With Rousseff Out, Brazil's Interim President Installs Conservative All-White, All-Male Cabinet

May 13, 2016


Andrew Fishman

researcher and reporter for The Intercept.

Brazil’s former vice president, Michel Temer, assumed power as interim president Thursday after the country’s Senate voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin impeachment proceedings over accusations she tampered with accounts in order to hide a budget shortfall. Rousseff called the move a coup. Temer is a member of the opposition PMDB party and has been implicated in Brazil’s massive corruption scandal involving state-owned oil company Petrobras. He was sworn in Thursday along with a new Cabinet that is all white and all men, making this the first time since 1979 that no women have been in the Cabinet. We are joined from Rio de Janeiro by Andrew Fishman, researcher and reporter for The Intercept, who discusses the role of the United States in protests against Rousseff, and the background of Temer’s new Cabinet members.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show with the political turmoil engulfing Brazil. On Thursday, the country’s former vice president, Michel Temer, assumed power as interim president after the Senate voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin impeachment proceedings. She is accused of tampering with accounts in order to hide a budget shortfall. The 55-to-22 vote followed more than 20 hours of debate. One politician described it as, quote, "the saddest day for Brazil’s young democracy." Rousseff called it a coup. She gave a defiant speech before leaving the presidential palace, where she was greeted and hugged by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. She vowed to fight the impeachment.

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It isn’t an impeachment; it’s a coup. I did not commit high crimes and misdemeanors. There is no justification for an impeachment charge. I don’t have bank accounts abroad. I never received bribes. I never condoned corruption. The trial against me is fragile, legally inconsistent, unjust, unleashed against an honest and innocent person. The greatest brutality that can be committed against any person is to punish them for a crime they did not commit. No injustice is more devastating than condemning an innocent. What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign desires of the Brazilian people and the Constitution. What is at stake are the achievements of the last 13 years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended for up to 180 days or until her Senate trial is concluded. Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo called the Senate vote a, quote, "historic injustice."

JOSÉ EDUARDO CARDOZO: [translated] An honest and innocent woman is, right at this moment, being condemned. A judicial pretense is being used to oust a legitimately elected president over acts which have been practiced by all previous governments. A historic injustice is being committed; an innocent person is being condemned.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The new interim president is not part of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, but a member of the opposition PMDB party. Temer has been implicated in Brazil’s massive corruption scandal involving state-owned oil company Petrobras. Several of his top advisers are also under investigation, and just last week he was ordered to pay a fine for violating campaign finance limits. After Thursday’s vote, he vowed to, quote, "restore respect" to Brazil’s government.

INTERIM PRESIDENT MICHEL TEMER: [translated] My first word to the Brazilian people is the word "trust"—trust in the values that form the character of our people, the vitality of our democracy; trust in the recuperation of our country’s economy, our country’s potential and its social and political institutions.

AMY GOODMAN: Michel Temer was sworn in Thursday along with a new Cabinet that is all white and all male, making this the first time since 1979 no women have been in the Cabinet. The New York Times reports Temer attempted to appoint a woman to oversee human rights policies, but faced blowback after it became clear she had voted in favor of legislation to make it difficult for women who are raped to get abortions. Temer also offered the Science Ministry to an evangelical pastor who does not believe in evolution, and, when he faced opposition, made him trade minister instead. On Thursday, dozens of women chained themselves to the gates of Brasília’s Planalto presidential palace to support suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

FATIMA: [translated] The coup leaders in Brazil are trying to get President Dilma out and are usurping our democracy. They will only get us out of here by force, because we are defending democracy and the elected mandate for more than half of Brazilians.

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as Brazil is set to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in early August, and parts of the country are facing a Zika outbreak.

For more, we go directly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we’re joined by Andrew Fishman, a researcher and reporter for The Intercept, where he’s covered Brazil extensively along with his co-authors Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda.

Andrew Fishman, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what’s happened.


AMY GOODMAN: The president, or I should say at this point the suspended president, Dilma Rousseff, has called what’s happening in Brazil a coup.

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yes, there’s been a concerted action to remove her from office by the leaders of the opposition in Congress and also by the media. The current interim president, Michel Temer, was, before, her vice president. They ran together twice. And he was, until very recently, her ally. And so, she’s had very strong words against him for being one of the leaders to remove her from power. The Workers’ Party was—has been in power. They’ve won four straight elections. They had—they have great popular support, or they had, at least until recently, once the economy started going sour. And as is the case in basically any country, once the economy goes south, so does the approval rating of the president.

The opposition, seeing a chance to finally take advantage of this moment and get into—get into a position of power, decided that this is the moment, and they started pushing this case for impeachment, which, even though a lot of the coverage that you’ve seen, and especially down here in Brazil, has been based on corruption, corruption, corruption, and the corruption case in Petrobras, the state oil company, this has nothing to do with her corruption—with her impeachment proceedings. She’s being impeached on a technicality of some financial accounting measures, where she used some state-sponsored banks to cover some short-term deficits, which were all paid back in the end. Basically, any jurist says that this is not—does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, although the opposition has run with it. But in the discussion that they’ve had going forward, they’ve always focused on the impeachment angle—or, the corruption angle, because it’s much more powerful. And the Brazilian people are really fed up with corruption.

One thing that’s really noteworthy is that while the majority of the Brazilian population does support President Rousseff’s—or, former President Rousseff’s removal from office, the majority all support, in similar margin—want President Temer impeached, because they think that he’s also—that he is involved in corruption, unlike Dilma, where there’s no proof that she is. It’s very possible that she is involved and she knew about the schemes, but there’s no evidence to that nature, whereas there is much greater evidence that Temer and his allies are involved actively in corruption and illicit enrichment. Only 8 percent of the population wants Temer as president, which is shocking. In a most—in a recent poll, 2 percent of the population said that they would vote for him. If it weren’t for this impeachment, which they call a coup, it would have been impossible for someone like Michel Temer to become the president of Brazil.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Andrew Fishman, you mentioned that what Dilma Rousseff is charged with is not in fact an impeachable offense, and many jurists agree on that. So how is it that she’s been impeached?

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yeah, and, of course, I mean, there are people—there are jurists aligned with the opposition that say that it certainly is, it certainly does rise to the level. But, you know, international observers far and wide, from international organizations to the press, to diplomats, to a Nobel Peace Prize winner in Argentina who fought against the military dictatorship there, have all agreed that this is not an impeachable offense, and therefore some call it a coup. Others say, at the very least, it is certainly an antidemocratic, undemocratic action to remove her from power.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, Marcelo Ninio, from the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, questioned U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau about the situation in Brazil.

MARCELO NINIO: I wanted to ask about Brazil first. It’s—what the State Department and the U.S. government expect about the relationship with the interim government? And has there been any communication yet with the new government?

ELIZABETH TRUDEAU: Well, I can’t speak to our embassy communication there. You know, as you know, we maintain a strong bilateral relationship between our two countries. As the two largest democracies in the hemisphere, Brazil and the United States are committed partners. You know, we cooperate with Brazil on a number of issues—you know, trade, security, environment. We expect that’ll continue.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s the U.S. State Department, Andrew Fishman. And Pravda, an article in Pravda, explained that over the last few years the BRICS nations—you know, that’s Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—have become a significant geopolitical threat to the interests of the United States. And again, this is Pravda, the Russian paper, said it’s quite possible the CIA is involved in the plan to stage riots in Brazil nationwide, that U.S. intelligence agencies are involved with this coup. Is there any evidence of this?

ANDREW FISHMAN: I mean, there has been plenty of speculation about this. Obviously, the CIA operates in secrecy, so it’s difficult to say one way or another. Dilma herself has said that there’s absolutely no proof to that nature. I have not seen anything that convinces me that that’s the case. Again, who knows what the actual situation is?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Andrew Fishman, even though—

ANDREW FISHMAN: But also, the State Department spokesman also said that she’s not sure if the—if anyone from the United States has reached out to President Temer to congratulate him. They referred to the White House. Josh Earnest, the spokesperson for the White House, then said, "You should speak to the State Department." So it’s not clear that even any foreign leaders have gone out to congratulate President Temer, although the statement that the State Department spokesman made, saying that they believe that Brazil will continue to function within democratic means and the democratic systems and will be strengthened, it’s a tacit show of support. I mean, they haven’t come out strongly one way or another in public saying that they’re for or against impeachment, because really that’s—the implication of that would be so strong. It would be—if it were in fact that the United States wanted this, wanted the Temer administration above Dilma’s administration—and I believe that is the case, that they much prefer, as the foreign investors much prefer, having Temer—at least that’s what they’ve shown, based on his statements. Just making that statement that—reaffirming the democratic nature of this movement, which is clearly antidemocratic, that says a lot, even though it’s done quite in diplomatic terms.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dilma Rousseff’s suspension is temporary, but some are saying that it seems all but certain that she’ll be permanently removed from office. Is that correct?

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yeah. It would take some sort of miracle or massive change in the political landscape for her not to be—for the vote to not go through. You need a two-thirds vote in the Senate for her to be impeached after the trial. They already had that number, and then a few more, voting for the—this initial vote the other day. So, I mean, unless something massive were to change, it seems quite clear.

And the—I mean, the only people that could really intervene right now would be the Supreme Court. They’ve shown that they also prefer the Temer presidency. They want this. They think that Temer is the quickest path to resolve the political crisis and to move forward from the chaos that’s currently going on. And they’ve said—they said so quite explicitly in some statements that they’ve given to the press, which, as an American coming from the U.S. context, where at least the Supreme Court in the United States tries to maintain the appearance of impartiality in maintaining pure judicial decisions, in this case they’ve made statements that show that they’re making very political calculations in their decisions, as has the prosecutor general.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Andrew, about an article by Greg Grandin about who’s profiting from this coup, as Dilma Rousseff has called it. Grandin wrote in The Nation, a piece that was headlined, "A Slavers’ Coup in Brazil?: Among the many groups pushing for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, one is seldom discussed: companies that profit from slavery." In the article, Grandin notes Rousseff’s Workers’ Party creates a—created a "dirty list" of "hundreds of companies and individual employers who were investigated by labor prosecutors and found to be using slaves." Grandin goes on to write that one of the members of the opposition that’s pushed for Rousseff’s impeachment directly profits from slave labor. According to Grandin, Congressman Beto Mansur is, quote, "charged with keeping 46 workers at his soybean farms in Goiás State in conditions so deplorable that investigators say the laborers were treated like modern-day slaves." Andrew Fishman, what business interests have aligned themselves against Dilma Rousseff? And what about this congressman?

ANDREW FISHMAN: Yeah, and going one step further even, I mean, Greg’s article was about a week ago, and just yesterday, President Temer installed his Cabinet, his ministers. The agricultural minister is a massive soybean farmer who has huge tracts of land, they’ve—responsible for massive deforestation, and he’s been personally linked to slavery. His time in Congress, he actually introduced a bill to try and limit the definition of what slavery actually is, to try and help himself and his partners and his business interests. Slavery is a massive problem in Brazil. Brazil has plenty of social problems. This, slavery, is obviously one that should not exist in the modern world; however, it clearly does here and around the world. If you go out into the interior of the country, which is massive tracts of wilderness, it’s basically wild, wild West out there. There’s very little law. Journalists, activists, anyone who tries to push back against these massive corporate interests, who have benefited greatly under the PT government time in the last 10, 12 years, they are all—they’re all able to use this sort of slavery, because they have no—there’s basically no rule of law to stop them from doing so.

So, yeah, the massive agribusiness has aligned themselves against Dilma and have actually said that they want—wanted her to be impeached, as has big industrialist groups and as has the media, which is also a huge industry here, obviously. But all these groups benefited greatly under President Rousseff and President Lula da Silva. Just last year, they’ve had hundreds of millions of reais, you know, over the time—hundreds and billions of dollars in subsidies that have gone to these groups and these industries, and they’ve gotten really rich off of it, much more money than has gone to the social distribution programs, which President Temer has now indicated that he probably will be cutting or reducing. So, it’s an interesting moment. I think that they never really were entirely aligned with the PT, but it was a pact of political convenience: They saw a way to get a deal, a way to get their interests met. Now that the economy has gone down slightly and her popularity has gone down dramatically, it seemed like a good opportunity for them to push back with their more conventional allies, which are the PSDB and the PMDB.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Fishman, thanks for joining us, researcher, reporter for The Intercept, has covered Brazil extensively, along with Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda, speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at Syria. Stay with us.

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