BRASILIA – Expressing outrage over the congressional vote to open impeachment proceedings against her, President Dilma Rousseff says she will not resign and vows to keep fighting the forces arrayed against her.
The defiant comments came at a Monday news conference at the presidential palace, which was Rousseff’s first public appearance since the Chamber of Deputies voted 367-137 the previous night to send the impeachment proceedings to the Senate for a possible trial of Brazil’s first female president.
The proceedings against Rousseff are based on accusations that her administration used illegal accounting tricks that allowed government spending to shore up flagging support before elections.
Rousseff has said previous presidents used such fiscal maneuvers without repercussions and calls the accusations against her an act of “violence against democracy.” She says the claims against her are really a flimsy cover for Brazil’s traditional ruling elite to grab power back from her left-leaning Workers’ Party, which has governed for 13 years.
“I’m not going to cowed; I won’t let myself be paralyzed by this,” Rousseff said, adding: “I have the energy, strength and courage to confront this injustice.”
Rousseff repeated the words “indignant,” ”injustice” and “wronged” dozens of times, and she reiterated her argument that she hasn’t done anything illegal and is thus the victim of a “coup” orchestrated by political foes.
“Today more than anything I feel wronged — wronged because this process doesn’t have any legal basis,” she said.
The president took aim at her nemesis, lower house Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who has been the driving force behind the impeachment move and is the No. 2 in line to succeed Rousseff. While pushing for her removal, Cunha has been charged with taking $5 million in bribes in a sprawling corruption scheme at Brazil’s state-run Petrobras oil giant.
The Petrobras investigation has implicated many of the country’s leading political players, including Vice President Michel Temer, who would fill in for Rousseff if the Senate votes to put her on trial.
Rousseff herself has not been implicated in the case or charged with any other crime.
“There are no bribery accusations against me, no accusations that I accepted illicit payouts. I wasn’t accused of having foreign banks accounts,” she said.
Sunday’s impeachment vote has heightened the uncertainty already plaguing an increasingly polarized Brazil, which is struggling with the worst recession in decades and the corruption scandal while also preparing to host the Olympic Games in August.
With the impeachment documents handed over from the lower house to the Senate on Monday, Rousseff’s fight for survival will now focus on winning support in that legislative body, where an initial vote on impeachment is expected in about two weeks. If a majority of senators vote to put Rousseff on trial, she would be suspended while the vice president took over her duties.
There are no bribery accusations against me, no accusations that I accepted illicit payouts. I wasn’t accused of having foreign banks accounts.”
-Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil
Rousseff has insisted her relationship with the Senate is much better than with the Chamber of Deputies, but the administration appears to have a tough road ahead. According to news reports, 45 of the 81 senators have indicated they intend to vote in favor of an impeachment trial.
Under the complicated guidelines for impeachment, it would be at least 40 days until Rousseff’s fate is decided. However, the speed of the process depends on Senate leader Renan Calheiros, who could potentially drag out for months any trial and final decision on whether she should be removed from office.
Analysts are skeptical she will be able to hold onto power, noting she failed in Sunday’s lower house vote to win the support of parties that had long been part of her governing coalition.
Rousseff was picked by once highly popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to succeed him. She had never held elected office before becoming president and quickly gained a reputation for a prickly leadership style and perceived reticence to play the political game.
She also has been hurt because the galloping economic growth that buoyed Silva’s eight years in office began to flag after Rousseff took office in 2011, and she only narrowly won re-election in 2014. Her popularity has plunged in step with the economy’s slide, and opinion polls suggest most Brazilians support her ouster.
But at the same time, many people have strong reservations about those in line to replace Rousseff, with much of the country’s leadership besmirched by corruption scandals.
“I want to see all the corrupt politicians in jail,” said Gerivaldo Oliveira, a taxi driver in the capital. “Brazil needs a clean slate; otherwise we’re lost.”