South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
It has been eight months since impeachment proceedings began against Dilma Rousseff, and four months since she stepped down as Brazilian president. Now she has formally been removed from office. The impeachment vote against her was decisive: 54 senators had to vote to remove her. In the end, 61 did. It marks a humiliating end in office for Brazil’s first female president, and closes a chapter on 14 years of rule by the country’s leftist Workers’ party.
Was her removal a coup d’état by dark rightwing forces, as her supporters claim? No. Her charge — that she used illegal bookkeeping manoeuvres to hide a growing budget deficit — was a misdemeanour, albeit one that took place in a country with a history of hyperinflation and fiscal mismanagement. Her impeachment also served as proxy for the maladministration and corruption that characterised her two terms as president.
But the impeachment also followed a constitutional process, overseen by an independent Supreme Court. And if it was a coup, as Ms Rousseff claimed, it was a very unusual one. Nine members of the Senate were former ministers in her government. Six of them voted against her.
Michel Temer, her vice-president, will now finish her term, which runs until the end of 2018. Mr Temer, who comes from an older “white man” school of Brazilian politics, is unpopular but has three factors on his side.
First, he has put in place a credible economic team, and there are already incipient signs of economic recovery. Second, he is an adept backroom dealmaker — a quality that Ms Rousseff lacked. That should help the passage of reforms. And, third, Mr Temer has so far let the corruption probe into Petrobras run its course — even though corruption charges have already led to the dismissal of three of his ministers. He will need to let this vastly popular probe continue, whatever the personal cost, or otherwise face a terrible backlash.
All this is to the good. Institutionality has prevailed in Brazil. The economy is likely to be better managed. But that does not mean 31 August 2016 will go down as a bright day. It is, in balance, a sad day for democracy — but then Augusts often are in Brazil. Brazilians even have a phrase for it: “agosto é o mês de desgosto.”
Brazil was shocked when President Getúlio Vargas committed suicide on August 24 1954. President Jânio Quadros surprised the nation when he resigned on August 25 1961. And presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, a rising star in Brazilian politics, died in a plane crash on August 13 2014, throwing the country into mourning.
Mr Temer now flies to China with a cabal of ministers to attend the G20 meeting for his inaugural appearance on the international stage.