Brazil’s Congress voted yesterday, Sunday, to impeach centre-left president Dilma Rousseff. Right wing opposition MPs gloated and cheered. Supporters of the Workers Party (PT) government shouted “coup”.
Hundreds of thousands of people had joined both pro- and anti- government demonstrations across Brazil. Outside the congress building in Brasilia a specially built wall separated 25,000 protesters into rival rallies.
Rousseff is accused of manipulating government debt figures in order to win her re-election in 2014.
There is more anger around the corruption scandal at state oil firm Petrobras, which took place on Rousseff’s watch and involved senior PT figures. But the opposition parties out to topple her were even more implicated.
More than 150 MPs are under investigation for crimes—most of them on the side voting for impeachment.
If the Senate votes to proceed with impeachment, vice president Michael Temer is in line to lead a provisional government while Rousseff stands trial. Speaker of the house Eduardo Cunha has led the drive for impeachment.
They are rank hypocrites. Cunha was implicated in the Petrobras scandal. Temer presided over it as much as Rousseff did and has faced several corruption investigations itself.
Some of the opposition represent the worst of South America’s right wing. Far right MPs dedicated their votes to former dictatorship figures. Jair Bolsonaro even singled out for praise the colonel in charge of the unit that tortured Rousseff, then a pro-democracy guerrilla fighter.
The PT made the most of Brazil’s economic boom to increase funding for the poor at the same time as promoting business. As crisis sweeps developing economies, that model is no longer possible.
The right and the rich want to make sure the pain falls on workers on the poor. But they will face resistance from unions and social movements.
And even if Rousseff falls the right will struggle to cobble together a coherent government.
Brazil’s congress is fractured into many small parties competing for favours—and the anger against corruption they have helped whip up could turn against any of them.
Even on pro-impeachment protests, led by the right and dominated by the middle class, many people say they are angry at all the politicians. The anti-impeachment side is backed by unions that have led militant strikes, and powerful social movements such as the Landless Workers’ Movement.
The PT congress leader Jose Guimares vowed, “The fight is now in the courts, the street and the senate.” But the courts and the senate are packed with hostile establishment figures. And the forces that can win on the streets are the very sections of society under attack from the PT’s own austerity.
To organise them successfully will take more than the PT’s vision of compromise with the bosses.
Workers need to mobilise independently against the right-wing threat, without simply lining up behind Roussef.