Defiant Rousseff says Brazil's democracy on trial with her

Suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff told senators in emotional testimony at her trial that voting for her impeachment would amount to a "coup d'etat."

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Brazil's suspended President Dilma Rousseff shows a graph with oil prices in 2014 during the final session of debate and voting on Rousseff's impeachment trial in Brasilia, Brazil, August 29, 2016.

A defiant President Dilma Rousseff warned on Monday that her conservative opponents were trampling on Brazil's democracy by using trumped-up charges to oust her and roll back the social advances of 13 years of leftist rule.

Presenting her defense at an impeachment trial in the Senate, Brazil's first female president said the economic elite had sought to destabilize her government since she narrowly won re-election to a second four-year term in 2014.

Rousseff is expected to become the first Brazilian leader in more than 20 years to be dismissed from office on Wednesday when the Senate will rule on charges that she broke budgetary laws by using state banks' money to boost public spending.

In an emotional speech from the Senate podium, Rousseff denied any wrongdoing and compared the trial to her persecution during Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, when she was a member of a leftist guerrilla group.

She said the impeachment process, which has paralyzed Brazilian politics since December and cast a shadow over last month's Rio Olympics, was little more than a plot to protect the interests of the privileged classes in Latin America's largest economy.

"I did not commit the crimes that I am arbitrarily and unjustly accused of," Rousseff said, in what may be her last public appearance as president. "We are one step away from a real coup d'etat."

If the Senate convicts Rousseff, as expected, her Vice President Michel Temer will be sworn in to serve the rest of her term through 2018.

Temer, who has been interim president since Congress opened impeachment proceedings in mid-May, has vowed to impose austerity measures to plug a growing fiscal deficit that cost Brazil its investment-grade credit rating last year.

Rousseff warned that a future Temer government would dismantle her Workers Party's social programs that helped lift 30 million people out of poverty in the past decade and sell off state assets, including Brazil's massive offshore oil reserves.

In a statement, Temer's office denounced the comments as "false accusations."

Rousseff, a trained economist and daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant, was handpicked by ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to succeed him when he stepped aside in 2012, despite her lack of political experience and charisma.

Rousseff, 68, faces no allegations of personal enrichment. But she has been charged on the sidelines of the impeachment process with obstructing an investigation into political kickbacks at state-run oil company Petrobras.

She chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, when the worst of the corruption was taking place.

After riding the commodities boom in her first term, Rousseff's popularity has dwindled to single figures this year, partly because of the massive Petrobras scandal and partly due to a deep recession that many Brazilians blame on her government's failed interventionist policies.

Unbowed, Rousseff told senators that history would judge them by their votes and recalled her trial under the military dictatorship in 1970, when officers hid their faces to not be recognized in photographs.