Impeachment Theater of the Absurd in Brazil
“When an unfair trial is conducted by interests that are unmentionable but that everyone already more or less knows, a sort of veil of cynicism is created, and it obscures legitimate social and political processes.” This observation by the Brazilian writer Maria Rita Kehl sums up the context in which the impeachment of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff is unfolding. One can also compare it to Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness, and his metaphor to describe the suffering of those who are able to see when a society plunges into a process of self-destruction.
The impeachment is aimed at distracting from the very real crimes perpetrated by the congressmen sanctimoniously casting judgment on the president. Since the beginning of the process, it was clear that the main charge brought against president Dilma Rousseff, based on an accounting mechanism characterized as “fiscal pedaling” (“pedaladas fiscais” in Portuguese), had the barely hidden objective of curtailing investigations of corruption against Congress members and implementing a conservative agenda that has consistently been rejected by the majority of Brazilian society in presidential elections since 2002.
These are the keys to understanding why Brazil is experiencing a parliamentary coup against a recently reelected president.
As the Brazilian Congress prepares to try Rousseff, the main strategy of the political sectors that support her impeachment is to create the impression that it is a de facto done deal, no matter what the constitution may say. This political theater has had so many absurd and pathetic scenes that it could be described as surreal. It started with the vote in the lower house, where the majority of representatives are under investigation for corruption and cited God and their families during the impeachment vote, while failing to mention the actual charges against Brazil’s elected president. A similar situation took place in the Senate, where the main strategy during the vote was to avoid discussing the reason for accusing President Rousseff — the so-called “fiscal pedaling.”
Basically, this “fiscal pedaling” refers to a sort of financial mechanism used not only in Brazil, but in the issuing of public debt in various countries. President Obama similarly maneuvers during the fall 2013 standoff with Republicans over the debt ceiling. With regard to the specific charges against President Rousseff, the federal prosecutor determined that the deficit served to subsidize interests rates in governmental loans, which was one of the mechanisms used to prevent economic recession. This policy can be debated and criticized from an economic perspective, but there is no legal basis that justifies impeachment. One element that has been absent from this discussion is the interpretation of legislation regarding “fiscal responsibility,” which is often used against “socially responsible” policies that guarantee citizens basic rights to social services.
Recent analysis of the case by the federal prosecutor, Ivan Claudio Marx, concluded that this mechanism cannot be considered a crime, and cleared President Rousseff of the charge. However, this very important determination was minimized by the Brazilian media and by pro-impeachment politicians. As new evidence is released, it becomes clearer that the verdict against President Rousseff had been decided even before the beginning of the political theater called “impeachment.”
This type of manipulation would not be possible without the support of Brazil’s major media outlets, which have mostly abandoned even the pretense of objectivity. The good news is that there is a growing number of independent, alternative media sources, which present accurate information from diverse perspectives.
In the meantime, Brazilians continue to watch the pathetic scenes performed by the interim government of Michel Temer, such as the resignation of three ministers accused of corruption and the release of audio recordings that revealed their plan to remove President Rousseff from office. The greatest tragi-comic act featured the main actor supporting the impeachment process, former lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, who was forced to resign in disgrace. This happened under the silent “veil of cynicism” that envelopes the Supreme Court, which possessed evidence of Cunha’s corruption months before the beginning of the impeachment process, but only ordered him to be temporarily removed as speaker only after the lower house impeachment vote against President Rousseff.
Returning to the observations of Maria Rita Kehl, there is a “veil of cynicism” obscuring “legitimate social and political processes” — in other words, a series of events that could bring to power far-right, evangelical and conservative forces in Brazil, and justify violations of basic rights in relation to education, health care and labor laws, with devastating social and economic effects. Trampling fundamental democratic principles could have long term consequences in a country that still suffers from the profound legacy of military dictatorship that began in 1964 and lasted for over twenty years.