Brazil president in last-gasp appeal against impeachment

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff launched a last-minute bid Tuesday, May 10, to block impeachment proceedings against her in what could be her final hours in power.

Her lawyers said they would appeal to the Supreme Court to annul the proceedings before the Senate gathers Wednesday, May 11, to vote on whether to suspend her from office and launch an impeachment trial.

The result of what is expected to be a marathon voting session may not be final until Thursday, May 12.

If Brazil's first woman president is pushed out, her vice president-turned-enemy, Michel Temer, will take over.

Ever-defiant, Rousseff made a fiery last stand ahead of the Senate session, vowing to serve out her full term.

"I am going to fight (impeachment) with all my strength, using all means available," she told a women's forum in Brasilia.

Repeating her oft-used line that the impeachment process is a "coup," she said Brazil was entrenched in "a fight for democracy."

"These people can't win the presidency through a popular vote, because we're not going to vote for their project, which is a project to dismantle Brazil," she said, lauding the social gains made under progressive programs launched during 13 years of rule by the left-wing Workers' Party.

In an already chaotic week in which the interim speaker of the lower house tried to order the upper house to halt impeachment proceedings – only to back down hours later – there was no patching over the sprawling South American country's deep divisions.

Lawmaker Jose Guimaraes, a Rousseff ally, said that despite almost certain defeat in the initial Senate vote, the impeachment trial itself would be an all-out fight.

"We will have 180 days in the Senate, talking with every one of them, to get them to change their minds," he told journalists, warning that "our main fight today will be in the streets."

Security and shadow cabinet

Police responded to heightened tension by building a huge metal barricade outside Congress to separate rival groups of protesters during the Senate vote. A separation corridor 80 meters (yards) wide and more than a kilometer (half a mile) long will also be enforced.

A square where major government institutions are located will be declared a "national security zone" and made off-limits to the public, Brasilia security authorities announced.

Huge anti-government protests and smaller but still significant pro-Rousseff rallies have been a regular feature in Brazil over the last year, but so far have passed off peacefully.

As Rousseff prepared for her Senate showdown, the man who would replace her continued to work on assembling a new government.

Temer is a veteran center-right politician but has rock-bottom popularity and would inherit the crumbling economy, now in the deepest recession Brazil has seen for decades.

He has made no public pronouncements in the immediate runup to the Senate vote, but Brazilian media reports suggest he is negotiating with allies on ministerial posts and measures that Congress would pass to try to breathe some life into the economy.

Stocks in Sao Paulo rose more than 4% as the overwhelmingly anti-Rousseff markets bet that Rousseff was on her way out.

Corruption and 'coup'

The Senate impeachment trial could last months, running through the Olympics, which open in Rio de Janeiro on August 5 – a first for South America.

Fears over the Zika virus, high crime in Rio, pollution in the sailing and some swimming venues, along with a budget crunch, are already hurting preparations for the Games, and there are worries that political instability could overshadow the event.

Rousseff is accused of using accounting tricks and unauthorized state loans to boost public spending during her 2014 re-election campaign.

She argues the same accounting techniques were used regularly by previous governments and fall far short of an impeachable offense.

Further complicating the outlook for Brazil is the huge, ongoing corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.

Dozens of high-ranking politicians and some of the country's richest businessmen have been implicated in the multibillion-dollar bribery and embezzlement scheme, which flourished under Rousseff's predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Rousseff is being probed for alleged obstruction of justice, Lula faces money-laundering charges and some of their fiercest opponents, including the runner-up in the 2014 elections, have also been investigated.

A probe has not been opened against Temer, but a key witness, Senator Delcidio do Amaral, has accused him of taking part in the scheme. – Damian Wroclavsky, AFP / Rappler.com