Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Impeachment” is not a word in Portuguese. It has been used in English since 14th century England, and in the United States since the 18th Century. It is similar to an indictment, or an official imputation of a crime. After indictment, a trial is held, and if convicted, the defendant is removed from office.
The U.S. Constitution says impeachment is applicable to “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is important to note that the word “high” has nothing to do with the level of the crime, but rather with the criminal. Only the holders of high governmental office can be impeached, i.e. accused of behavior incompatible with their official obligations.
This is relevant to Brazil today. In Brazil’s Constitution the equivalent of impeachment is referred to as a crime “of accountability”, as opposed to a “common” crime. Dilma’s defenders miss the mark when they argue that she has never obtained any financial benefit from her actions, that she is not corrupt. But corruption is a “common crime” whose punishment involves prison, not removal from office.
Another erroneous argument used by those who deny President Dilma’s impeachability is that her actions were mere administrative peccadillos, commonly used by her predecessors, never before thought worthy of prosecution. Her lawyers have essentially admitted she regularly performed “pedaladas” and paid expenses without congressional authorization.
These actions violate two important federal statutes: the law of fiscal accountability and the budget law. Both laws are specifically designed to keep high executive officials (presidents, governors, mayors) from playing fast and loose with public funds. Dilma violated those laws, repeatedly.
It remains to be seen whether at least 54 Senators agree that, because of the high level of accountability of the President (“the buck stops here”) what Dilma did constitutes a “high crime or misdemeanor”. If they do, she will be removed from office. If not, she will remain President.
The Curmudgeon does not apologize for importing Anglo-saxon legal terminology, because almost everyone in Brazil does that nowadays.