Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff did not mince words as she mounted her last defense before she will all but certainly be impeached from office, ending what has been a stream of constant attack by the media, judicial system and Congress since she was re-elected in 2014. In order to oust her definitively from the presidency, two-thirds of senators have to agree. It already seems like a foregone conclusion that these are the final hours of Rousseff as president.
Rousseff told senators today that she saw a clear parallel between the time she was infamously put on trial by the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985). The photograph of a young Rousseff standing before a military court has traveled the world, and today the suspended president harkened back to that past to talk about the scene unfolding in the Senate.
“During the fight against the dictatorship I suffered the scars of torture on my body. I witnessed my fellow citizens being raped and tortured. I was afraid of death, of the scars that torture left on my body and in my soul. But I resisted. Now, my only fear is for the death of democracy,” she said today.
“I can feel the bitter taste of injustice in my mouth once again,” the suspended president said.
Rousseff is accused of carrying out an allegedly illegal tax maneuver but she insists the claims against her are nothing more than a political conspiracy to oust her from office and roll back more than a decade of social policies that helped the country’s poor.
Much like the military court she faced during the dictatorship, many have been quick to point out this particular batch of lawmakers is not exactly the most honest bunch to be passing judgment on corruption. Those who will be deciding her political future make up a Congress in which more than 60 percent of lawmakers are under investigation for corruption. Rousseff noted today she was the victim of blackmail, saying the only reason her job is on the line is because she refused to end the investigation of former lower house president Eduardo Cunha. Even though Cunha’s ethics are more than a little dubious, he has so far managed to escape trial.
If she was scared, Rousseff made sure not to show it today and spoke with confidence as she made her case to the Senate. She did get emotional when talking about the Rio Olympic games. “Brazilians have regained their self-esteem despite all the grim forecasts,” she told senators. It was her allied predecessor, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s that lobbied for, and won, the right to host the 2016 Olympic. Despite that work, it was Michel Temer, Rousseff’s vice-president and the mastermind behind her impeachment trial, who was leading the government during the Olympics. Undoubtedly a hard blow for both Dilma and Lula.
Although she admitted “mistakes” she also insisted she is not guilty of any impeachable offense. “I am not giving you the obsequious silence of cowards,” she said in one of the most emotional moments of her speech. “I have not committed the crimes for which I am being judged today.” The suspended president also called her trial a “coup d’état.”
“I am being sentenced to political death”, she said.
In another portion of her speech, Rousseff accused her political opponents and Temer’s administration of sexism, noting how he failed to appoint any women as ministers when he first took power. “I’m the first woman ever elected to the presidency. I honor these women who have supported me throughout this process.” She reminded senators she was elected by 54 million voters while Temer is pursuing policies that have no backing at the ballot box.
“What’s at stake today isn’t my mandate, it’s the choice of the voters, the sovereign will of the Brazilian people and the constitution,” Rousseff added.
“The scariest threat brought about by this impeachment process … is to roll back by an unbelievable 20 years all expenditures on health, education, sanitation and housing,” she said.
Rousseff spoke at the beginning of what was the final scene in an impeachment process that has engulfed Brazil in turmoil for months. If Dilma is impeached, which seems inevitable, and new elections are not held, Brazilians will have to endure an extremely unpopular president for the next two years.
History isn’t likely to be kind on this chapter of Latin America’s biggest country.