The ousting of President Dilma Rousseff from office does little to further Brazil's battle against high-powered corruption networks, suggesting instead she was the loser of a battle amongst the country's powerful elites.
On August 31, Brazil's Senate voted 61 to 20 in favor of removing President Dilma Rousseff from office, reported The Wall Street Journal. The vote followed an impeachment trial against Rousseff -- who was suspended from office in May -- on charges she manipulated the federal budget to conceal Brazil's economic problems.
Rousseff's ousting ends 13 years of rule by her Workers' Party (Partido do Trabalhadores – PT), which began under her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in 2003.
In a separate vote, senators failed to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to ban Rousseff from holding office for eight years.
Michel Temer, who served as Rousseff's vice president and the interim president during her trial, was sworn in as president following the vote. He will serve out the remainder of Rousseff's term, which runs through 2018. Temer belongs to the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – PMDB).
Rousseff's administration had come under increasing pressure from a number of ongoing corruption scandals and Brazil's worsening economic situation. According to The Wall Street Journal, Brazil posted 7.6 percent GDP growth in 2010, when Rousseff was first elected, but the economy is expected to contract by 3.2 percent this year after shrinking 3.8 percent in 2015.
The ongoing investigation into corruption at Brazilian oil firm Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras), known as "Operation Car Wash," also damaged Rousseff's popularity. Inquiries into the scandal, which center on bid rigging and kickback schemes on inflated state contracts, have implicated at least 50 Brazilian congressmen and a number of top Brazilian business executives.
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As head of Petrobras' board of directors when much of the corruption in question occurred, Rousseff came under intense scrutiny and suspicion. So far, however, no evidence has surfaced implicating her in any wrongdoing in connection with that scandal.
Rousseff called the impeachment proceedings against her a "parliamentary coup," and defended her actions, saying, "I did not commit the crimes that I am arbitrarily and unjustly accused of," the BBC reported. José Eduardo Cardozo, Rousseff's lawyer, claimed the charges were punishment for her support of the Petrobras investigation, reported The Guardian.
Moving forward, President Temer's government faces an uphill battle reversing Brazil's economic decline and healing the country's political divides following Rousseff's highly contentious and polarizing impeachment proceedings. Temer is unpopular, with approval ratings of around 12 percent, and has been caught up in a scandal of his own regarding illicit campaign finance.
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The paradox of Rousseff's removal from office is that it resulted from relatively minor charges, and is not directly tied to the massive Petrobras corruption scandal. Ironically, many of the senators who voted for her ouster have themselves been implicated in wrongdoing by the Operation Car Wash probes. This includes Fernando Collor de Mello, a current senator who served as Brazil's president from 1990 until 1992, when he resigned before facing impeachment proceedings on corruption charges. Brazilian police raided Collor's private residence in connection to the Petrobras scandal in July 2015.
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Rather, it seems Rousseff has found herself a casualty of a battle being waged by Brazilian political and economic elites, particularly by members of the political opposition who have come under investigation. For instance, recordings surfaced in May of Romero Jucá, a leader of the PMDB party who Temer appointed to the cabinet of his interim administration, suggesting he was plotting to stymie the Petrobras investigation by pursuing Rousseff's impeachment.
Whatever the motives behind Rousseff's impeachment, her removal from office is unlikely to dramatically alter the status quo in Brazil and placate those fed up with high-level political corruption. Indeed, no evidence indicates Rousseff was the linchpin behind corruption at Petrobras, and her successor Temer has not been above suspicion in the case.
Nor do ordinary Brazilians seem to be under the delusion Rousseff's ouster represents the country turning a corner in eliminating government corruption. "I didn't vote for Dilma, but I have no reason to be happy today," The Wall Street Journal quoted a São Paulo web designer as saying following the Senate vote to remove Rousseff.
"Dilma leaves, Temer comes, nothing will change."