Date
27 July 2017
President Dilma Rousseff is expected to become the first Brazilian leader in more than 20 years to be dismissed from office. Photo: Reuters
President Dilma Rousseff is expected to become the first Brazilian leader in more than 20 years to be dismissed from office. Photo: Reuters

Brazil’s Rousseff says democracy at risk in Senate trial

A defiant President Dilma Rousseff warned Brazilians that her conservative opponents were trampling on democracy by using trumped-up charges to oust her and roll back the social advances of the past 13 years.

Presenting her defense at a trial in the Senate, in what may be her last public appearance as president, the leftist leader said Brazil’s economic elite had sought to destabilize her government since her narrow re-election to a second four-year term in 2014, Reuters reports.

Rousseff is expected to become the first Brazilian leader in more than 20 years to be dismissed from office when the Senate rules on Tuesday or early Wednesday on allegations that she broke budgetary rules by using money from state banks to boost public spending.

In an emotional speech from the Senate podium, Rousseff denied any wrongdoing and recalled her persecution during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

She said the impeachment process that has paralyzed Brazilian politics for nine months was a plot to protect the interests of the privileged classes in Latin America’s largest nation.

“We are one step away from a real coup d’etat,” the former leftist guerrilla said. “I did not commit the crimes that I am arbitrarily and unjustly accused of.”

She warned that a future conservative government would slash spending on social programs that helped lift 30 million people out of poverty in the past decade and sell off state assets, including Brazil’s massive offshore oil reserves.

The 68-year-old Rousseff, a trained economist and daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant, was handpicked by the founder of the Workers Party, ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to succeed him when he stepped aside in 2012, despite her lack of political experience and her mentor’s charisma.

Rousseff faces no allegations of personal enrichment. But she has been charged on the sidelines of the impeachment process with obstructing a sweeping investigation into bribery and political kickbacks at state-run oil company Petrobras, Brazil’s biggest-ever scandal.

She chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, when the worst of the corruption was taking place. 

After riding the commodities boom in her first term, Rousseff saw her popularity dwindle to single figures this year amid a deep recession that many Brazilians blame on her government’s interventionist policies and huge scandal involving Petrobras under the Workers Party government.

Brazil’s first female president told senators that history would judge them and recalled her trial under the military dictatorship in 1970, when officers hid their faces to not be recognized in photographs.

She began to choke back tears recalling how she faced death when she was tortured day after day in detention. “Today I only fear the death of democracy,” she said.

If the Senate convicts Rousseff, as expected, her vice president Michel Temer will be sworn in to serve the rest of her term through 2018.

Temer, 75, has been interim president since mid-May, when Rousseff was suspended after Congress decided it would continue the impeachment process that began in the lower house.

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CG

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