Editor’s note: On August 31, Brazil’s Senate voted 61-20 to convict Rousseff on charges of manipulating the federal budget, thus ending 13 years of Workers’ Party rule and setting the stage for interim President Michel Temer to remain in office until 2018, the end of the current term.
On July 19 and 20, I served as a juror for the International Tribunal for Democracy in Brazil, held in Rio de Janeiro. The tribunal was modeled on the Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, that put US foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam on trial in the 1960s.
The tribunal was organized by Via Campesina International, the Brazil Popular Front, and the Brazilian Jurists Front for Democracy, and was supported by several academic and grassroots organizations, such as the Landless Workers Movement (MST).
The social movements in Brazil invited me and eight other jurors from various European and Latin American countries to analyze and render a judgment on what they described as a “break in the democratic process” and “a new type of coup.”
The tribunal was tasked with examining the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff that was unleashed in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies. This past April, the anti-Rousseff forces secured the simple majority vote necessary to begin the impeachment process, with each deputy required to state his or her reason for their vote for or against impeachment. Tellingly, hardly any of the pro-impeachment deputies gave as their reason the “crimes” for which Rousseff was being impeached.
The Senate recently voted to go forward with the impeachment. Sometime in the next few days, the Senate is set to hold a final vote on whether to permanently remove Rousseff from office and install former Vice President Michel Temer until the 2018 election.
The official reason for impeachment—that Rousseff improperly moved funds from a federal bank to cover cash-flow shortfalls in government programs (all the funds were repaid to the federal bank)—is a practice that Brazilian presidents have used in the past and is not a crime. Rousseff has not been accused of any personal enrichment or of being connected with Brazil’s widespread political corruption.
Impeachment should require indisputable evidence of the commission of a crime by the president. As is clear from the wording of the Constitution, impeachable offenses are serious and are committed intentionally against legal interests directly linked to the structure of the Constitution and, consequently, the Brazilian state. The applicable law does not include budgetary accounting errors or funding shortfalls as impeachable crimes.