The Final Hours of Brazil’s Once All-Powerful Couple: Lula and President Rousseff

Dilma and Lula during a political rally in Curitiba, in 2010. By Tarso Cabral Violin

Dilma and Lula during a political rally in Curitiba, in 2010. By Tarso Cabral Violin Suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s former economy minister testified Saturday that Rousseff did not break any laws justifying impeachment, as her trial closed in on next week’s climax.

Rousseff is accused of taking illegal state loans to help bridge budget shortfalls and mask the true state of the economy during her 2014 reelection campaign. The president argues the charges are trumped up and amount to a right-wing coup.

Former economy minister Nelson Barbosa and Rio State University law professor Ricardo Lodi were the final defense witnesses brought to testify that Rousseff did not break the law or harm the economy, which is now in deep recession

“There is nothing remotely illegal,” Barbosa said. “You cannot act retroactively with a new interpretation of the law.”

The same argument was delivered Friday by a first batch of Rousseff witnesses who said that such budgetary maneuvers have long been common practice and that Brazil’s economic decline was entirely unrelated.

Dilma and Lula during a political rally in Curitiba, in 2010. By Tarso Cabral Violin

Her accusers laid out their case on the trial’s opening day Thursday, arguing that Rousseff was criminally irresponsible and helped run once booming Brazil into the ground.

Tension is building ahead of Monday when Rousseff, from the leftist Workers’ Party, will take the stand for the first time and face her accusers.

She will be accompanied by her mentor and predecessor in the presidency, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula rose from poverty to found the Workers’ Party and become one of Brazil’s most popular presidents ever before helping Rousseff take his place.

The once all-powerful pair are now demonized by the middle class, blamed for Brazil’s economic shambles and tainted by the revelation of a gigantic corruption scheme at state oil giant Petrobras which peaked during the Lula presidency.

Lula’s presence and Rousseff’s allegations of a plot to destroy 13 years of Workers’ Party rule will make for a highly charged atmosphere in the deeply divided Senate where a shouting match broke out Friday, forcing the session to be suspended.

Final arguments will follow Rousseff’s testimony, then the voting session, which will include speeches by each senator, with the final result expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

Two thirds or 54 out of the 81 senators must vote for impeachment to force Rousseff’s immediate removal. The latest estimates by opposition senators and major Brazilian newspapers is that the pro-impeachment side is on track to win.

The current acting president Michel Temer – Rousseff’s former vice president turned bitter enemy – would then be sworn in to occupy the post until 2018 elections.

Since he took over the temporary job with Rousseff’s suspension in May, Temer has installed a new center-right cabinet with a market-friendly message that has won plaudits from investors.

Brazil’s economy shrank 3.8% in 2015 and is forecast to drop a further 3.3% this year, a historic recession. Inflation stands at around 9% and unemployment at 11%.

Social movements opposed to the impeachment of the president started to pitch their barracks in Brasília on Sunday.

The number of buses with militants arriving in the Brazilian capital city is far lower than for the vote on the admissibility of the impeachment in the House of Representatives in April.

The Workers’ Unified Movement (CUT), which leads the mobilization, said they hope to gather at least 5,000 people on the esplanade of the ministries this Monday, when Dilma comes to the Senate for her defense.

The militants, mostly peasants, promise to stay camped in Brasília until the final vote of the senators.

Mercopress/ABr

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