Rousseff

© Andy Katz

Was Rousseff’s Impeachment a Coup?

Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer have accused each other of being putschists. So who’s right?

Since December 2015, when the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff first began, the debate in Brazil has centered on whether or not it was a coup. In her first speech after being ousted from the presidency, Rousseff said she is being replaced by a mob of crooked putschists. Michel Temer, on the other hand, said: “They are the putschists, as they don’t want the constitution to be followed.”

In South America, the word coup is often associated with tanks on the streets, soldiers dictating a curfew, political arrests and torture. None of that happened in Brazil. Yes, former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff did disobey fiscal legislation—an offense punishable by the loss of the mandate. Yes, the ritual went as the constitution says it should—and it took eight long months to be concluded.

So, technically speaking, we can’t call it a coup. But if only things were that simple.

If we take a look at the Portuguese dictionary, the word golpe, or coup, can also be translated as the use of a ruse to accomplish something.

Opponents to the impeachment claim that the process, while legal, was anything but legitimate. It was initiated by a notoriously corrupt politician: former Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha.

Allies of the new president, Michel Temer, were caught on tape saying that a change of government was in order to stop anti-corruption investigations from “bleeding” the political class dry. And the crimes that led Rousseff to her political demise—fiscal mismanagement—have all been committed in the past by Brazilian leaders since the arrival of the Portuguese on our shores.

So, was it a coup or not?

Rodrigo Augusto Prando, a Brazilian political scientist, likes to say that an impeachment process is like a plane crash: “There isn’t a single cause, but it is rather the effect of a plethora of mistakes leading to the disaster.”

In the case of Rousseff, he cites her difficult personality; the personal feud between herself and Cunha; the bad blood between the government and industrials; the awful economic results of her administration; and the fact that she was a woman in a sea of powerful men. Any of those reasons are not crimes punishable by impeachment, of course. So, does that reinforce the coup theory?

Not for historian Rosa Schwartz, a professor at the Mackenzie University in Sao Paulo. She says that although a conspiracy was certainly in motion, calling it a coup would be an exaggeration. The historian believes that we have indeed witnessed a political rupture, the result of a crisis that has deeply wounded the federal government, the Workers’ Party and the Brazilian left as a whole.

“It is hard to predict how this episode will be seen in the future, but my guess is that historians will say that nothing has really changed: Those who always held power in Brazil kept it. What changes is that the new government, unlike the precedent ones, doesn’t seem to care much for underprivileged populations,” Schwartz says.

Since the 1980s, when Brazil returned to democracy, different administrations have, to different degrees, carried out policies to reduce the social disparities in Brazilian society and lower poverty. The first signals sent by President Temer and his crew are not along those lines, as he has slashed programs dedicated to assisting women and racial minorities.

Whether or not we have undergone a coup, the outlook of Brazil’s near future is somber. Wherever you look, there seems to be more doubt than certainty. Not even the entire implications of the impeachment vote of August 31 are yet known, as the senate made an unprecedented decision to not suspend Rousseff’s political rights.

“The Brazilian political system creates many distortions. Even in the best-case scenario, things are not likely to get better in the next few years,” says Augusto Prando.

Since 2013, when political demonstrations erupted across the country, Brazilians have become more vocal about their disenchantment with the current status quo. Dissatisfaction tends to grow, as a large part of the Brazilian society now feels that their votes in the 2014 election were not respected.

“It will be hard to make people believe in politics, but they must realize that there is no alternative to politics,” states Augusto Prando.

Schwartz holds a similar point of view: “The moment we are going through reminds me of May 1968, when the French youth rejected the two dominant models: the Soviet and the American way. Brazilians may not yet know exactly what they want, but they are sure about what they don’t want. Once the dust settles, they must organize themselves to make their voices heard.”

*[This article was originally published by plus55, a partner institution of Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Andy Katz


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