Impeaching Dilma

The impeachment will turn out badly.

The lower house of the Brazilian Congress has voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. The middle-class anti-Dilma crowds in the streets of big cities are ecstatic. At last the PT will be brought to account for its corruption! The smaller pro-Dilma working-class crowds are despondent. The right-wing plot to reverse the results of the 2014 reelection by a rigged quasi-judicial process is succeeding.

Not so fast. “Fewer than ten” of the 511 deputies voting, by a wearisome roll-call with mini-speeches, bothered to mention the actual impeachment charges, preferring to emote about their families, the flag, and so on. (Colin Snider, h/t Erik Loomis at LGM; I watched a part of the vote on TV). They are here, in Jovair Arantes’ report to the committee that tabled them for the vote.

What the anti-corruption crowds want to see is Dilma answering for her well-paid work as a government-appointed director of Petrobras while the parastatal oil major was shovelling $2.8 billion in bribes, slush funds and kickbacks to PT and other politicians. They are not going to get this. The charges are budgetary irregularities. That’s what the trial in the Senate will be about – unless it turns into a kangaroo court, bringing in corruption allegations with no semblance of due process.

The alleged offences are mind-bogglingly technical stuff I’m not competent to assess. More’s the point, the fiddles have it seems been common practice in previous administrations and state governments, and were only recently made illegal. The Congress has other, political means of remedying the ills, like refusing to adopt a budget until the objectionable spending is legitimised or unwound. The impeachment trial will fizzle as spectacle, and once the public realizes what is going on, a conviction will not obviously be in the political interest of the senators.

The other view, represented by Glenn Greenwald’s piece here, is that it’s a nefarious right-wing plot. The one claim of his I can assess from direct observation is media bias, and I don’t see nearly enough of it to explain what is going on. The powerful Globo network is conservative, sure. But it’s the Telegraph or BSkyB more than Fox or the Daily Mail. Where does it give platforms to hard right agitators, the way Fox News does in the USA, or headline stories of immigrant welfare scroungers? The key media mechanisms of the protests have been Twitter and Facebook, which are chaotic and can’t readily be controlled. Where is the Brazilian equivalent of tweetmeister Donald Trump?

The timeline doesn’t work either. When Dilma was first elected, the Brazilian rich had some reason to be alarmed. Perhaps she would revert to her youthful radicalism and follow Chavez into left-wing populism. She is now five years in, and there is no sign of this. Her administration has SFIK taken no major new initiatives on anything. It’s been content to safeguard Lula’s legacy. The rich can sleep safe. She is deeply unpopular with all classes, from her failure to prevent the commodities-driven recession, and a conservative victory in the next election is very likely. Why take very risky steps to overthrow her now?

A rival theory. The recession and the corruption revelations have made not only the PT but the entire political class deeply unpopular. 59% of the Brazilian Congress, left and right, are under investigation for “serious charges including bribery, electoral fraud and homicide”. The key driver of the impeachment process is Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker, himself under investigation for receiving bribes from Petrobras and holding undeclared Swiss bank accounts. Attacking Dilma makes sense as a path to political survival: if Dilma falls, he will become the conservative hero of the hour. A good many of those who voted for impeachment face the same incentives. The whole thing, on this analysis, is basically just opportunism.

It won’t turn out out well. The charade risks discrediting not only the existing parties but democracy itself. So far there is no Strong Man visible in the wings, but one could emerge any time. Reforming an entire political and administrative culture without revolution of left or right is extraordinarily difficult. As merely an irregular visitor I have no suggestions as to how to do it. But this impeachment will not help.

PS The Al Capone argument
They got Al Capone for tax evasion, not murder and bootlegging. Wasn’t that OK in the circumstances?
1. Al Capone was definitely guilty of tax evasion, it wasn’t a made-up or grey-area offence.
2. The reason he didn’t declare his income was that it came from crime. There was a direct link between the lesser offence, for which there was evidence that could stand up in court, and the criminal activity for which there wasn’t.
3. The claimed purpose of the impeachment is to restore integrity to Brazilian politics. You can’t do that by a fundamentally dishonest prosecution.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

5 thoughts on “Impeaching Dilma”

  1. Interesting. I wonder how they finance campaigns there. Here in the US I think we all take our political system much too much for granted. We have some of these same issues, psychologically. It worries me that we don't do anything to shore up our own … legitimacy, is I guess the word. (I haven't read, or don't remember, that famous theorist on legitimacy though… so I could be wrong.) Meanwhile our real news organizations are having money troubles. It's not good.

  2. I'm curious about why we call her Dilma, but we don't call Merkel "Angela". Much in the way the media speaks of Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, but then it's all first names, Bernie and Hillary, when reporting on the Democrats. Is the Left of the spectrum that much more familial and hail-fellow-well met, that we think of them as friends and family?

    I rather think not. I think the media does it (perhaps sub-consciously) as a means of either infantilizing them, positioning them as somehow to be taken less seriously — or, in the case of Left Of Center women, simply patronizing them. You rarely saw "Maggie" in any serious articles in the 1980s, nor Indira, nor Golda. But I bet if Kirchnerism was more of a regional trend, you'd start seeing her referred to as Chrissie. And of course we refer to Somosa and Bautista and Stroessner, but it's Fidel and Che and Hugo and Evo for their counterparts on the Left.

    1. Brazilians use first names and nicknames a lot. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is Lula to friends and foes alike. Former president Cardoso is often "Fernando Enrique", Aecio Neves "Aecio" - and they are conservatives. Footballers usually have one workname, which may be a surname (Rivelino), first name (Gérson, Neymar), or nickname (Jairzinho, Pelé).

      There's a story about François Mitterand, Socialist President of France, culturally a country gentleman from the Nièvre in central France. A younger Socialist minister, at the end of a long working tête-à-tête, took a chance and remarked, "François, n'est-il pas temps qu'on se tutoie?" To which Mitterand glacially replied, "Si vous voulez."

    2. There may be several factors involved, but I doubt right vs. left is among them. On the right we've had Ike (Eisenhower), Dubya, his brother Jeb(!), and his Secretary of State Condi. In the case of Dilma Rousseff, I suspect that it's a confluence of two things: (a) U.S. media may be taking its cue from Brazilian media and contacts, and (b) "Rousseff" doesn't suggest Brazil to U.S. hearers. I'm reminded that U.S. media seemed to refer to Alberto Fujimori by both first and last name rather a lot, and I think it may have been because simply calling him "Fujimori" would lead people to think of the wrong country. "Merkel," on the other hand, sounds perfectly German, and "Angela" leaves one with the problem of whether to use the German or the English pronunciation.

      As for Hillary and Bernie, their campaigns use their first names-in Clinton's case for obvious reasons, and quite possibly in Sanders' case because the nickname evokes the image of a straightforward, approachable man-of-the-people (cf. Ike, Dubya, etc.). It also allows slogans like "Feel the Bern," while "Sanders" doesn't have much going for it in memorability, uniqueness or slogan construction potential.

      Of course, had the Republican primaries gone rather differently, we could now be looking at somebody almost invariably called Jeb and somebody else at least frequently called Marco battling it out.

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