The final phase of the epic impeachment of Brazil’s President went on late into the night on Tuesday, with tears, drama and a considerable amount of rhetorical grandstanding by senators who lined up to have their moment on centre stage.
Dilma Rousseff, 68, is on trial by the senate for financial manipulation, accused of having papered over holes in her government’s budget caused by a ballooning recession, using improper loans from state banks. She confronted the senators directly on Monday, with a powerful address in which she evoked her past fighting for democracy against a military dictatorship, and then relentlessly parried question after question for more than 14 hours.
However Ms. Rousseff stayed away on Tuesday, leaving the floor to lawyers who spoke for and against the impeachment – followed by more than 60 senators who did the same. A final vote is expected some time on Wednesday.
The first moment of high emotion came when Janaina Paschoal, a Sao Paulo criminal attorney who filed one of three petitions in the original impeachment request, argued in favour of conviction. She accused Ms. Rousseff of “fraud” that violated the country’s fiscal responsibility law. But she concluded by asking for Ms. Rousseff’s pardon.
“I apologize to the President, not for having done what I have, because I could not have done otherwise in these circumstances, but because I know her situation is not easy,” she said, her voice breaking. Ms. Paschoal, 42, is a fervent anti-Communist best known for a frenzied speech she made at a pro-impeachment rally in April.
In the Senate on Tuesday, she began to weep briefly. “I think she understands I did it all thinking of her grandchildren.”
Ms. Paschoal was followed on the stand by Ms. Rousseff’s defence lawyer, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, a former minister of justice, who for an hour described the suspended president as the victim of a parliamentary coup, in an eloquent but relatively measured address.
But outside the upper chamber, Mr. Cardozo, too, began to cry – overcome, he said, by Ms. Paschoal’s invocation of Ms. Rousseff’s two grandchildren.
“You don’t condemn someone saying you’re thinking of the future of their grandchildren, you just can’t do that,” Mr. Cardoozo, a 57-year-old veteran advocate for Ms. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, told reporters who gathered around him as he left the Senate. “This is wrong, it’s unjust. … Someone who loses the ability to be disturbed by injustice, loses their humanity. That’s why I’m emotional.”
This last stage of the political drama that has consumed Latin America’s largest country for the best part of a year will likely conclude on Wednesday when the senators vote on the impeachment. Fifty-four of the 81 senators, the number required to pass the motion, have so far said publicly that they intend to do so, despite frantic last-minute lobbying by Ms. Rousseff’s one-time political mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Among the most closely watched of the senators who spoke was Fernando Collor de Mello, the last Brazilian president to be impeached, in 1992, after mass demonstrations over accusations about his personal corruption. Mr. Collor resigned the presidency in a failed attempt to stave off impeachment, but has served in the Senate since 2006. He said the “crooked ways” of the Brazilian political system “leads inevitably to the use of impeachment as a solution to crisis … we cannot escape this.”
If Ms. Rousseff is impeached, the remaining two years of her term will be served by her Vice-President, Michel Temer, who has been filling the post since the formal impeachment proceedings began in May.
Only a tiny crowd of pro-Rousseff supporters have come out in Brasilia as the hearing has dragged on, and there were only small demonstrations in other parts of the country. Esther Solano, an expert on political engagement in Brazil with the Federal University of Sao Paulo, said that left-wing movements are disillusioned with the Workers’ Party – while the right senses imminent victory and sees no need to go to the streets.
Nearly all the senators who argued in favour of impeachment on Tuesday invoked corruption, referring to the vast graft scandal known as Lava Jato, in which many senior figures from the Workers’ Party have been jailed, are charged or are under investigation. But the charges extend to almost all other parties, too. If Mr. Temer becomes president, then Brazil will have a head of state, and the next two in line behind him, who all face bribery allegations. Ms. Rousseff has never been charged with any personal enrichment.Report Typo/Error