On Sunday the 17th of April, the Brazilian congress voted “yes” (with a large majority) in impeaching President Dilma Rousseff. The decision is now in the hands of the Senate, which will most likely vote in favor of impeachment. Though I am a Brazilian who despises the Rousseff government, I have mixed feelings about the impeachment itself.
Dilma and her workers party (PT in Portuguese) ran a disappointing government in Brazil. Her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, took over the country in 2002 with an honorable proposition to focus his government on helping the poor. His main plan, the “bolsa familia” (a reformulation of other existing social welfare plans) consisted of providing financial aid to low income families whose children were students. Along with an adequate use of the strong currency the previous government was able to create and some of Lula’s welfare plans, Brazil’s poverty rate decreased by about thirty percent, marking the country’s GDP as the 10th biggest in world, and guaranteeing Lula the reelection in 2006.
Despite his early success, shameless corruption scandals tainted Lula’s presidency, effectively driving a wedge of distrust between the Brazilian people and Brazilian politicians. These scandals involved major party figures of PT and many of Lula’s political allies, including José Dirceu, one of Lula’s most influential ministers. In 2010, with strong support from Lula, Dilma Rousseff, also from PT, was elected president. Not only did the corruption scandals increase during Rousseff’s government, they bankrupted Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, in a scheme known as the “petrolão”. Brazil’s international debt grew 33 percent, putting Brazil through one of the biggest economic crisis of its history; unemployment rates are now at 10% and growing.
Even still, in 2014, Dilma won reelection by a very small margin (3.82%). However, in 2015, trying to understand what was going in Petrobras–of which Dilma was the CEO–Federal Judge Sergio Moro launched an investigation called “Lava Jato.” Not only did investigators conclude that at least $2 billion dollars had been stolen from the company, but hundreds of politicians- pro and anti government alike were convicted of participating in one of the biggest corruption schemes in the country’s history. In March of 2016, evidence arose that former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself took million dollar bribes from Petrobras. Curiously enough, a week after that announcement, Dilma Rousseff nominated Lula as one of her Ministers, effectively granting him immunity from conviction. Fed up with this scenario and the country’s economic crisis, millions of Brazilians marched the streets soliciting Dilma’s impeachment and supporting the Lava Jato investigation.
Though many believe that she is guilty of being involved in the petrolão, there still is no actual proof of Dilma being personally corrupt. Legally the impeachment session runs based on her ‘dressing’ up the country’s economy to guarantee her reelection. She did this by delaying the payment to certain banks to make it seem like the government had more money than it actually did, creating an illusion of a stable economy. Though Dilma is unscrupulous in her tactics, Brazilians still argue if this is reason enough to impeach her. Although the power to impeach someone is a strong sign of democracy, actually impeaching the head of a country who was chosen by popular vote implies that this nation has failed as a republic, creating a sense of disillusionment within the democratic system.
At first sight, cooking the books doesn’t seem like a formidable enough reason to impeach a president, however, the extent of Dilma’s corruption continues. During the years of 2013 and 2014, Dilma Rousseff’s government failed to transfer over $12 Billion to certain national banks. The national treasury distributes its tax money to these banks so they can provide certain services such as welfare programs and electrodomestic necessities. Because of this delay, a snowball effect of delayed payments hit the social programs, immediately harming those in desperate conditions. Almost all public institutions started to suffer from severe cuts. Later, the same banks started to default payments on the electric sector, a straight jab at the economy. Dilma kept delaying these payments, especially during her reelection year (2014), to make it seem like the treasury had more money than it had. Known as “pedalada fiscal” in Portuguese, delaying payments is illegal and is the main reason Dilma is being impeached. Other presidents have been known to use the same immoral strategy, but not at this scale. Both of Dilma’s predecessors in 16 years of government had 7 combined delayed payments totaling about $300 million. In the last 4 years, Dilma has allegedly delayed payment 19 times, with a deficit at least 30 times bigger ($12 billion) than both her predecessors combined. This huge deficit contributes to the current economic crisis.
Moving any type of money to “cook the books” is wrong and unconstitutional, especially to the degree Dilma did. Impeaching her for such irresponsible and immoral behaviour seems like a rightful punishment. Just because her predecessors were able to get away with such crimes it doesn’t mean she deserves to walk free of charge. Brazilians are not familiar with the idea of an honest government, but impeachment could be a sign that we won’t tolerate corruption anymore.
Impeaching Dilma will not guarantee an honest government. Vice President Michel Temer, who will take over the country in case the impeachment goes forward, is being accused of participating in innumerous corruption schemes in the Lava Jato investigation. Even the man who leads the impeachment process, Eduardo Cunha, is also convicted of participating in the Lava Jato scheme and having millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. It’s almost as if Rousseff’s impeachment serves as a reward for politicians that are more corrupt than she.
Dilma’s impeachment would only be the first step to a long cleaning process Brazil needs in its government. We need to ensure that if we go through with the impeachment, we won’t stop there. Otherwise this whole process is just not worth it.