Friday, April 22, 2016

Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, at U.N. Climate Ceremony, Assails ‘Coup Mongers’
New York Times
APRIL 22, 2016

With the prospect of an impeachment trial nipping at her heels, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil appealed for international support Friday during a visit to New York, broadcasting her claims that the campaign to oust her from office was little more than a coup d’état.

Just days after legislators in the Brazilian capital voted to proceed with impeachment proceedings, Ms. Rousseff on Friday joined leaders and diplomats from 175 countries who gathered at the United Nations for a ceremony to mark the passage of the landmark agreement on climate change.

Citing the political crisis at home, Ms. Rousseff had initially said she would skip the United Nations conference, but abruptly reversed course on Tuesday after wading into a throng of cheering supporters outside the presidential palace in Brasília.

Proclaiming that her “soul had been cleansed,” she said she was newly determined to lead Latin America’s largest country and remain a key player in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To the relief of her opponents, Ms. Rousseff’s General Assembly speech made only an oblique reference to her battle with Brazilian lawmakers, who are seeking to remove her from office over charges that she illegally used money from state-owned banks to hide a looming deficit and improve her re-election prospects in 2014.

“I cannot conclude my remarks without mentioning the grave moment Brazil is undergoing,” she said. “Despite this, I must say that Brazil is a great nation, with a society that was able to defeat authoritarianism and build a vibrant democracy. Our people are hard-working and have great esteem for freedom. I have no doubt they will be able to prevent any setback.”

But in the afternoon, Ms. Rousseff went on the offensive, making her case to a group of reporters she had invited to the Brazilian ambassador’s residence.

She denounced her opponents, whom she described as “coup mongers” and “conspirators,” and said they would be judged harshly by history.

“In the past, coups were carried out with machine guns, tanks and weapons,” she said. “Today all you need are hands that are willing to tear up the Constitution.”

Mainstream Brazilian news outlets criticized her decision to seek international support in her fight against impeachment, describing it as a move that would besmirch the nation’s image.

“From her palace bunker, the president seems to feed the bizarre belief that the international press is prone to support her,” Folha de S. Paulo, one of the nation’s leading newspapers, wrote in an editorial. “This is a bad step, and Dilma Rousseff will only shake a little bit more, with her diplomatic negligence, the image of Brazil as a dynamic and stable democracy.”

Her opponents in Congress began a parallel public relations campaign, dispatching two deputies to New York. And Vice President Michel Temer, who would temporarily replace Ms. Rousseff during an impeachment trial, gave a series of rare interviews to the foreign media to express his concern over her decision to travel to New York.

Throughout the day, the president was shadowed by the two deputies, who sought to counter her arguments that the impeachment proceedings are a threat to Brazil’s young democracy.

“If this is a coup, how is it that she left the country and allowed her vice president to fulfill her duties?” José Carlos Aleluia, a federal deputy from the opposition Democrats Party, said in an interview. “The military is in the barracks, and when she returns to Brazil, she will once again be president.”

In another sign of her sinking fortunes, members of the nation’s highest court, which has already rejected appeals to have the impeachment petition quashed, added their voices to those criticizing her visit to New York, suggesting that future appeals to the court have little chance of succeeding.

“The responsible response would be to make a defense that respects Brazilian institutions and transmit a positive message about Brazil to the world — that it is solid democracy that works and that it’s institutions are responsible,” José Antonio Dias Toffoli, a Supreme Court justice, told Brazilian reporters on Wednesday.

His words carry weight: Justice Antonio Dias Toffoli is a former lawyer for the governing Workers Party who was appointed to the court by Ms. Rousseff’s predecessor and political patron, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Ms. Rousseff said that her critics back home were overreacting, and that she had never intended to make Brazil’s political crisis the focus of her United Nations speech.

In Brasília, the nation’s capital, impeachment proceedings are moving forward rapidly. The Senate, which will decide by a simple majority whether to accept the case, is expected to begin proceedings next month.

Ms. Rousseff would be suspended for up to six months during the trial. Most experts say she will most likely be convicted by a required two-thirds majority, making her the second Brazilian president to be ousted since democracy was re-established in 1985, after two decades of military rule. A former Marxist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured during the military dictatorship, Ms. Rousseff has vowed not to give up, and a group of her supporters say they will take to the streets next week and shut down key roads across the country.

“I will fight with all my strength,” she said as the cheers of demonstrators outside on the street drifted into the room. “I am willing to fight to ensure that Brazil does not become a country where democratic rule is broken.”

Yet with Brazil suffering its worst economic crisis in decades and the public furious over a corruption scandal involving the national oil company, many Brazilians are eager to see her go.

Melyvn Levitsky, a former United States ambassador to Brazil, said he thought Ms. Rousseff’s international public relations campaign would do little to help.

“Congress is operating under its own laws, so I would not consider this to be a political coup,” he said. “This is a crisis made in Brazil by Brazilians. At this point, I don’t think international solidarity is going to help her at all.”

Paula Moura contributed reporting from São Paulo, Brazil.

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