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Brazil Senate debates fate of Rousseff, final vote Wednesday

By Peter Prengaman and Mauricio Savarese Associated Press

BRASILIA, Brazil – Senators deciding whether to oust President Dilma Rousseff headed into a long night of debate Tuesday, with so many wanting to speak that the judge presiding over the impeachment trial put off the final vote until Wednesday.

Many of the 81 senators signed up to speak, prompting Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski to announce that the vote could not happen Tuesday as originally planned. He said the trial would adjourn after all senators finished speaking, then resume Wednesday morning.

Earlier Tuesday, the prosecution and defense made their final arguments.

Janaina Paschoal, the lead lawyer presenting the case against Brazil’s first female president, said the suspended leader had broken fiscal responsibility laws in managing the federal budget.

“We are not dealing with a little accounting problem; we are dealing with fraud,” she said.

“It wasn’t just that a president lied,” she added. “The fraud was spoken and the fraud was documented.”

Wrapping up her presentation minutes later, Paschoal came to tears when she said she hoped Rousseff would be forgiving for “having caused her to suffer.”

Rousseff’s attorney, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, also got emotional after presenting his defense and called Paschoal’s teary comments “insulting.”

The presentations came in the final phase of a political fight that has consumed Latin America’s largest nation since an impeachment measure was introduced in the lower Chamber of Deputies late last year.

For Rousseff to be removed, at least 54 of the 81 senators must vote in favor. Local media have reported that at least 52 senators have said they will vote for ouster, while roughly 18 are opposed and 11 have not said. In May, the same body voted 55-22 to impeach and suspend her.

Allies of Rousseff have signaled that if she is removed from office, they will take the case to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court. Several motions seeking injunctions were filed to the court throughout the impeachment process but failed.

Opposition senators accuse Rousseff of using illegal means to hide holes in the federal budget, saying that exacerbated a recession, high inflation and layoffs.

Rousseff, a former guerrilla fighter who was tortured and imprisoned during the country’s dictatorship, calls that nonsense. She says she broke no laws and notes that previous presidents used similar accounting measures.

On Monday, she mounted that defense in the Senate, arguing that she was forced to make tough choices on the budget in the face of declining revenues and a refusal by opponents in Congress to work with her.

“I know I will be judged, but my conscience is clear. I did not commit a crime,” Rousseff told senators in a 30-minute address.

Rousseff had sharp words Monday for her vice president, Michel Temer, who took over when she was suspended and will finish her term if the Senate permanently removes her.

She called him a “usurper” who in May named a Cabinet of all white men in a country that is more than 50 percent non-white. Temer’s Cabinet has been roundly criticized for its lack of diversity, with three ministers were forced to step down within a month of taking office because of corruption allegations.

Rousseff asserted that impeachment was the price she paid for refusing to quash a wide-ranging police investigation into the state oil company Petrobras, saying that corrupt lawmakers conspired to oust her to derail the investigation into billions in kickbacks at the oil giant.

The probe has led to the jailing of top businessmen and politicians, including members of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. Watchdog groups estimate 60 percent of the 594 lawmakers in both chambers are being investigated for wrongdoing, many for corruption related to the Petrobras probe.

Rousseff said it was “an irony of history” she would be judged for crimes she did not commit, by people accused of serious crimes.

One of the initial speakers Tuesday, the fifth day of the trial, was Sen. Fernando Collor, who resigned the presidency in 1992 after being impeached by the Chamber of Deputies.

At the time, he was accused of corruption. Today he is one of the lawmakers facing accusations of corruption in the sprawling scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras.

“This is totally different,” Collor said, hinting that he would vote for Rousseff’s removal, listing alleged mistakes that the embattled leader made in office.

Collor said he, and not Rousseff, was a victim of a “coup.”

Her Workers Party was a key driver of Collor’s removal from the presidency.

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