Friday 20 July 2018

Brazil's Dilma Rousseff defiant over impeachment bid

Dilma Rousseff signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at the UN's headquarters in New York (AP)
Dilma Rousseff signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at the UN's headquarters in New York (AP)
Dilma Rousseff signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at the UN's headquarters in New York (AP)

Brazil's president has said she will appeal to South American trade blocs if she is removed from office, condemning the push to impeach her as a coup and a naked attempt by the country's elite to snatch power back from her Workers' Party.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Dilma Rousseff said both the Mercosur and Unasur trade blocs had democracy clauses that she would invoke if there should 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," Ms 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 were beginning to support her, not necessarily because they agreed with her policies, but because they saw the impeachment move as a threat to Brazil's democracy.

The impeachment proceedings against Ms Rousseff stem from allegations that illegal accounting tricks allowed her administration to maintain government spending to shore up flagging support. Her critics say that also hid deficits that contributed to the country's worst recession since the 1930s.

Ms Rousseff has defended such fiscal manoeuvres 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.

But the lower Chamber of Deputies did not agree, voting on Sunday in favour 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 Ms 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 has reported that more than half the 81 senators have said they will vote to consider impeachment, meaning Ms Rousseff may soon be suspended.

Bringing the matter before the trade blocs would probably 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 is unlikely they would want to risk alienating a new administration in Brazil if it looks like Ms Rousseff is on her way out.

Ms 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.

Ms Rousseff was in New York to address the United Nations at Friday's signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Many in Brazil had expected her 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 Mr Temer, sharply criticised Ms Rousseff for travelling to New York, arguing that the impeachment movement was legal and that the president should not be bad-mouthing Brazil to the rest of the world.

Speaking to reporters after her UN speech, Ms Rousseff pointed out that many of the people leading the impeachment drive against her, including Eduardo Cunha, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, were 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," she said.

In Brazil, attorney general Rodrigo Janot said investigators ere looking into six new cases of corruption against Mr Cunha.

Press Association

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