Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Under Article 85 of the 1988 Federal Constitution, Impeachment is justifiable when the President commits a “crime de responsabilidade”. That article lists many specific illicit activities, essentially repeating the terms of Federal Law 1079 of 1950. The STF has already issued an opinion that Congress must follow Law 1079.
The statutory process began on Wednesday, December 2nd, when the President of the Chamber of Deputies accepted a petition for impeachment submitted by a former member of PT. The law provides that the accusation be read to Congress in its next session, which happened yesterday, December 3rd.
The next step is for the Chamber to form a committee comprising members of every political party represented in the Chamber — the latest estimate is 66 members. They are to start hearings immediately and have ten days in which to present their formal opinion as to whether the accusation is sufficient to go to the full Chamber for a vote.
If the Committee blocks the accusation, impeachment ends there. If not, the full Chamber votes on whether or not to submit the accusation to the Federal Senate. That vote requires a 2/3 majority of all members of the Chamber. The Senate is the body that judges the accusation; once again, 2/3 of all its members must vote to convict.
If convicted, the President is removed from office and is ineligible for public office for 8 years. The Vice President succeeds to the Presidency. Impeachment is, essentially, a political crime. “Crime de responsabilidade” refers to official accountability, not ordinary garden variety crimes like theft or corruption. As U.S. President H S Truman once said: “the buck stops here.” If the buck turns out to be counterfeit, the President is accountable.
The charges against President Dilma do not include any allegations of illegal activities such as bribery or corruption — there is no question of her personal honesty. Most of the charges have to do with the “pedaladas” carried out under her authority in 2014 and 2015, whereby the Treasury repeatedly borrowed money from government banks without legislative authority, in an attempt to mask the true deficits. A federal statute says this practice is a “crime de responsabilidade”.
The Curmudgeon confesses he is not sure whether “pedaladas” ought to be grounds for impeaching a President. Rather, he submits that the real reason for impeachment is that President Dilma has been systematically lying to the Brazilian people for years. The “pedaladas” are a lie; the campaign claims that all was rosy with the Brazilian economy were a lie.
United Stated President Nixon lied to the American people about Watergate; on August 8, 1974, he resigned the Presidency before being impeached. Brazil’s President Collor ran his 1990 campaign avowing to eliminate corruption—that was a lie. On December 29, 1992, he resigned the Presidency before being impeached.
Not even the Curmudgeon knows whether Dilma will follow these precedents.
The Curmudgeon knows that almost all Brazilian politicians pass the buck, but that it ought to stop somewhere.