Rousseff Warns of Threat to Brazil's Democracy as "Coup" Nears End

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Rousseff Warns of Threat to Brazil's Democracy as "Coup" Nears End

Suspended president testifies at impeachment hearing, says 'the world and history are watching us'

Suspended President Dilma Rousseff appears Monday to testify in front of her accusers in the Senate. (Photo: Jane de Araújo/Agência Senado/flickr/cc)

Suspended President Dilma Rousseff testified during her impeachment trial on Monday, rejecting the charge that she manipulated government accounts, and warning that the "future of Brazil is at stake."

"I did not commit the crimes that I am unjustly accused of," she said in her 30-minute address to the senate, adding, "I'm afraid that democracy will be damned with me."

"I can't help but taste the bitterness of injustice," the 68-year-old told senators.

Rousseff has been suspended since May. She—and others—have labeled the impeachment effort a coup, saying the charge that she illegally handled the budget in a way to make it look like it was in a better position than it was is just pretext for removing her from office and putting an end to 13 years of rule by her Workers' Party.

She referred to a coup again on Monday, and said that "instead of resolving the Brazilian crisis, it will make it even worse."

 "Today Brazil, the world and history are watching us and waiting for the outcome of this impeachment process," Rousseff said.

The trial began last Thursday, and a vote is expected to come in the next day or two, the Associated Press reports. If two-thirds of the Senate convict her—which is widely expected—the unelected Vice President and interim President Michel Temer, whom Rousseff referred to as a "usurper" in her speech Monday, would serve out her remaining two years of office.

AP's reporting adds:  "Rousseff said it was 'an irony of history' that she would be judged for crimes she did not commit, and by people who were accused of serious crimes."  That's a point Brazil-based journalist Glenn Greenwald spoke about to Democracy Now! on Monday. He said that many of those casting the vote are themselves "a band of criminals."

[T]he 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.

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Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan made the same point in June, writing that

the lower house speaker who brought the charges, Eduardo Cunha, had to step down because he has $16 million stashed in secret Swiss and U.S. bank accounts. The man who replaced Cunha, Waldir Maranhao, is implicated in the corruption scandal around the huge state-owned oil company, Petrobras.

The former vice-president and now interim president, Michel Temer, has been convicted of election fraud, and has also been caught up in the Petrobras investigation. So is Senate president Renan Calheiros, who’s also dodging tax evasion charges.

In fact, over half the legislature is currently under investigation for corruption of some kind.

Last week, noted human rights activists and intellectuals including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and Arundhati Roy wrote a letter to the Brazilian government condemning the impeachment. "If this sustained attack on its democratic institutions is successful, the negative shock waves will reverberate throughout the region," they wrote. "We stand in solidarity with our fellow artists and with all those fighting for democracy and justice throughout Brazil," they continued.

Bernie Sanders has also spoken out against the anti-Rousseff effort, saying in a statement this month he was "deeply concerned" by the move, which represented "not a legal trial but rather a political one." He added, "To many Brazilians and observers the controversial impeachment process more closely resembles a coup d'état."

"After suspending Brazil's first female president on dubious grounds, without a mandate to govern, the new interim government abolished the ministry of women, racial equality, and human rights. They immediately replaced a diverse and representative administration with a cabinet made up entirely of white men. The new, unelected administration quickly announced plans to impose austerity, increase privatization, and install a far right-wing social agenda," Sanders' statement continued.

But the "United States government," Greenwald said, "has been remarkably silent about what’s taking place in Brazil, for the obvious reason that they got caught in the 1960s having participated in and helping to plan the coup against the left-wing, democratically elected government."

He argued that "the United States government, for decades, has always preferred right-wing governments to left-wing governments in Latin America," noting that "the right-wing faction that is now taking power in Brasília wants to become subservient again to the United States. And so I think it stands to reason that President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the State Department and Pentagon, to the extent they care, are pretty happy about the developments that have taken place here in Brazil, in terms of a government that wasn’t elected but that is much more favorable to American interests."

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