Last year, Dilma Rousseff lost her office as the Brazilian President after a highly controversial impeachment process. Officially, she was ousted for having doctored the federal budget and committing fiscal crimes. Her supporters, however, cried foul and wrote off the impeachment as the reaction of a corrupt political establishment against an “honest President” who refused to play by the men’s rules.
There’s no doubt that the Brazilian political establishment is corrupt. However, how much truth is there to calling Rousseff an “honest President?” It depends on what we consider honest.
According to businessman Marcelo Odebrecht, the former CEO of Brazil’s largest construction firm, Rousseff knew about the dirty money financing her reelection campaign. In a statement to Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court, Odebrecht said that the former Brazilian President was aware of his company’s massive contributions. She also knew that the money wasn’t on the campaign’s books.
In Brazil, however, people try to separate a politician who benefited from corruption to finance his/her campaign from the one who puts dirty money into his/her pockets. Dilma Rousseff, as far as we know, does not belong to the latter group. Unlike former Governor Sérgio Cabral, she didn’t receive an allowance from corrupt businessmen. Nor did she spent $1 million during a Paris trip, as did the wife of former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, the nation’s poster boy for corruption.
But can we still say that Dilma Rousseff was an honest politician, with no nuance in that assessment?
Of course, there is a moral gap between those who use dodgy campaign funds and those who use bribes to pay for a lavish lifestyle. But considering any of those politicians as “honest” is dangerous. Elected officials shouldn’t be able to pick and choose which laws they will respect.
Brazilian President under threat
In addition, Odebrecht’s statement further complicates the situation of incumbent President Michel Temer. Odebrecht is a key witness in the case that is investigating whether or not the Rousseff-Temer 2014 reelection campaign received money from corruption schemes. The case began immediately after the election and continued even after Rousseff lost her office.
If the Court decides on a conviction for the campaign, the presidential race will be annulled. The result will be the impeachment of Michel Temer, and new, indirect elections for President.
Michel Temer’s defense team wants to prove that the presidential and the vice-presidential committees had separate finances. His lawyers say that he didn’t benefit from any funding coming from the Workers’ Party.
However, as plus55 showed in November, that defense strategy has major holes. A construction company donated $300,000 to the Workers’ Party National Committee back in 2014. According to the executive, that money was a kickback. But the check in question was not to the Workers’ Party, nor to Rousseff’s campaign committee. The check had Michel Temer and his party, the PMDB, as beneficiaries.