Neoliberal Offensive and the Death of Democracy in Brazil

The successful execution of this coup, which masqueraded as a legitimate impeachment trial, sets a dangerous precedent for Latin America.

A protest sign during a rally against Rousseff

By Maria Luisa Mendonça

The impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff represents a parliamentary coup by right-wing politicians who face serious corruption charges and have not been able to win presidential elections since 2002.

The alleged basis for the impeachment was her use of a common financial mechanism of borrowing funds from public banks to cover social program expenses in the federal budget.

Recently, the federal prosecutor’s office concluded that the budget deficit served to subsidize interests rates in governmental loans in order to provide credit for low-income housing and agriculture.

The federal prosecutor stated that this mechanism cannot be considered a crime.

Other national and local administrations have used this same mechanism, including her predecessors Lula da Silva and Fernando H. Cardoso, as well as 16 current state governors.

The senators who voted for the impeachment ignored the decision of the public prosecutor, who should be the main authority to determine if the accusations had legal basis. The main strategy of the interim government of Michel Temer, who is banned from running for office for eight years due to violating election laws, was to create a de facto situation, so the result of the trial against President Rousseff was a foregone conclusion, even before she presented her defense.

The impeachment votes in the Senate and in the Lower House were predictable, since most lawmakers expressed their opinions previously. Most House members declared that they were supporting the impeachment in the name of God, or their families. One member even praised a former military commander who tortured Rousseff during the military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 until 1985.

These are key facts to understand why Brazil is experiencing a parliamentary coup.

Several Congress members in favor of the impeachment face serious corruption charges. Former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who initiated and conducted the impeachment vote on April 17, has since been forced to step down on charges of corruption and maintaining illegal Swiss bank accounts. The Supreme Court had received evidence against Cunha at least six months before the vote in the lower House, but conveniently let him orchestrate the impeachment approval.

De facto President Temer, along with seven ministers appointed by him, are also under investigation for corruption charges. Temer has been acting very fast to push neoliberal reforms and austerity cuts to social programs, including education, health care and retirement plans, which will create more economic and social instability. These austerity measures will increase economic inequality and unemployment. His cabinet consists of the most conservative sectors of the political spectrum, representing an agenda that has been rejected by Brazilian voters in consecutive elections since 2002.

Mainstream media in Brazil has played a major role in the impeachment process by creating the idea that Rousseff’s removal from office was needed to solve the economic crisis. For more than a year, the main television stations called for demonstrations against her government. At the same time, the demonstrations in defense of the democratic process that re-elected Rousseff in 2014 were mainly ignored by mainstream media.

The international community needs to support democracy in Brazil. Before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Brazil for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, 43 House Democrats sent him a letter expressing serious concerns about the US role in undermining democracy in Brazil. At that time, Secretary Kerry avoided a meeting with Temer, but met with the interim minister of foreign relations, Jose Serra, who has been accused of receiving millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions.

Latin American countries have experienced traumatic regime change coups in recent years, in Honduras, Paraguay and now in Brazil. Acceptance of an illegitimate government sets a dangerous precedent for the whole region, and the risk of undermining democracy can have traumatic impacts for many years.