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She calls it “an illegal coup” plotted by her vice-president, Michel Temer, and swears she will fight to the end. He insists the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, is in accordance with Brazilian law — and, moreover, the Supreme Court’s longest-serving judge agrees.
Both sides in Brazil’s intensifying political drama are compromised by allies who have been charged with corruption — especially, but not solely, at Petrobras, the state-owned energy company. Both sides have also taken to the airways to try to sway opinion that their version is right.
Last week, Ms Rousseff flew to New York, in large part to press her account on international media — a trip, ironically, that left the “conspirator” Mr Temer behind in charge of Brazil.
“I know he will be very cautious,” Ms Rousseff said of her vice-president on Friday at a press conference in New York where she called herself an innocent victim of a putsch that began as soon as she won the 2014 election. “They are trying to take a shortcut to power.”
Mr Temer is meanwhile beginning to assemble a government to replace hers, should the Senate vote to approve the impeachment process — a trial that could take place as soon as the middle of May. “There is no coup whatsoever,” he told the Financial Times last week.
“All this has the feel of a telenovela, the soap operas so popular in Brazil,” said Melvyn Levitsky, former US ambassador to Brazil and a professor of international policy at the University of Michigan. But “it is both damaging and embarrassing to Brazil’s international image that over half the Congress is either under indictment or investigation on charges of corruption”.
Brazilians seem to agree. An Ibope poll revealed last week that 48 per cent of Brazilians are “not satisfied” by democracy — the highest anti-democracy reading in 10 years.
Ms Rousseff is officially accused of manipulating the national accounts in order to flatter the numbers, a charge that she denies while also insisting it is a technicality that provides no legal basis for impeachment.
“The opposition says the process is not a coup as it follows provisions that are part of the constitution, but this is only a half truth,” she told a small group of international reporters on Friday. “An innocent person is an inconvenient person … history will judge them.”
When asked how it could be a coup given that the Supreme Court’s longest serving judge, José Celso de Mello, said last week that the view was “totally mistaken”, Ms Rousseff replied: “I will abstain from any comment about that … But I do not agree.”
Ms Rousseff stressed that she does not face corruption charges “yet I am surrounded by people who have been”.
The impeachment process was launched earlier this year by Eduardo Cunha, the head of congress’s lower house, who has been indicted on corruption charges. Mr Temer has been linked to a graft scandal.
Although Ms Rousseff does not face any corruption charges, she headed Petrobras, the centre of a $3bn kickback scheme, before she became president. International shareholders have filed a class-action suit in a New York court complaining that corruption at the oil company reduced the value of their shares.
Analysts said Ms Rousseff’s main strategy now was to construct a narrative that allows the ruling Workers party, which has governed Brazil for 14 years, to reconstruct itself as the victim of a coup plot in order to boost its chances at municipal elections later this year, and presidential elections in 2018.
It is both damaging and embarrassing to Brazil’s international image that over half the Congress is either under indictment or investigation on charges of corruption
“She knows it’s a lost proposition,” said Matias Spektor, associate professor of international relations at FGV, an academic institution in São Paulo. “Therefore she is using what she has got to rally her party base … They are thinking about the future of the party.”
Almost 300 of the 513 members of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, from across the political spectrum, are either being investigated, facing trial or been convicted on corruption charges. Ms Rousseff said she expected that corruption charges against some of her leading political opponents would be “softened, lightened” if the impeachment process led to her removal.
Last week, Carlos Lima, a lead prosecutor in the Petrobras case, said the independent investigation would continue come what may. “Federal prosecutors and our own task force will fight ferociously for this investigation to continue to the end,” he told Reuters. “We will not remain silent in the face of any attempts to strip us of this investigation.”
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