Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Friday she will appeal to South American trade blocs if she is removed from office, blasting the push to impeach her as a coup and a naked attempt by Brazil’s elite to snatch power back from her Worker’s Party.
Speaking to reporters, Rousseff said both the Mercosur and Unasur trade blocs have democracy clauses that she will invoke if there should be what she charged would be “a rupture in democracy” in her country. She warned her opponents that her impeachment would have “serious consequences for the Brazilian political process.”
“There is no judicial basis for this process of impeachment,” Rousseff said. “I am not accused of crimes of corruption, diversion of public funds, nor do I have accounts abroad or any accusations of money laundering.” She said even some members of the opposition are beginning to support her, not necessarily because they agree with her policies, but rather because they see the impeachment push as a threat to Brazil’s democracy.
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The impeachment proceedings against Rousseff stem from allegations that illegal accounting tricks allowed her administration to maintain government spending to shore up flagging support. Her critics contend that also hid deficits that contributed to the country’s worst recession since the 1930s.
Rousseff has defended such fiscal maneuvers as common practice in Brazil. She insists the accusations are a flimsy excuse by the traditional ruling elite to grab power back from her left-leaning Workers’ Party, which has governed for 13 years and is credited with pulling millions of Brazilians out of abject poverty.
The lower Chamber of Deputies didn’t agree. On Sunday, the body voted in favor of impeachment. The measure is now in the Senate, which is expected to decide by mid-May whether to put the president on trial. A simple majority vote by senators is needed to approve a trial, and Rousseff would be suspended for up to 180 days while it was conducted. During that time, Vice President Michel Temer would take over.
Over the last few days, Brazilian media reported that more than half the 81 senators have said they will vote to consider impeachment, meaning Rousseff may soon be suspended.
Bringing the matter before the trade blocs would likely have little effect. As the blocs’ biggest and most powerful member, and largest economy in Latin America, Brazil wields considerable influence. Leaders of some member countries, such as Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, might be sympathetic to her plea, but it’s unlikely they would want to risk alienating a new administration in Brazil if it looks like Rousseff is on her way out.
Rousseff blamed corrupt politicians in Congress, a hostile media and flagging economy for her woes and took no responsibility for the charges against her. “It’s a coup because you have a coup when the process that gets started has no basis. If in the past coups required tanks, machine guns, assault rifles, etcetera, today it’s enough to have hands that tear up constitutions, and that is what’s happening in Brazil,” she said.
Rousseff was in New York to address the United Nations at a signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on climate change. Many in Brazil had expected Rousseff to use the UN platform to make her anti-impeachment case to the world leaders gathered at the conference, but she made only a brief allusion to Brazil’s situation.
Opposition leaders, including Temer, sharply criticized Rousseff for traveling to New York, arguing that the impeachment movement is legal and that the president shouldn’t be badmouthing Brazil to the rest of the world.
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Rousseff pointed out that many of the people leading the impeachment drive against her, including Eduardo Cunha, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, are facing corruption allegations. She vowed to fight to stay in office until the next round of elections.
“I can’t say today what is going to happen. I just want to say that I will fight for my mandate. I think it’s absolutely correct today that I only respect direct elections,” Rousseff.
In Brazil, Attorney General Rodrigo Janot said Friday that investigators are looking into six new cases of corruption against Cunha. Janot didn’t provide details, but said they were not connected to earlier cases linking Cunha.