David Alandete (Valencia, Spain, 1978) is the managing editor at El País, the world’s leading newspaper in Spanish, both in print and online.

The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff: The ghosts of 1964

The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff: The ghosts of 1964

Brazil now faces a formidable challenge. It has to explain to the world and to its political and trading partners in the Americas and beyond why its Congress decided to depose President Dilma Rousseff, who was re-elected democratically 19 months ago with 54 million votes.

What could justify this hasty trial and her suspension from office for the next six months? Thinking back over the great impeachments and resignations of history, Richard Nixon inevitably comes to mind, and his departure from the White House in disgrace after a network of spies under his orders was discovered following a break-in at the Watergate hotel in Washington.

This is the kind of thing that has traditionally brought down leaders. Take Brazil: Fernando Collor de Mello stood down in 1992 when he faced serious accusations of bribery and corruption.

Dilma Rousseff is not facing trial for theft, enrichment or benefiting her family during her six years in office. As far as is known, the president lives off her salary

It is worth pointing out that Dilma Rousseff is not facing trial for theft, enrichment or benefiting her family during her six years in office. As far as is known, the president lives off her salary.

Instead, she is accused of breaking tax legislation by using public money to bolster the country’s budget accounts, giving the impression that the government’s accounts were healthy in the run up to the last elections.

This is a time-honored practice, and there are any number of similar cases to be found in the United States, Spain, and any number of other countries, particularly during times of economic crisis. This doesn’t make it right for governments to evade transparent accounting, but it in no way justifies impeaching a president.

What is happening in Brazil at the moment is a global public relations disaster: a wave of public anger being used to legitimate political chicanery

The good thing about Western democracies is that they guarantee the electoral process within terms laid out in their constitutions. If a president or prime minister is making a hash of running the country, he or she, or their party, will pay at the next election. In the meantime, they have both the right and the obligation to continue governing. What’s more, a country cannot live in a permanent state of electoral campaigning, and much less can it be run on the basis of opinion polls.

Right now, 61% of Brazilians say the president should stand down: fine. But it’s also true that back in 1978, a great many more Americans felt the same about Jimmy Carter, who presided at a time of economic crisis similar to Brazil’s. But they waited. And then, in 1980, they went to the polls, they voted him out, and they elected Ronald Reagan by an overwhelming majority.

What is happening in Brazil at the moment is a global public relations disaster: a wave of public anger being used to legitimate political chicanery. In short, this is an operation led by legislators who are much more likely to be involved in corruption than Rousseff: more than half of Brazil’s members of Congress face some kind of judicial investigation for crimes such as kidnapping, assault, or theft.

More than half of Brazil’s members of Congress face some kind of judicial investigation for crimes such as kidnapping, assault, or theft

Take the example of conservative Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who dedicated his vote in favor of impeaching Rousseff to Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a man who committed terrible crimes during the 20-year military dictatorship that seized power in 1964, including torturing Rousseff. His son, also a member of Congress, recently voted in favor of a “homage to the military men of 1964.

Something is obviously very wrong with Brazil when an elected official is able to recall the military coup of 1964 in such terms. Furthermore, it only supports Rousseff and her allies’ claim that what is taking place in Brazil right now is the overthrow of a democratically elected government.

Shortly before the military took over in 1964, a leading newspaper published a call on its front page for “a definitive, non-partisan and democratic government.” “Exceptional measures to deal with an exceptional situation cannot be put off any longer,” it trumpeted. The military coup was not long in coming, and Brazil entered one of the darkest periods in its history.

The coup of 1964 was initially widely popular, giving it legitimacy in the eyes of many. But what those supporters failed to understand was that true democracy reflects the wishes of the majority, including those who are calling for the electoral process to be respected if one of the giants of Latin America is not to be destabilized.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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