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Dilma Rousseff on Ouster: This is a Coup That Will Impact Every Democratic Organization in Brazil

StorySeptember 01, 2016
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James Green

professor of Brazilian history and culture at Brown University. He is the director of Brown’s Brazil Initiative. Green is the author of several books, including We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States.


The Brazilian Senate has voted to impeach the country’s democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff from office in what many are calling a coup. The vote was 61 to 20. Rousseff denounced the decision, saying there’s no constitutional justification for her impeachment. In an unexpected twist, the senators voted 42 to 36 to allow Rousseff to maintain her political rights, meaning she can continue to stand in elections and hold public office in the future. Irate opposition senators vowed "to appeal to the Supreme Court" to reverse the decision. Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment ends 13 years of rule by the Workers’ Party in Brazil and brings to power President Michel Temer for the remaining two years of Rousseff’s term. Temer is deeply unpopular and currently under investigation himself, accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions linked to the state oil company Petrobras. We speak to James Green, professor of Brazilian history and culture at Brown University. He is the director of Brown’s Brazil Initiative. Green is the author of several books, including "We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States."


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Brazilian Senate has voted to impeach the country’s democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff from office in what many are calling a coup. The vote was 61 to 20. Rousseff denounced the decision, saying there’s no constitutional justification for her impeachment.

DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] They’ve just overthrown the first woman elected president of Brazil, without there being any constitutional justification for this impeachment. But the coup was not just carried out against me and my party or the allied parties who support me today. This was just the beginning. The coup is going to strike, without distinction, every progressive and democratic political organization. ...

They think they’ve beaten us, but they are mistaken. I know we are all going to fight. There will be, against them, the firmest, most tireless and energetic opposition that a coup government can face. I repeat, there will be, against them, the most determined opposition that a coup government can face. ...

This is not how this story ends. I am certain that the disruption of this process by the coup d’état is not final. We will return, just to satisfy our desires or wants. We will return. We will return to continue our journey toward a Brazil where the people are sovereign.

AMY GOODMAN: That was ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaking shortly after Brazil’s Senate voted to remove her from office. In an unexpected twist, the senators voted 42 to 36 to allow Rousseff to maintain her political rights, meaning she can continue to stand in elections and hold public office in the future. Irate opposition senators vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court to reverse the decision.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment ends 13 years of rule by the Workers’ Party of Brazil and brings to power President Michel Temer for the remaining two years of her term. Temer is deeply unpopular and currently under investigation himself, accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions linked to the state oil company Petrobras. On Wednesday, Temer addressed the nation in a recorded television speech.

PRESIDENT MICHEL TEMER: [translated] I assume the presidency of Brazil after a democratic and transparent decision by the National Congress. The time is one of hope and of resuming confidence in Brazil. The uncertainty has come to an end. It is time to unite the country and to put national interests above the interests of specific groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Venezuela and Ecuador denounced the removal of Dilma Rousseff and recalled their ambassadors to Brazil. And massive protests rocked São Paulo for a third day.

For more, we’re joined by James Green, professor of Brazilian history and culture at Brown University. He’s the director of the Brown Brazil Initiative. Professor Green is author of several books, including We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States.

James Green, welcome to Democracy Now!

JAMES GREEN: Pleasure to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the significance of the ouster of the first woman president of Brazil, of Dilma Rousseff?

JAMES GREEN: Well, it’s really part of a five-point plan that has been articulated by sectors of the opposition—first to eliminate the president from her office; then to find a way to make Lula, President Lula, ineligible for election in 2018 to the presidency; then to install a neoliberal economic policy; to diminish and eliminate all of the social programs that have been established in the last 13 years; and, finally, to turn back some of the progressive social measures that have been fought for by the LGBTQ community, women, the black movement in Brazil.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: When you say there was a plan, well, clearly, the—this is only made possible by the fact that the Workers’ Party lost the majority in the Legislature of Brazil. How did that happen? How did it lose control of the overall government?

JAMES GREEN: So, the left generally has about 35 percent of the electoral support. So it always has to build a coalition in order to govern. And when Dilma was elected this last time by about 3.5 percent margin, the opposition immediately decided to carry out the same tactic the Republicans carried out when Obama was elected—basically, to obstruct everything that she was doing, and, at the same time, mobilize in the streets against her, using corruption investigation scandals as a motivating force in that regard.

There was then a move to remove from—the speaker of the House from the lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, from office. And when the Workers’ Party refused to support him, and actually voted against him in the ethics committee, he then mobilized his forces within the coalition that had supported Lula and Dilma to reverse their position and support Temer and the opposition. So there was a conjunction of both traditional forces who were against the electoral outcomes of 2014 combined with those forces in Congress who were very afraid that the Car Wash investigations, as they’re known in Brazil, would actually end in jailing many of the leading politicians of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: So they needed her out, so that didn’t happen.

JAMES GREEN: They needed her out. And this has been documented by some tapes that were recorded of politicians speaking about the situation. Because she actually has not been involved in any corruption. She is impeccable. She will return to a very humble two-bedroom apartment in Porto Alegre, when she—when she flies back to her hometown. And she has not been implicated in any of the corruption scandals.

AMY GOODMAN: She had this powerful quote where she said, "This is the second coup I have faced in my life. The first, the military coup, supported by weapons of repression and torture, struck me as a young militant." She was jailed. She was tortured. This one they call the second coup. You write a lot about U.S.-Brazilian relationship. What was the U.S. involvement? Was there now? And right back to that first coup she talked about, that led to her jailing.

JAMES GREEN: There’s no question about U.S. involvement in supporting the coup in 1964, starting from, in 1962, Lincoln Gordon, who was the U.S. ambassador, through the CIA funding of $5 million in funds to support the gubernatorial candidates that opposed the president, João Goulart. In 1963, '64, the military attaché was involved in building alliances with the military, the Brazilian military, and gave them the green light, saying that if they overthrow the democratically elected government of João Goulart, that they, in fact, the United States, would support them. And Johnson, the day after the coup, endorsed the new government in power. So there's no question about that, and I don’t think any historians will argue differently at this point.

It’s not clear exactly to what extent the United States government is involved in supporting the opposition to Dilma Rousseff. At one point they publicly remained neutral; they said they wanted to allow the democratic process to go forward. President-elect—potentially President-elect Clinton is very close to Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the opposition, which is now in power. So I don’t think that there will necessarily be an antagonism between the U.S. government and the current government.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s her relationship with them?

JAMES GREEN: Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are good friends with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was the former president. Fernando Henrique Cardoso has spent time at the Presidential Library. They respect each other as kind of moderate social democrats, in their own contexts within their own countries. And I think the new government in power will encourage much more foreign investment, denationalization of the key industries that are state-owned at this point, including expanding the opportunities for foreign companies to get contracts for oil exploration.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about—what could the Workers’ Party have done differently over the last few years to prevent something like this from happening? In other words—because, clearly, Dilma Rousseff is not accused of any personal corruption, but there have been issues of corruption within other members of the Workers’ Party. And also, the importance of Lula at this point? Because, clearly, you’ve made the point that they’re fearful of Lula running again in 2018 and likely winning re-election again, so they’re looking to find ways to stop him.

JAMES GREEN: Right. Well, so, Lula has the highest approval rate—I mean, election result speculation, but also a very high disapproval rate in the country. So, it’s not clear that he would necessarily be elected, but he is very popular among people, because of the social programs that he implemented and what he represents as a working-class person being elected to the country’s presidency.

On the other hand, I think the Workers’ Party made an historic compromise when it came to power. Didn’t have a majority in Congress. The lieutenants of Lula were involved in what we would call vote buying in this country, which is basically giving stipends to members of the coalition party to vote with him in power. And this was revealed, and the main people involved in that were jailed. This tarnished Lula, but didn’t destroy him. He was re-elected in 2006. But basically, over time, the Workers’ Party more and more became part of a very corrupt political system, collaborating, participating in it. And members of the Workers’ Party, in fact, have been indicted, and some have been condemned for dishonesty in government. Having not been able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the politicians, they lost a lot of legitimacy. And when the corruption scandals came out about the—basically, the sacking of Petrobras, the state oil company, this really resulted in the loss of tremendous popular support for the Workers’ Party.

The other thing that the Workers’ Party did that I think was a serious mistake was building an alliance with the evangelical Christians within the Congress. There’s about 20 to 25 percent of the members of Congress who are evangelical Christians. They’re the hard right. They have a very conservative social agenda. Some of them were part of this electoral coalition. And in conceding to them, they really conceded to their enemies.

AMY GOODMAN: You interviewed—you interviewed Dilma two-and-a-half years ago. As we wrap up, can you talk about your impressions?

JAMES GREEN: I actually interviewed her in June for two-and-a-half hours. And it was really amazing, because there’s a very iconic picture of Dilma Rousseff when she was taken to trial in 1970, where she’s standing there erect, facing her judges, and the judges are hiding their faces, because they don’t want to be seen. She is a woman with tremendous dignity. She told me that she is not afraid of things—that might be a weakness of hers—but she’s willing to confront this. And I think she left the presidential palace with dignity. She will continue, in some way, be a part of the opposition to this current government and fight for social justice. She was arrested and tortured, and suffered very much for fighting for the social justice in Brazil, and she will continue to do so today.

AMY GOODMAN: And will the corruption investigations continue?

JAMES GREEN: This is the big question—they’ve opened up Pandora’s box—whether they can put the demons back in the box or not. I mean, most of the leading politicians in the current government have charges against them or are surrounded by people who do. Whether there’s a dampening of these investigations, we’ll have to see.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being with us, James Green, professor of Brazilian history and culture at Brown University, director of the Brown Brazil Initiative. Professor Green is author of a number of books, including We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute. We’ll be talking about Puerto Rico. Stay with us.

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