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World

Brazilian Lawmakers Weigh Whether To Advance Impeachment Against Rousseff

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Next we go to Brazil, where Brazil's lower house of Congress is now voting on whether they should take a major step toward impeaching President Dilma Rousseff. This issue has sharply divided Brazilians, and it takes place against the backdrop of a dramatic economic slump in the country. Reporter Catherine Osborn has been in the streets of Rio today, where people are protesting for and against impeachment in the run-up to the vote. Catherine, thanks so much for joining us.

CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Could you tell us a little bit about the charges, and if you could also tell us about the impeachment process?

OSBORN: Sure. So to impeach a president in Brazil, the president needs to have committed a crime of responsibility. And Brazil's constitution is really broad on what that is. So for Rousseff, she's accused of using public banks to cover a budget shortfall. And her opponents say that she stole from public banks, which is a crime, so she must be punished. And then on the other side you have her supporters, and they're pointing out that past presidents Lula and Fernando Henrique Cardoso did the same thing with their budgets. So most people who want her out are frustrated with the economy, and they want to see some kind of change.

MARTIN: How likely is impeachment now based on everything you know?

OSBORN: So the House vote gives us an idea on how the Senate would vote because these votes are negotiated according to party alliances. Most analysts have been saying that if impeachment passes the House, it should have no problem passing the Senate. And after an initial vote, it could stand trial there.

MARTIN: You know, I 'd like to know a little bit more about how it got to this point today. I mean, I'm seeing people tweeting pictures of a wall on the grounds of Parliament to keep protestors apart. We're hearing reports of little kids, you know, fighting at school about it, and there are people being harassed on the streets or on the bus because they're wearing a T-shirt that's the wrong color. You know what I mean? How did it get to this point? It just seems to have become very personal at this point.

OSBORN: Very personal. So for the past two years, Brazilians have been watching their economy slump. And they're also seeing seemingly endless revelations about corruption in government. And Dilma was head of Petrobras when that bribery scheme was going on there. So right after she was reelected, opponents started demonstrating against her and filing impeachment charges. For them, now is their big success moment. But then you have the other side, and they say this whole process is illegitimate. And they say if people don't like the president, they can just vote for another one in the next election. That's why things are getting so polarized.

MARTIN: We've been really paying so much attention to Brazil over the last decade - the growth of its economy and how democracy has developed there, it's really been seen as kind of a model for many other parts of the world. So how significant is this?

OSBORN: So if Rousseff is impeached, this would be the end of an era for the Workers Party, the PT, who's been in power since 2003, which is a hugely significant change. Some people say the Workers Party has been losing credibility for different reasons.

Right now we're hearing a lot from Brazil's right, who don't like the Workers' Party developmentalist (ph) or big-government style of ruling. But some people on the left are also having a hard time defending the PT right now because they say it's bowed too much to corporate interests over time. And what this process also represents is a big vacuum for credible leaders in general in Brazil. The politicians who are leading impeachment efforts against Dilma have extensive allegations against them. And the majority of Brazilians would actually impeach the vice president as well if they had the chance.

MARTIN: How long might all this go on?

OSBORN: By the time this is potentially tried in the Senate, it could be June or July when it's all resolved.

MARTIN: That's close to the Olympics. I mean, I know that it's been controversial there because people have - you know, a lot of people have raised questions about the cost of this and, you know, whether it's an appropriate use of resources at a time - as you pointed out - of some economic difficulties, but this really does put the country on an international stage. So could this go right up to the - when the Olympics start?

OSBORN: It could be right before the Olympics when this is all resolved. Olympic organizers are saying that the games will go smoothly but what's interesting is there's similar corruption allegations about the Olympics themselves - sort of cartel behavior by construction companies. And an interesting question going forward is whether this impeachment of the president is the signal to the beginning of a real combat to corruption in Brazil. The worry is that people could be so exhausted by the impeachment process that this kind of behavior continues in the future.

MARTIN: That is a reporter Catherine Osborn in Rio. Catherine, thanks so much for talking with us.

OSBORN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.