US-backed Washington Coup in Brazil? Was Incoming President a US Embassy Informant?
May 14, 2016 Daniel McAdams / AntiWar.com & Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept & Dom Phillips and Nick Miroff / The Washington Post
It is part of the US interventionist strategy -- from Moscow to Budapest to Minsk to Damascus to Sau Paulo -- for US embassy personnel to engage opposition figures in countries where the US would like to see regime change. Adding to suspicions of a US role in the ouster of progressive Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is a revelation that the opposition leader tapped to step in as interim president has worked as an "informant" for the US embassy.
Washington Coup in Brazil?
Was Incoming President US Embassy Informant? Daniel McAdams / AntiWar.com
(May 13, 2016) -- Adding to suspicions of a US role in the ouster of independent-minded Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is a revelation making the rounds today that Michel Temer, the opposition leader who will step in as interim president, had met with US embassy officials in Sau Paulo to provide his assessment and spin on the domestic political situation in Brazil. Thanks to Wikileaks, we have the US embassy cable that resulted from the incoming president's visit to US political officers.
Acting president Temer will hold office for up to six months while impeached president Rousseff stands trial in the Brazilian senate. If her impeachment is finalized by a two-thirds vote, Temer will remain in office until elections in 2018.
Rousseff's ouster has been curious all along. She claims it is a coup against the will of the Brazilian voter and indeed she has not been accused of corruption or serious crime. Instead, she has been impeached for accusations that she used some tricky bookkeeping maneuvers to hide the extent of Brazil's budget deficit in advance of her successful 2014 re-election bid. Observers would note that if fiddling with economic statistics to make a country's balance sheet look better were grounds for impeachment in the United States, there would have been successive impeachments for decades or perhaps longer.
There are more curiosities surrounding the US role in Brazil's "regime change" this week. Just weeks ago, as Brazil's lower house of parliament began the process by voting 367 to 137 for impeachment, one very powerful opposition senator made his way to Washington to make his case in the Beltway corridors of power.
The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald wrote at the time: Today -- the day after the impeachment vote -- Sen. Aloysio Nunes of the (opposition) PSDB will be in Washington to undertake three days of meetings with various US officials as well as with lobbyists and assorted influence-peddlers close to Clinton and other leading political figures.
Sen. Nunes is meeting with the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Undersecretary of State and former Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon; and attending a luncheon on Tuesday hosted by the Washington lobbying firm Albright Stonebridge Group, headed by former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Bush 43 Commerce Secretary and Kellogg Company CEO Carlos Gutierrez.
The US has long been opposed to Rousseff, seeing her independent-mindedness and participation in the BRICS trade grouping as a threat to US influence in the region. Leftist governments in both Brazil and Venezuela have long been targets of US destabilization efforts. When Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been tapping her phones, Rousseff delivered a blistering speech at the United Nations accusing the US of violating international law and violating "the principles that must guide the relations among . . . friendly nations." Most foreign leaders when informed that the NSA had been spying on them sheepishly dropped the subject. Rousseff was almost alone in venting her rage over what she viewed as betrayal by a friendly government.
Is today's news about Temer's trips to the US embassy a smoking gun of a US role in this week's dramatic events? It must be stated that a meeting between political opposition figures and US embassy officials is not uncommon, and some alternative press accusations that the meeting makes Temer a US "informant" or even a US intelligence agent are probably overblown.
Embassy personnel as a matter of course cultivate political leaders in countries where they are posted to help get an understanding of the broad political situation. But it is part of the US interventionist strategy, from Moscow to Budapest to Minsk to Damascus to Sau Paulo, for US embassy personnel to actively engage opposition figures in countries where the US would like to see regime change.
While it is understandable -- and can even be admirable -- that US embassy political officers actually get out from behind the embassy walls, it is also no secret that these meetings can be highly selective and can serve as a way to reinforce existing US policy toward a particular country instead of gaining a better understanding of the broad political landscape.
How deeply are Washington's fingers in the pie of Brazil's political crisis? There is at least one precedent, Greenwald notes in the above article. After years of strident US denial, secret documents were finally released revealing the central role played by the US in Brazil's 1964 military coup to remove a left-wing government. Plus ça change?
Daniel McAdams is director of the The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity. Reprinted from The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity.
(May 11, 2016) -- In 2002, Brazil's left-of-center Workers Party (PT) ascended to the presidency when Lula da Silva won in a landslide over the candidate of the center-right party PSDB (throughout 2002, "markets" were indignant at the mere prospect of PT's victory). The PT remained in power when Lula, in 2006, was re-elected in another landslide against a different PSDB candidate.
PT's enemies thought they had their chance to get rid of PT in 2010, when Lula was barred by term limits from running again, but their hopes were crushed when Lula's handpicked successor, the previously unknown Dilma Rousseff, won by 12 points over the same PSDB candidate who lost to Lula in 2002.
In 2014, PT's enemies poured huge amounts of money and resources into defeating her, believing she was vulnerable and that they had finally found a star PSDB candidate, but they lost again, this time narrowly, as Dilma was re-elected with 54 million votes.
In sum, PT has won four straight national elections -- the last one occurring just 18 months ago. Its opponents have vigorously tried -- and failed -- to defeat them at the ballot box, largely due to PT's support among Brazil's poor and working classes.
So if you're a plutocrat with ownership of the nation's largest and most influential media outlets, what do you do? You dispense with democracy altogether -- after all, it keeps empowering candidates and policies you dislike -- by exploiting your media outlets to incite unrest and then install a candidate who could never get elected on his own, yet will faithfully serve your political agenda and ideology.
That's exactly what Brazil is going to do today. The Brazilian Senate will vote later today to agree to a trial on the lower House's impeachment charges, which will automatically result in Dilma's suspension from the presidency pending the end of the trial.
Her successor will be Vice President Michel Temer of the PMDB party (pictured, above). So unlike impeachment in most other countries with a presidential system, impeachment here will empower a person from a different party than that of the elected President.
In this particular case, the person to be installed is awash in corruption: accused by informants of involvement in an illegal ethanol-purchasing scheme, he was just found guilty of, and fined for, election spending violations and faces an 8-year-ban on running for any office. He's deeply unpopular: only 2% would support him for President and almost 60% want him impeached (the same number that favors Dilma's impeachment).
But he will faithfully serve the interests of Brazil's richest: he's planning to appoint Goldman, Sachs and IMF officials to run the economy and otherwise install a totally unrepresentative, neoliberal team (composed in part of the same party -- PSDB -- that has lost 4 straight elections to the PT).
None of this is a defense of PT. That party -- as even Lula acknowledged to me in my interview of him -- is filled with serious corruption. Dilma, in many critical ways, has been a failed president, and is deeply unpopular. They have often aligned with and served the country's elite at the expense of their base of poor supporters. The country is suffering economically and in almost every other way.
But the solution to that is to defeat them at the ballot box, not simply remove them and replace them with someone more suitable to the nation's richest. Whatever damage PT is doing to Brazil, the plutocrats and their journalist-propagandists and the band of thieves in Brasilia engineering this travesty are far more dangerous. They are literally dismantling -- crushing -- democracy in the world's fifth-largest country.
Even The Economist -- which is hostile to even the most moderate left-wing parties, hates PT and wants Dilma to resign -- has denounced impeachment as "a pretext for ousting an unpopular president" and just two weeks ago warned that "what is alarming is that those who are working for her removal are in many ways worse." Before he became an active plotter in his own empowerment, Temer himself said last year that "impeachment is unthinkable, would create an institutional crisis. There is no judicial or political basis for it."
The biggest scam of all is that Brazilian media elites are justifying all of this in the name of "corruption" and "democracy." How can anyone who is minimally rational believe this is about "corruption" when they're about to install as President someone far more implicated in corruption than the person they're removing, and when the factions to be empowered are corrupt beyond what can be described? And if they were really concerned with "democracy," why wouldn't they also impeach Temer and hold new elections, letting voters decide who should replace Dilma?
The answer is obvious: new elections would almost certainly result in a victory for Lula or other candidates they dislike, so what they fear most is letting the Brazilian population decide who will govern them. That is the very definition of the destruction of democracy.
Beyond its obvious global significance, the reason I've spent so much time and energy writing about these events is because it's been astonishing -- and unnerving -- to watch it all unfold, particularly given how the country's dominant media, owned by a tiny handful of rich families, allows almost no plurality of opinion. Instead, as Reporters Without Borders put it earlier this month: "In a barely veiled manner, the leading national media have urged the public to help bring down President Dilma Rousseff. The journalists working for these media groups are clearly subject to the influence of private and partisan interests, and these permanent conflicts of interests are clearly very detrimental to the quality of their reporting."
As someone who has lived in Brazil for 11 years, it's been inspiring and invigorating to watch a country of 200 million people throw off the shackles of a 21-year-old right-wing (US/UK supported) military dictatorship and mature into a young, vibrant democracy and then thrive under it. To see how quickly and easily that can be reversed -- abolished in all but name only -- is both sad and frightening to watch. It's also an important lesson for anyone, in countries all over the world, who blithely assume that things will continue as is or that they're guaranteed stability and ongoing progress.
Last week, I spoke to Democracy Now! for about 10 minutes on why I think these developments in Brazil are so significant:
BRASILIA (May 12, 2016) -- Brazil's once-lauded model of leftist government appeared to come to an abrupt end Thursday, when lawmakers suspended President Dilma Rousseff in an extraordinary repudiation of her administration and the Workers' Party that has ruled the country for 13 years.
Vice President Michel Temer quickly assumed control of Latin America's largest country, signaling that he will take Brazil in a more free-market-friendly direction in an attempt to shore up its sagging economy and win over a skeptical public. A member of the centrist PMDB party, Temer introduced a conservative-leaning, all-male cabinet Thursday that swings Brazil toward the right.
He called on Brazilians to trust in the country's values and in the recovery of its economy, which is suffering its worst crisis in 80 years. "It is urgent to pacify our nation and unify Brazil," he said.
Rousseff's removal sent shock waves throughout Latin America, where Brazil was once viewed as an emerging economic power and the model for a new form of leftist rule, matching support for big business with muscular social-welfare programs to alleviate poverty and nurture a new middle class.
That project has come crashing down, and Rousseff paid the price Thursday. She faces impeachment proceedings that could last six months. An overwhelming vote against her in Brazil's Senate indicated that she had little chance of being acquitted.
Rousseff, 68, is accused of improperly using billions of dollars in loans from government banks to fill budget shortfalls and pay for social programs. But the impeachment vote became a broader referendum on her leadership amid a painful recession and corruption scandals that have swept up much of the country's political elite.
The country's first female president vowed to fight the charges against her -- raising the possibility of further political instability as Brazil stumbles toward the Aug. 5 opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Rousseff's supporters called for strikes and demonstrations blocking roadways, but the sympathizers who gathered at the presidential palace Thursday appeared to number only in the hundreds.
A former leftist militant who was jailed and beaten as a young woman during Brazil's military dictatorship, Rousseff called her suspension "an injustice more painful" than torture, blasting the impeachment vote as "fraudulent" and a "coup."
Her defiant remarks came after a 20-hour debate that ended with 55 of Brazil's 81 senators voting to put her on trial, far more than the simple majority needed.
Her accusers say Rousseff systematically obscured the precarious state of the country's finances from lawmakers and the public to boost her reelection prospects in 2014 and conceal her mismanagement. The impeachment allegations cover only her present term, however.
Just hours after the vote, she insisted again that her predecessors had used the same bookkeeping tactics. "It was not a crime in their time. It's not a crime in mine," she said in a brief televised speech.
But her accusers say her accounting methods involved far greater sums.
Temer takes office with a weak government and mandate; recent polls showed that only 2 percent of Brazilians wanted him to be president.
All of the 21 ministers Temer announced Thursday are men, a fact that will fan accusations of gender bias in the push to oust Rousseff, especially from backers of the Workers' Party, which championed greater diversity in government.
In his first comments after the impeachment vote, Temer said he would focus on reviving the economy and would maintain popular social programs. His new finance minister is a respected former banker, Henrique Meirelles, who was central bank chief under Rousseff's predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Temer also sought to give assurances that the Olympic Games will go off well, saying that billions of people would be watching and that Brazil could show itself at its best. "We will never get another opportunity like this," he said.
According to Marcos Troyjo, a former Brazilian diplomat who is a professor of international affairs at Columbia University in New York, Temer's arrival is likely to bring a shift in trade policy that will make Brazil more attractive for US investors. Temer named Sen. Jose Serra, who ran against Rousseff in the 2010 presidential election and voted Thursday to remove her, as foreign minister.
"Serra will bring Brazil closer to the West, not only in ideological terms, but practical terms, in terms of market access," Troyjo said. Rousseff had cordial, although not close, relations with the Obama administration.
Rousseff's departure was part of a broader political shift in Latin America, Troyjo said, away from the center-left populist model that dominated the region for most of the past decade.
"It puts Brazil in line with a trend being felt around Latin America," he said.
Temer assumes the presidency on an interim basis, but he would serve out the rest of Rous¬seff's term if she were found guilty. In Brazil's multiparty system, it is not uncommon for a presidential candidate to run with a vice-presidential candidate from a different party.
A career politician, Temer's reputation is that of a skilled negotiator and smooth behind-the-scenes operator. But he is hardly colorless.
Temer, 75, is a legal scholar and sometime poet who is famous for dapper suits, slicked-back silver hair and young wife Marcela, who will turn 33 on Monday.
Temer is the author of a book of sensual verses inspired by his spouse, a former beauty pageant contestant who became his third wife in 2003.
Temer is one of the many Brazilian politicians who have been implicated in the "Car Wash" bribery scandal at state oil company Petrobras, but he has not been charged. On Thursday, he said would protect the long-running judicial investigation from any possible attempts to weaken it. Rousseff is not under suspicion of graft in relation to that scandal.
Those who know Temer, the son of Lebanese Christian immigrants, say he has the political skills to quickly win over a skeptical public.
"I have never seen someone as prepared for this emotionally as Michel Temer," said Jacob Goldberg, one of Brazil's most celebrated psychoanalysts. Goldberg said he has had a close relationship with Temer for decades, calling him "a cordial man, a man of dialogue" and "not a man of confrontation."
He declined to confirm whether Temer had been his patient, citing confidentiality.
The early-morning vote on Rousseff was the equivalent of impeachment in most democracies. But legal experts say that, in the Brazilian context, a politician is considered "impeached" only if found guilty.
Rousseff's removal is a once-unthinkable revolt against her Workers' Party, co-founded by her mentor Lula, who left office in 2010 with an 87 percent approval rating and an economy growing at an annual rate of 7.5 percent. Lula was among the aides who embraced Rousseff in an emotional scene Thursday morning as she left her office for perhaps the last time.
Lula, too, is under investigation on allegations of corruption and obstruction of justice but says he is innocent.
Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.
Read more: Ghosts of Brazil's past haunt presidential impeachment crisis
How Brazil, the darling of the developing world, came undone
How Brazil's ruling Workers' Party lost the workers
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