Brazil's Political and Economic Crisis Threatens the Legitimacy of the Country's Democracy

On April 17, the Brazilian lower house of Congress voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, who was elected in 2010 and re-elected at the end of 2014. It was a garish spectacle, with one right-wing deputy dedicating his vote to the colonel who headed a torture unit during the dictatorship. One of its torture victims was the president herself.

The deputy's dedication was a grim reminder that Brazil has emerged from dictatorship just 30 years ago, and that its democracy is perhaps less developed than many people assume. More reminders would soon spring forth like mushrooms in a rain-soaked field. Leaked telephone transcripts revealed that leaders of the impeachment effort were trying to remove President Rousseff in order to stop the investigation into their own corruption. This led to the resignation of three ministers in the new cabinet appointed by the interim president, Michel Temer; but 15 of the original 23 ministers he appointed were reportedly under investigation, as well as the majority of the Congress itself.

Then on June 2, Temer himself was convicted of campaign finance violations and banned from seeking office for eight years. New scandals involving interim and pro-impeachment officials emerged nearly every week.

Although there is corruption within all the parties, including Dilma's Workers' Party (PT), the deep irony is that the corrupt officials trying to topple her presidency have not presented any charges or evidence of corrupt practices on her part. Rather she is being impeached for an accounting practice that other presidents, and many governors, have used. And on July 14, the federal prosecutor assigned to the case concluded that it was not even a crime.

But the prosecutor's conclusion appears to have been ignored, and a final vote by the Senate on Dilma's presidency is expected within the coming days. No wonder many Brazilians consider the whole process a coup d'état -- and not just against a president but against democracy itself. There have been continuing protests since the impeachment, with some spilling over into the Rio Olympics.

One of the first acts of the interim government was to appoint a cabinet of all rich white males, in a country where the majority are women and more than half identify as Black or mixed race. Then, they abolished the ministry of women, racial equality, and human rights.

This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on August 30, 2016. Read the rest here.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press). You can subscribe to his columns here.