Did Dilma Rousseff’s ‘arrogance’ precede her fall?
It remains to be seen whether Brazilians will come to believe that the former president was on the right side of history.
“I may have many defects, but cowardice is not one of them.”
Firm and serene, Dilma Rousseff addressed Brazil’s Senate and its people on Monday for the last time as President of Brazil, showing that she would not go down without a fight. For a marathon 14 hours, she testified as the defendant in her impeachment trial, defending her record and questioning her foes, more than half of whom are under suspicion or investigation for corruption.
The only time her voice seemed to almost break was when she recalled the torture she had been subjected to in the 1970s after she was arrested and imprisoned by Brazil’s military dictatorship. She said she saw the face of death but always resisted.
“Today I continue to hold my head up high and look my interrogators in the eye,” she said, adding that Brazilian democracy would be condemned along with her.
Two days later, she was indeed impeached. She is now preparing to abandon the Presidential Residence, a place that had become her bunker for three months of suspension from office leading up to the trial.
The day after her impeachment, she was seen cycling around the grounds, looking almost relieved as she prepared to move to the city of Puerto Alegre to join her daughter and grandchild.
From the day in May when she was suspended by Congress, Rousseff knew that she stood little chance of surviving the impeachment trial, which she and her left-wing Worker’s Party described as a congressional coup d’etat.
“My conscience is absolutely clean,” she told the Senate. “I can look directly at those who accuse me and say that I did not commit the crimes that I am unjustly and arbitrarily accused of.”
Several senators told me, on and off the record, that she was being impeached on a technicality. She was accused of fiddling with public accounts to hide a budget deficit, using a technique presidents before her had regularly used without it being considered illegal.
Her real sin, they argue, was having driven Brazil’s economy into the ground while stubbornly refusing to foster a working relationship with Congress, a move which in most countries – but especially in Brazil – is a kiss of death.
Even one of her closest allies told me that she never understood that politics requires listening to everyone, even your adversaries, achieving a minimum consensus, and cutting deals.
“Dilma never, ever did that. She was stubborn to a fault. She was harsh and often arrogant. She never considered making concessions or negotiating. She even turned members of our own party against her, along with the Brazilian people,” I was told.
“Being a bad president, in a presidential system, this is not an impeachable offence,” counters Rousseff’s former Justice Minister and Attorney, Jose Eduardo Cardozo.
But apparently, it was, if not according to the Constitution, at least in practice.
And because she knew this, Dilma Rousseff’s final address to the nation was designed to be her political obituary as President.
“I will be on the right side of history even if the ground trembles and swallows us,” she said.
Millions of Brazilians may not see it that way, but for the impeached president and her supporters, Dilma Rousseff is now a political martyr, who, like Joan of Arc, went to the cross in defence of her principals.