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What’s Going on in Brazil?

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Our good friend Colin Snider has an excellent primer on the craziness going on in Brazil, with President Dilma Rousseff impeached yesterday. This is well worth your time.

The voting took nearly six hours, and was quite the spectacle. Each deputy was given the chance to briefly state why they were voting, and the responses were….various. The causes cited for voting to impeach Dilma included, but were not limited to: for their wives; for their mothers; for other family members (including grandchildren whose birthday it was yesterday); God; because they didn’t want (and I’m quoting here) his “kids to learn about sex in school;” for “peace in Jerusalem” (no, really); and against “children changing their sexes in school” (no – really). The racist, misogynistic, and homophobic dictatorship apologist Jair Bolsonaro went so far as to dedicate his vote in favor of impeachment to the late Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, one of the military regime’s worst torturers who from late 1970 to 1974 oversaw the very center where Dilma, and hundreds of other Brazilians, were tortured.

Suffice to say, none of these issues actually addressed the actual issue at hand in impeachment – the pedaladas fiscais, or “fiscal maneuvers” in describing the federal government’s financial situation in 2014. Of course, as I discussed here, this was not an impeachable offense – it was not made illegal until last year, and both the center-right PSDB’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and PT’s Luis Inácio Lula da Silva had used the practice, as had well over a dozen sitting governors in 2014. Some deputies voted in favor of impeachment “against corruption,” but even that was not the issue at play here. Yes, there are numerous corruption scandals involving Petrobras, the Lava Jato investigation, and kickbacks, but the pedaladas fiscais are not a part of the actual corruption scandals. Dilma herself has not been tied to any of the corruption scandals; indeed while her name is absent from both the Lava Jato investigation and, more recently, the Panama Papers, the opposition is rife with politicians directly tied to both, including Eduardo Cunha, President of the Chamber of Deputies who led the impeachment campaign. That’s not to say there may not be something uncovered later, but impeachment is a reactive, not proactive, political action. Ultimately, fewer than 10 deputies actually addressed the issue at hand – the pedaladas fiscais. Perhaps Dilma’s use of them was unconstitutional (though given the historical precedent, that seems unlikely), but nobody bothered to really make that case.

More systematically, the hypocrisy was on display over the issue of corruption itself. Corruption is a real issue in Brazil, as evident yesterday – not in the actual impeachment vote of Dilma itself, but in the fact that around 300 of the people voting yesterday are directly tied to corruption, criminal activity, fraud, money laundering, etc., but remain in office either due to parliamentary immunity or to a more general climate of impunity in which investigations into and punishment of very serious cases of electoral fraud and corruption move at a snail’s pace and rarely lead to any real punishment. The fact that the sitting president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros (also of the PMDB) has been tied to multiple corruption scandals and even briefly resigned (only to be re-elected), and that Cunha was discovered to have millions of dollars in a secret Swiss bank account (something he vehemently denied until the evidence was incontrovertible) is evidence of that fact. As for the unequal move toward justice, Cunha oversaw yesterday’s impeachment of Dilma while he himself is a defendant in the Supreme Court over that very corruption scandal and his ties to Lava Jato. As one deputy put it, “I have never seen so much hypocrisy per square meter,” and she wasn’t really being unfair.

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