Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is slated to testify today at her impeachment trial—a trial that many are calling a coup by her right-wing political rivals. Rousseff has denounced the proceedings and called for early elections to unite the country. Rousseff’s impeachment stems from accusations she tampered with government accounts to hide a budget deficit. She was suspended earlier this year and has maintained her innocence, accusing her political opponents of spearheading the proceedings to shield themselves from prosecution and undo years of progressive policies. The Brazilian group Transparency Brazil says 60 percent of Brazilian lawmakers are currently under criminal investigation or have already been convicted of crimes ranging from corruption to election fraud. Rousseff’s opponents now need 54 votes, or two-thirds of the 81-seat Senate, to convict her of violating budget laws. Her impeachment would end 13 years of left-wing Workers’ Party rule in Brazil and bring to power interim President Michel Temer for the remaining two years of Rousseff’s term. Temer is also deeply unpopular and currently under investigation himself, accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions linked to the state oil company Petrobras.
AMY GOODMAN: Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is slated to testify today at her impeachment trial—a trial that many are calling a coup by her right-wing political rivals. Rousseff has denounced the proceedings and called for early elections to unite the country.
PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] For that, we say that if the impeachment is confirmed, without proof of culpability, it will be a coup d’état. I give my full support of referendum, so people can decide to call for early elections and for political and electoral reform, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment stems from accusations she tampered with government accounts to hide a budget deficit. She was suspended earlier this year, has maintained her innocence, accusing her political opponents of spearheading the proceedings to shield themselves from prosecution and undo years of progressive policies. The Brazilian group Transparency Brazil says 60 percent of Brazilian lawmakers are currently under criminal investigation or have already been convicted of crimes ranging from corruption to election fraud. On Saturday, Senator Paulo Paim of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party challenged the impeachment as an attack on the democratic right of the Brazilian people to choose their president.
SEN. PAULO PAIM: [translated] This impeachment process against the president is an attack on democracy, an attack on the president, an attack on the Brazilian people.
AMY GOODMAN: Dilma Rousseff’s opponents now need 54 votes, or two-thirds of the 81-seat Senate, to convict her of violating budget laws. Her impeachment would end 13 years of the left-wing Workers’ Party rule in Brazil and bring to power interim President Michel Temer for the remaining two years of Rousseff’s term. Temer is also deeply unpopular and currently under investigation himself, accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions linked to the state oil company Petrobras.
Meanwhile, Rousseff’s mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is also facing a rash of legal woes. Brazilian federal police are recommending corruption charges against him and his wife, Marisa Letícia. The police say the couple benefited from renovations to a seaside apartment made by a construction firm. The da Silvas deny owning the property, and their lawyer said Friday there’s no evidence linking the couple to the apartment.
All this comes as Brazilians are battling an economic recession, a massive Zika outbreak and the aftermath of the 2016 Olympic Games. Both pro- and anti-impeachment protesters have gathered in Rio de Janeiro as the political future of Brazil lays in limbo.
For more, we go directly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we’re joined by Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He recently helped launch The Intercept Brasil in Portuguese to cover Brazilian social and political news. Glenn Greenwald is also closely following the U.S. presidential elections.
Glenn Greenwald, let’s begin with what’s happening in Brazil right now, and welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.
GLENN GREENWALD: So, literally this very minute, at 9:00 a.m. local time, 8:00 Eastern, Dilma is arriving at the Senate, where she will confront her accusers, in essence, and give her final 30-minute speech as part of her impeachment trial. She doesn’t need to do it; she chose to do it. And it’s really quite a remarkable contrast with her former vice president, now the interim president, who’s about to become the country’s unelected president, Michel Temer. During the Olympics, Mr. Temer broke protocol by demanding that his name not be announced at the opening ceremony, because he was scared of being booed by the crowd. That’s how unpopular and hated he is. And yet, when the crowd actually saw him, even without his being announced, they did boo him, quite viciously. And then he hid during the closing ceremony by skipping that. And while he’s hiding, Dilma, who, of course, has a history as a fighter against this country’s former military dictatorship, who went to prison over that, who endured years of torture while imprisoned as a political prisoner, chooses to go and confront her accusers face to face and will give what, by all accounts, will likely be a very strong and aggressive and defiant speech consistent with her character and her political persona.
And it’s really quite remarkable, for so many reasons, including the fact that, as you said, the majority of the Senate, just as was true of the majority in the House that impeached her, the majority of the Senate sitting in judgment of her are people who themselves are extremely corrupt, if not outright criminals. They are either people who are convicted of crimes or who are under multiple investigations, including the president of the Senate, who in 2007 had to leave his position over a serious scandal involving lobbyist money to pay off his mistress, is now under multiple investigations, just like the president of the House that impeached her was found with millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts hidden away. So you have a band of criminals removing this woman who became twice the elected president of her country, in a country that had never previously elected a woman, only 19, 20 months ago with 54 million votes. It’s really extraordinary to watch it unfold, given what a young and vibrant democracy Brazil is and how this group of people in Brasília are literally trifling with the fundamentals of democracies before our eyes.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to suspended President Dilma Rousseff in her own words this past May.
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.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Dilma Rousseff speaking in May. She has been ousted, and she’s being impeached today, where she is testifying on her own behalf. Glenn, explain exactly what she is accused of and then what this—what the whole process will be, how long it will take and what this means for the country.
GLENN GREENWALD: So, the formal charge against her that they’re using to justify impeachment in Portuguese is called pedaladas, which really means pedaling. It refers to a budgetary maneuver where the government borrows money from a state bank and then delays repayment in order to make it appear that the government owes less money. So she’s essentially accused of using budgetary tricks to make the state of the government budget look better in order to win re-election—something that when you talk to Europeans or Americans, they react with befuddlement that something like that could justify the removal of a democratically elected president, given that that’s extremely common for political leaders around the world to do, and, in fact, prior Brazilian presidents have used this same—this same method. And, in fact, when the House actually impeached her, as a lot of people watched around the world, one after the other stood up to justify their impeachment vote, and virtually none of them even referenced fleetingly this charge against her regarding these budgetary maneuvers, because it’s so plainly not the reason she’s being removed. That is the pretext for the reason that she’s being removed.
The reason she’s being removed is because she is an unpopular president. The economy of Brazil is weak and is—a lot of people are suffering because of it. And as you indicated earlier in the opening package, the party to which she belongs, the Workers’ Party, has been in power for 13 years, and the reason they’ve been in power for 13 years is because they’ve won four consecutive national elections. And there is no way that the opposition, which is composed of oligarchs and business interests and media barons and conservatives and uber-nationalists—this opposition faction has concluded that they are incapable of defeating this party in the ballot box, meaning within the democratic process, and so they are opportunistically using her unpopularity and the serious mistakes she’s made to remove her undemocratically.
And I think the most important thing to realize about this process, Brazilian media elites, who are almost uniformly behind impeachment, and have been from the beginning, constantly say, "Oh, look, in the United States you have impeachment; in Europe there’s impeachment. This is a constitutional means of removing a president." But the big difference is that in the United States, if you impeach the president, if you had impeached Bill Clinton in 1997 or 1998, Al Gore would have become president, the Democratic Party would have continued to remain in power, and the agenda and ideology that the American people ratified would have been the same. In Brazil, it’s exactly the opposite. The vice president, who has now become the interim president, who’s about to become the president, is not part of the Workers’ Party. He’s part of the centrist party and has aligned himself with this right-wing party, the PSDB, that has continuously lost at the ballot box. Their candidates have been rejected. And yet, as a result of this impeachment process, the very party and the very ideology that the Brazilian people have over and over rejected, when asked to vote, when asked to consider their candidates, is now ascending to power. And their agenda of privatization and cutting social programs and keeping taxes low to benefit the oligarchs is now gradually being imposed, as is their foreign policy of moving away from BRICS and regional alliances, and becoming once again extremely subservient to the United States and to Wall Street and to international capital. And so, you can call it a coup, you can debate whether that word applies, but what it is is a complete reversal of democracy in a way that is ushering in an agenda that benefits a small number of people that the Brazilian citizens have never accepted and, in fact, have continuously rejected.
And the process now is that the Senate is nearing the end of its trial. It will likely vote within the next week to 10 days. There is almost no doubt that they have the votes in order to convict her. Already 52 senators have said they intend to vote yes, and only 54 are needed. And so, once this conviction happens, Dilma will be permanently removed from office, and the interim president, Michel Temer, will then serve out the remainder of her term through 2018, even though he is under far more investigation and implicated in far more corruption than she is, and even though the Supreme Court has said that you can’t divide them when it comes to impeachment—you have to essentially consider the impeachment of both, because they both participated in the same transactions. All of that law, all of those corruption issues are being completely ignored, for one reason and one reason only. And that is that the most powerful people in this country want this right-wing agenda. They know they can’t make it happen through the ballot box, and so they’re making it happen through brute force, which is exactly what’s taking place.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, earlier this year, you interviewed the former Brazilian president, Lula da Silva. Lula described the situation in Brazil 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’s former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Glenn Greenwald, explain what’s happening to him right now, the most recent charges brought against him.
GLENN GREENWALD: So, Lula is involved in several very serious scandals, including allegations of criminality. The most recent case is one where the federal police, who investigated, have recommended that he be indicted on claims that he received many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to a triplex apartment that the police say that he owned, and that this was intended to be a gift from a large construction giant here in Brazil that has been close to the Workers’ Party, that has received a lot of contracts, lucrative contracts, from the Workers’ Party, and that they claim is illegal, that he intended to hide these assets, that they were intended essentially to constitute bribes. He vehemently denies that he ever owned the apartment, that it’s not—that it’s his. He has not been convicted. But those allegations should play themselves out. They should be investigated, and the process should be permitted to run its course.
I think that one really important thing to note is that a lot of people in Brazil, including people who have favored impeachment, including the nation’s largest newspaper, Folha of São Paulo, have long said that you should remove Dilma, but you should also remove Temer and have new elections, which is the obvious thing to do. If the vice president and the president are both implicated in wrongdoing, if there’s serious unpopularity that they both share, which they do, why let the people in Brasília, who are corrupt, choose the leader? Why not have new elections, as lots of people have called for? And the reason is, is that they’re petrified that if they have new elections, the person who’s going to win is Lula. He leads in all polls, when polls show—when ask people who their preference is in new elections. They’re also petrified that even if they wait until 2018, he’ll run again. And so, there’s a lot of people who believe that these investigations are about rendering him incapable of running, by charging him with crimes, by convicting him of something, not trying to put him in jail, just making it so that he can’t become president again, so they don’t go through this whole process of removing Dilma only to end up with Lula again.
But, you know, look, he’s somebody who is involved in lots of possible scandals. And he’s subject to the law like anybody else, and these processes should be allowed to take their course. The problem is that there are lots of people in Brasília who are also implicated in very serious corruption allegations, who are currently being protected in all sorts of ways by virtue of the fact that they hold political office, including people extremely close to the interim president himself. And one of the things that you played in that clip of my interview with Lula was him talking about how this is a coup. And only two months ago, there were recordings released, secret recordings that were made by a police informant with one of the closest senators to the current president, Temer, who was originally one of his ministers, who had to resign after this tape was revealed, in which he said that the reason that Dilma was being impeached and the motive for doing this was to shut down the investigation against the officeholders in Brasília, and that the Supreme Court and the media and the military of Brazil were all on board, that he had spoken to all of those institutions, and they were all on board. So, when you look at that tape, which, to me, is the most significant evidence about what’s taking place in Brazil, you have the leading institutions of Brazil, including the court and the military, secretly conspiring to remove the elected president as a means of protecting all of the other officeholders in Brasília from ongoing corruption investigations. And I think that really bolsters the claim that Lula made in that interview, regardless of whether he’s also guilty of wrongdoing.