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Brazil: President’s Attempt to Have Courts Bar Impeachment Fails, Debate Begins

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s attempt to have the Supreme Court throw out an impeachment attempt in the nation’s Congress has failed, and now the legislature will vote on whether to impeach her at 2:00PM Sunday Brasilia time.

Rousseff faces impeachment for passing executive orders that some in Congress argue violate the nation’s finance laws, though calls for her ouster from the public are also closely related to a corruption investigation known as “Operation Car Wash,” which has implicated a number of close Rousseff confidantes in the socialist Workers’ Party (PT). Rousseff’s supporters, including the nation’s attorney general, argue that impeaching her is a “Kafkaesque” move intended to execute a coup d’etat against her government.

Rousseff herself has compared the impeachment process to Nazi Germany. “First, you put a star on someone’s chest and say, ‘He is a Jew.’ Then you put him in a concentration camp. Such intolerance cannot happen in our government,” Rousseff said of the process earlier this month.

The Supreme Court disagreed, rejecting attorney general Jose Eduardo Cardozo’s argument that the court should prevent the vote from happening. The court’s decision allowed for debate on impeachment to begin on the congressional floor Friday. Cardozo then took his case there.

“This process of impeachment qualifies as an institutional breakdown and an act of unparalleled violence towards democracy,” he told the legislature, emphasizing that Rousseff has not been accused of any wrongdoing in Operation Car Wash. “There is no charge against the President. None,” Cardozo argued. “In a country with historical and structural corruption, with the Car Wash investigation and several people being investigated, you want to remove a president without any serious accusations against her?” he asked.

Legislator Miguel Reale Jr. took the floor to argue the other side before Cardozo gave his speech. He dismissed Rousseff’s accusations of a coup, turning the word on her. “A coup is when the financial situation of the country has been masked, when immense public expenses continued to be made and it was necessary to take out loans from Union-controlled financial institutions to apparently hide the Treasury’s bankruptcy,” he argued.

Rousseff will give a speech herself in her defense on Brazilian television Friday night. She is expected to rail against the “illegitimacy of the conspirators” looking to impeach her, according to the newspaper O Globo and reiterate the talking point that her impeachment is a coup. The newspaper notes that the president has not made a speech in months, and for the first time since assuming the office, she did not address the nation on International Women’s Day. Her last speech was an address to warn the Brazilian people to take care against the Zika virus, but her message was largely drowned out by Brazilians in 14 cities banging pots and pans to drown out her voice coming from private homes. The protesters banged their pots — a traditional Brazilian form of protest — despite the speech having no political message. A similar response is expected Friday.

O Globo predicts the pro-impeachment congressmen have the votes they need to force Rousseff to step down, to be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer.

Pro-Rousseff protesters have begun blocking roads in Sao Paulo, the nation’s largest city. For seven hours on Friday, the pro-socialist group halted traffic entirely, causing a traffic jam spanning 12 miles. While much smaller in number, leftist protesters have caused significantly more problems for law enforcement. Leftists have infiltrated pro-impeachment protests to start fights and intervened to intimidate pro-impeachment protesters. The largest protests in favor of impeachment, on the other hand, have remained largely peaceful, including the March 13 protests that brought 3.4 million Brazilians to the streets of more than 40 cities.

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