08 Sep 2016

A sad chapter for Brazilian democracy

On 31st August, a sad chapter was written in Brazilian history as the world looked on: President Dilma Rousseff, legitimately elected with close to 54 million votes and the first woman to have led the country, was ousted by the Brazilian Senate.

Although this is a result with dangerous possible consequences, it has not come as a surprise. Since the beginning of the impeachment process, it was clear that the dice were loaded. On the day following the 2014 election that led Rousseff to office, the right-wing opposition made it clear that it would not democratically accept the result of the ballots, having been defeated by popular vote for the fourth consecutive time. After calling for a recount, a baseless request promptly rejected by the Electoral Courts, they started to organize demonstrations demanding her impeachment without providing any concrete evidence for it. Finally, they used budget decrees that had already been used several times by former presidents – as well as by state governors of all parties – as a pretext, even though several technical and legal opinions had already indicated that they were lawful.

The decision had therefore already been taken. The majority of the Senate, made up of representatives from the country’s conservative sectors and economic elites, had already decided to interrupt Rousseff’s term of office at any cost, and with it the cycle of left-wing governments in Brazil, which, over more than a decade, sought to revert neoliberal policies and achieved results regarding social inequality and poverty reduction recognised all over the world.

To attain this objective, the inconsistency and feebleness of the motives did not matter. It did not matter that President Rousseff was not directly involved in any accusations of corruption, unlike the very parliamentarians who judged her, most of whom have been served with process or have had criminal charges filed against them. It did not matter that the procedure had been initiated by Leader of the House of Representatives Eduardo Cunha, against whom the evidence of illicit enrichment is sufficient to warrant his arrest. It did not matter that interim President Michel Temer, Rousseff’s successor, had low levels of popularity. It did not matter that important and respected national and international jurists, intellectuals, journalists and personalities had spoken up and protested against the coup that was taking shape.

The outcome of the plot was already on the cards, as were its objectives: to restore the neoliberal project in Brazil with a radical program of adjustments, privatization and removal of labour rights that would never have been approved by popular vote, and which therefore could only be carried out by a government without any commitment to or consideration for the will of the people.

The role played by the greater media in Brazil must be also cited in this process. Yet again, they have been crucial allies in promoting a democratic breakdown in the country. Had they been a little more neutral and serious – like much of the international media, whose coverage turned out to be more reliable than that of the national media – many sectors of Brazilian society would have better understood what was at stake and might have reacted. Unfortunately, this understanding will now happen in practice, once the loss of rights becomes evident.

The impeachment process came to an end this Wednesday. But history has not. Brazil’s democratic and progressive sectors have reiterated that, just as the narrative of time has been unforgiving with those who took part in the 1964 military coup, so will this chapter go down in history as a grave attack against democracy and people’s rights, declaring guilty all of those who have colluded with this farce.

One thing is certain: those who saw Rousseff in her trial at the Senate and during her speech after the result was announced are in no doubt that she has come out of this process much stronger than she was when it began. The same can be said of all those who have fought on her side. Among them, there is the lofty sentiment of those who know they are on the right side of history. And those on the right side never give up clamouring for justice. Democracy will win in Brazil, and sooner than those who have struck it down expect.

© UN Photo/Mark Garten, 2014

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