Brazil's Rousseff suspended to face impeachment trial
BRASÍLIA, Brazil (5th UPDATE) – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was suspended Thursday, May 12, to face impeachment, ceding power to her vice president-turned-enemy Michel Temer in a political earthquake ending 13 years of leftist rule over Latin America's biggest nation.
A nearly 22-hour debate in the Senate closed with an overwhelming 55-22 vote against Brazil's first female president. Pro-impeachment senators broke into applause and posed for selfies and congratulatory group photos in the blue-carpeted, circular chamber.
Only a simple majority of the 81-member Senate had been required to suspend Rousseff for 6 months pending judgement on charges that she broke budget accounting laws. A trial could now take months, with a two-thirds majority vote eventually needed to force Rousseff, 68, from office altogether.
Within hours, Temer, from the center-right PMDB party, was to take over as interim president, drawing the curtain on more than a decade of dominance by Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party.
He was preparing to announce a new government shortly and said his priority is to address Brazil's worst recession in decades and end the paralysis gripping Congress during the battle over Rousseff.
A onetime Marxist guerrilla tortured under the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s, Rousseff has denounced the impeachment drive as a coup and vowed to fight on during her trial.
She was expected to be officially notified of the vote's result at 10 am (1300 GMT) Thursday and was planning to address the nation around the same time. A crowd of supporters was gathering outside the presidential palace to salute her as she drove off, a spokesman for the Workers' Party told AFP.
Battered by crises
Due to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in less than 3 months, Brazil is struggling to stem economic disarray and handle the fallout from a corruption scandal reaching deep into the political and business elite.
The latest target of a sprawling probe into the graft was Senator Aecio Neves, who narrowly lost to Rousseff in the 2014 presidential elections and was one of the senators voting to impeach Rousseff. The Supreme Court authorized a probe into his alleged bribe taking and money laundering overnight.
The multiple crises have wreaked havoc on the Workers' Party, whose transformative social programs have lifted tens of millions of people from poverty since 2003, but which has been portrayed as increasingly incapable of governing.
Senate President Renan Calheiros, who oversaw the proceedings, told reporters that impeachment would be "traumatic."
And divisions were plain to see outside Congress, where police erected a giant metal fence to keep apart small rival groups of demonstrators. Riot police pepper sprayed a group of Rousseff supporters late Wednesday and pro- and anti-impeachment protesters also scuffled briefly in Rio.
Even though the impeachment vote came in the middle of the night, residents in central Sao Paulo – Brazil's financial center and an opposition stronghold – set off fire crackers, banged pots, and yelled "Dilma out!" from their windows.
'Stain' or 'new day'?
Senators made their cases in 15-minute blocks, alternately describing Rousseff as the cause of Brazil's humiliating economic decline or defending her as victim of a coup in a deeply corrupt political system.
Jose Eduardo Cardozo, Rousseff's attorney general, delivered a passionate closing statement, telling senators that they were "condemning an honest, innocent woman" whose supposed crimes amounted to nothing more than a long accepted accounting practice.
"If this is carried out, it will break constitutional order. If it goes through, it will be a coup that leaves a stain on our history," he said.
But Neves – who is just one of dozens of senators facing or who have faced criminal cases – said "Brazil can now start to turn a new page."
"I have no doubt that Brazil will have a new opportunity and we need to unite," he said.
Even some of those opposing Rousseff doubt that a change of power will resolve the country's underlying problems of corruption and mismanagement.
Pro-impeachment protester Sulineide Rodrigues said that even if she wanted Rousseff out, she had few hopes for Temer improving things.
"We don't think Temer will be any better," said Rodrigues, 59.
"But you know what we'll do? We'll keep coming back and keep having impeachments until there's someone there who listens to us Brazilians." – Sebastian Smith, AFP / Rappler.com