerque Monday; Santa Fe on Tuesday. Go to our website at democracynow.org. We have two job openings: a broadcast engineer and director of finance and operations. Check our website.