NYT: Dilma Rousseff and Brazil's political scandal: Reporters answer your questions
Nothing is clear in Brazil's murky political crisis
Simon Romero, the Brazil bureau chief for The New York Times was online with Andrew Jacobs, a foreign correspondent, and Greg Winter, the Latin America editor, for an hourlong discussion on Thursday May 19, about Brazil's political crisis and the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
Review the transcript of their discussion with readers below:
Beyond all the bombastic rhetoric, Brazil's crisis boils down to a classic power struggle.
The lawmakers pushing for impeachment claim that Dilma Rousseff, who has been suspended as president, illegally manipulated the budget to hide the country's economic problems. Her supporters claim that traitors are ousting her in a coup. What's undeniable is that Ms. Rousseff's rivals – many of whom were her allies until just a few weeks ago – turned on a politically embattled leader to rise to power themselves.
The lawmakers voted on Thursday to suspend Ms. Rousseff, whose sagging fortunes embody widespread anger at corruption and a battered economy.
Given the clear maneuver to the right and to the violation of human rights, why hasn't President Obama spoken up about the issue? Do you believe the claims that the CIA is sponsoring the coup?
A lot of Brazilians want her impeached, too. So there must be something more than just politics going on.
That's definitely true. A lot of it has to do with the economy. When Brazil was booming, Ms. Rousseff's party – the Workers' Party – was popular despite big scandals because its was delivering the goods economically. People were coming out of poverty, they were buying consumer goods like refrigerators and plasma TV's, they were sending their kids to college with the help of financial aid from the government.
But then the boom sputtered out and it became clear that a lot of Brazil's economic problems were self-inflicted. This crisis made Ms. Rousseff extremely vulnerable.
Although President Obama has largely stayed out of the conflict, a White House spokesman last week, responding to the Senate vote on trying Ms. Rousseff, seemed to come out in support of the impeachment process. During a press conference, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the White House was confident that Brazil could effectively manage its political crisis. “This is an outcome that many observers expected,” Mr. Earnest said. “The president does continue to have confidence in Brazil's political institutions to withstand the turmoil there.”
Jose, Da Silva - Reader
Is it it not a coup? Why?
What happens if, after 180 days, the case isn't closed and Dilma isn't finally ousted?
In Brazil, anything can happen, especially the unexpected. It's been said that a week in Brazilian politics is like a month in most other countries.
But it would seem that Ms. Rousseff stands little chance of surviving impeachment. The Senate, which will be trying her, seems inclined to find her guilty – last week, more than two thirds of its members voted to begin an impeachment trial (a conviction requires a two-thirds majority among the Senate's 81 members).
And while some of those senators could theoretically change their minds, the political winds do not bode well for Ms. Rousseff. Her approval ratings are in the single digits. With the economy in tatters and the electorate furious over a huge corruption scandal, public sentiment suggests that most Brazilians want to see her go. That said, anything can happen within the next six months, which is the outer limits for an impeachment trial. Stay tuned for what will likely be a wild ride.
Brenda, D. - Reader
My opinion as a brazilian: since 2014, our country was divided in two huge groups, one who support Dilma and another that hates the political way she governs. She wins for a minor difference, with the votes of a especific region of country, and this fact reforced all prejudice between the brazilians.
Saulo, Chico, CA - Reader
For the embattled middle class of Brazil, hasn't the last two years wiped out most of their life savings through the Petrobras scandal? Wasn't Dilma in charge of Petrobras before she became President? Isn't a lot if this anger at her inability to manage and keep corruption out of one of the largest oil companies in the world?
Regarding the Obama administration's response to the crisis in Brazil, Michael Fitzpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, has disputed the notion that a coup is underway. In doing so, his stance stood in contrast to those of diplomats from countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Bruno, Villela - Reader
If she is being accused of budget manipulation. Why the governors and mayors in Brazil that did the same manipulation are not under impeach process?
This antagonis show us that she is being ousted because of the lack of support on congress.
Impunity has a long history in Brazil, and part of it boils down to the special protections afforded to lawmakers in the nation's Congress. By some estimates, more than half of the 594 members of Brazil's Congress face legal challenges, including serious crimes like kidnaping and murder.
But legislators who are accused of wrongdoing, whether it's bribery or murder, can only be tried by the nation's highest court. With roughly half of the nation's senators and deputies of the lower house facing malfeasance, the Supreme Court is mighty busy these days. Once you factor in appeals and legal maneuvering, trials can drag on for years, and in the meantime, the accused can remain in office until they are convicted.
The last couple of years have been brutal for Brazil's economy. I've interviewed many people who have lost their jobs, some of whom were working in the energy industry. Petrobras itself has fired tens of thousands of workers as it grapples with both low oil prices and the huge graft scandal. Dilma Rousseff, of course, was the chairwoman of the board at Petrobras during the period when the bribery at the company was thriving. Still, she claims that she didn't know anything about the corruption at the oil giant.
One reader from Brazil asks, “How many past presidents, state governors and city mayors, in Brazil, used, in the past, the same creative accounting as Dilma without getting impeached? Why, only this time, a politician got impeached by a budget issue?”
When I spoke to Dilma two weeks ago, she pointed this out, noting that in fact many other elected officials have engaged in the same kind of budget manipulation and were not punished. Experts agree that this is in fact true. But critics say seeking vindication from a crime by claiming that others have done the same is no excuse. Some say that by prosecuting Ms. Rousseff for this impropriety is an important first step in putting an end to this practice.
Ms. Rousseff used the international platform to assert that the campaign to oust her from office is little more than a coup d'état.
alison, arruda - Reader
with the economic crisis and political, Brazil can be the target of ISIS? We are fragile for this kind of attack? or it would be if there were this kind of event?
There's been some chatter about potential terrorist attacks on Brazil, especially ahead of the Summer Olympics in Rio. Brazil stands in contrast to a lot of other countries in the West in that it hasn't been the target of terrorist groups in the past. Brazilians security officials have told me that they are prepared for such scenarios and have been cooperating with the intelligence and security counterparts from other countries.
With less than 100 days until Rio de Janeiro hosts the Summer Games, organizers say they are insulated from the country's array of problems.
Andrew, Concord, NH - Reader
What does Dilma Rousseff hope to gain by remaining in power? What is her end game?
Ms. Rousseff has said she is determined to fight to the bitter end, and her diehard supporters have said they will take to the streets to keep her in office. (So far, the crowds of anti-impeachment protesters haven't been especially large.) Many political analysts, however, say that if she were to stave off impeachment and fill out the remaining two and a half years of her term, the political gridlock that has stymied efforts to deal with the economic crisis will continue. Ms. Rousseff's political capital, many say, would be severely diminished.
Brenda, D. - Reader
Dilma is known for the lack of communication with congress. This definitively helps the process of impeachment.
Yes, this is a good point. Ms. Rousseff has been famously standoffish when it comes to members of the Brazilian Congress. Many legislators, both supporters and opponents, complained that she made little effort to communicate with them during her two terms in office. This, it seems, helped alienate a number of lawmakers and probably helped turn a few against her. I asked her about this a few weeks ago and she acknowledged the lack of dialogue but said her principles prevented her from making “dark deals” with unscrupulous deputies.
The legislature contains a dizzying cast of characters, and, by one count, more than half of its 594 members face legal challenges.
Beth, Sousa - Reader
We all know the “creative accounting” is not the real reason for the impeachment. The problem is her arrogance on dealing with the politicians. She made enemies that are avenging her.
Rogerio, Marcondes - Reader
In which way the “new economic matrix”, that Dilma and the minister Mantegna tried to develop, is responsable to break the honeymoon between PT and the major economics agents in Brazil?
Dilma's handling of economic policy was one of the most contentious features of her presidency. She shifted huge resources and power to the web of state-controlled banks and energy companies that are the heart of Brazil's model of state capitalism. For years, an array of huge Brazilian corporations sought to benefit from contracts with these public companies. And the BNDES, Brazil's huge national development bank, tried to nurture companies with close ties the government into so-called “national champions.” So, a big portion of the Brazilian business establishment profited from this model. But it also created a lot of tension among companies that wanted less state intervention the economy. This frustration, especially among the business elite in São Paulo, contributed to Dilma's ouster.
Andrey Buirin, New Orleans, LA - Reader
Could the Summer Olympics mark a turn for the better in terms of Brazil's political stability or will the Zika epidemic serve to mar its potential positive aftereffects?
The Olympics were supposed to be a chance for Brazil (and the city of Rio) to showcase their triumphs. Among the organizers, there's been a big sigh of relief that most of the venues will be ready by August. But big challenges remain, including mobility in Rio, a crime wave here this year and the Zika epidemic. So far, Zika has been one of those issues that's caused more concern outside the country than here in Brazil. Officials in Rio say there's not much cause for concern, citing the colder weather that produces fewer mosquito bites, while foreign epidemiologists have been warning people about the risks regardless of the changes in temperature and rainfall.
Jorge Pontual, NYC - Reader
The Times editorial last Friday on Brazil said that Dilma allowed the Lava Jato investigation, an obvious mistake as the MP is independent. You as correspondents wouldn't make that mistake. The editorial page gets no input from correspondents?
President Dilma Rousseff is right to question the motives and moral authority of the politicians who are seeking to oust her from office.
Good question. There is a very high wall between the reporting staff and the editorial writers at The Times. We don't speak to each other, which helps insulate reporters and editors from accusations of bias. It also means that the editorial writers, who do their own research, sometimes come up with controversial decisions – decisions that we reporters might not always agree with. But the process largely serves both sides well.
Anthony, Mendes - Reader
How Brazil's Supreme Court has reacted to all this political process?
Brazil's Supreme Court has accompanied the political crisis each step of the way with justices emphasizing that impeachment is allowed under the Constitution. They also moved – some Brazilians say late in the game – to remove Eduardo Cunha, the powerful legislator who led the push for Dilma's ouster in Congress, from his post as House speaker so he could face a trial over graft charges. As an aside, the Supreme Court also gained attention this week when investigators found a listening device in the chambers of one justice, raising the scary possibility that the court was under surveillance in recent months.
Brenda, D. - Reader
A few days after the new president takes the office, the external relations with some countries was affected. What's your opinion about that? (sorry, broken english)
Brazil's new foreign minister, José Serra, has promised to deliver a more activist foreign policy and is quickly going about doing so. First, he rebuked leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and El Salvador over their criticism of Dilma's ouster. Then he gave a speech in Brasilia this week announcing big changes in the way Brazil relates with the rest of the world. He emphasized the need for more bilateral trade agreements and stronger ties with Argentina, where Mauricio Macri is viewed as being more ideologically in tune with Michel Temer. This is a big change from Dilma's approach to foreign policy, which essentially lowered Brazil's international profile. Of course, this pivot could also create some diplomatic tension, especially in Latin America.
Adam, Washington, DC - Reader
What are your thoughts about Temer's new cabinet? Does it represent the radical shift to the right that some are claiming?
Duván, Ramirez-Linares - Reader
The problems behind the impeachment, can talk about the deep discomfort that exists on the fact that a woman, From the PT and his Party, manage the economy brazil?
Amanda, De Vecchi -Reader
ask if she regrets having been so insolent , superb and authoritative ? Ask her if his ministers hid the real situation of the country? Or if she thought that in Brazil the law is equal for everyone but not for her ?
One poll found that only 2 percent of Brazilians would vote for him. So he's arguably even less popular than Ms. Rousseff.
It's clear that Mr. Temer wants to make a big break from her. He picked an all-male, all-white cabinet – the first time a woman hasn't been on the cabinet in decades. His first choice for science minister was a creationist. He picked a soybean tycoon who has been a big participant in deforestation as his agriculture minister. So he signals a shift to the political right for the country.
Mr. Temer's cabinet was clearly designed to appeal to his allies in Congress, including parties that want Ms. Rousseff's ouster and those that will be essential for approving contentious reforms. But it was a public relations disaster. Like the United States, Brazil is an incredibly diverse society grappling with the toxic legacies of slavery and a long history of marginalizing women from the high echelons of government.
After the suspension of Ms. Rousseff, the first woman to be president of Brazil, Mr. Temer's choices were viewed in Brazil as a salvo in the nation's culture wars. Brazil has an increasingly powerful evangelical Christian bloc of legislators in Congress, which welcomed Mr. Temer's more conservative approach.
Interesting question. Dilma has addressed this head on, claiming that she is the victim of a highly patriarchal society uncomfortable with women in power. It's hard to know for sure if sexism played a role in efforts to remove her from office, but one thing us undeniable: Dilma is the nation's first female president, and there are only about 50 women serving in Congress, which has nearly 600 members. On a curious note, the Brazilian Women's Party, one of the nation's 35 political parties, has no women at all. That said, some critics say Dilma's sex had little to do with her low popularity, both among elected officials and the public, and that it was her gruff, uncompromising style that contributed to her downfall. One thing that has angered her supporters is that Mr. Temer's new cabinet includes no women.
anonymous, Morgan Hill, CA - Reader
Are any other government officials going to be tried for budget manipulation and be impeached/suspended?
Great question. Dilma herself has pointed out that her predecessors used the same strategies of budgetary manipulation. But her critics point out that none did so on the scale of Dilma's government. Her former finance minister and her former solicitor general have defended her budgetary policies. Outside of Brasilia, governors around the country have used so-called “pedaladas” to manage their budgets. But you don't hear many cries for their impeachment.
A number of ministers and other elected officials are under investigation – some 200 people in all, though some of those include business executives. Among them are Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house, who earlier this month was removed from office over charges that he took more than $40 million in bribes. With federal prosecutors and police newly empowered to take on high level corruption – and reform incidentally promoted by Dilma – many observers agree that plenty of other officials will be taken down. (That could include Lula, the former president, who has already been questioned in the Lava Jato scandal.)
Felippe Barbosa, New York, NY - Reader
What about the ministers involved in corruption and investigated in Lava Jato?
Levi Reader, M.
Are presidential elections a possibility in the near future for Brazil?
Well, each week in Brazil seems to offer new surprises! One possible scenario could involve new elections if a federal electoral court rules that ticket formed by Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer got illegal campaign financing. There's been some intriguing testimony in the Petrobras investigation indicating that this might be the case.
Vipin Bhatia, Delhi, India - Reader
Why, only Dilma Rousseff?? Is New President Mr Clean? I don't think so.
It's hard to find a part of the Brazil's political spectrum that hasn't been tarred by scandal. Michel Temer and his centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party are battling claims of wrongdoing. The Supreme Court recently ruled that Temer should not be investigated in relation to testimony connecting him to the graft schemes around Petrobras. But he faces other legal problems. An electoral court has ordered Temer to pay a big fine over violating limits on campaign financing. This ruling could also make him ineligible to run for office for eight years, creating the unusual scenario in which he has risen the presidency but could be barred from campaigning.
Mr. Temer's first pick for science minister was a creationist, and he is the first Brazilian leader in decades to have no women in his cabinet.
Many political analysts say the president's slow-motion downfall is tied to an autocratic persona and a go-it-alone work style that has driven away scores of political allies.
Many of the legislators calling for President Rousseff's impeachment are facing charges that some observers say are more serious than the accusations against her.
Thanks everyone. There are far more questions than we can answer now. But please check the articles by Andrew and Simon that we have posted in this chat. You can find links to those and other articles at the top of this page.
Read Romero, Jacobs, and Winter, articles from Brazil:
• Insider Account of How Graft Fed Brazil's Political Crisis
• Brazil Workers' Party, Leaders ‘Intoxicated by Power,' Falls From Grace
• Dilma Rousseff Targeted in Brazil by Lawmakers Facing Scandals of Their Own
• New President of Brazil, Michel Temer, Signals More Conservative Shift
• Dilma Rousseff, Facing Impeachment in Brazil, Has Alienated Many Allies
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This commentary was originally published by The New York Times, on May 19, 2016. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.
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