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Brazil's Senate Suspends President Rouseff From Office


As the sun rose this morning in Brasilia, Brazil's capital city, that country's senate voted to put its president on trial for violating budget laws. That vote also suspended Dilma Rousseff from office. Striking a defiant tone later in the morning, Rousseff said she will never give up and she will fight impeachment charges even as her vice president is set to take power this afternoon. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro was following this story all through the night, and we've reached her for an update in Brasilia. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So she addressed the nation after this news. What else did she say?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, she not only addressed the nation, but I'm watching her on television now, and she's giving a sort of victory tour outside of the presidential palace to her supporters where she's shaking hands to cheers. You know, she is remaining defiant. If her opponents expected her to resign, she did exactly the opposite. She said she would fight until the end. She called the process against her a coup and the new government, which is set to take over, illegitimate.

She reiterated that she has committed no crime, that the motive for her removal was completely political. She said her administration had been the victim of political sabotage. And she also called on her supporters to protest, to defend democracy.

Her speech, I think, really sets the stage for continuing drama here in Brazil. You know, Renee, her opponents, as I've mentioned, had hoped she would resign and that she would just quietly go away, but, you know, she is a former guerrilla leader who was tortured under the dictatorship. She's always been someone who fights, so instead she's vowing to see this through to the bitter end.

MONTAGNE: So it sounds like - just to be clear - South America's biggest nation has now got a president who is suspended, but is not resigning and a vice president who is taking over for now. And this comes off the back of a Senate vote that, as I just said, went all night, which - all of which, as you said, is hugely dramatic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it's hugely dramatic. I mean, it - you know, what we're going to see now is a lengthy trial in the Senate, and there will be a former leftist president who will be waiting in the wings, ostensibly speaking to the public while the new president who leans right, and is her political rival, tries to get the country back on track in the midst of a historic recession and political polarization.

You know, Dilma Rousseff is being charged with basically creative accounting. They say she cooked the books to cover budget shortfalls. She says previous presidents did the same, and it was not considered a crime. She also points to the fact that she has not been accused of any corruption, but 58 percent of the senators who voted this morning to remove her from office are under some sort of investigation. Some of them have even been convicted.

So you know, we saw overnight, these senators take pains to talk about what has happened in the country under her watch - massive unemployment, a huge recession - and the economy really has been the central issue for many legislators and many Brazilians generally.

MONTAGNE: Well, looking ahead, there will be this vice president taking over as president. What direction is he likely to take the country?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, his name Michel Temer, and he has assumed power. He is from a right-of-center party. He was her VP, her vice president. And he has already announced part of his cabinet, and it's getting a lot of scrutiny.

In a country where 53 percent of the population is Afro-descendant, there is no person of color in the cabinet. In a country where half of the population are women, there's not a single female cabinet minister. This is causing, as you can imagine, a lot of discussion here. It's a stark change from a female president to an all-white male leadership.

Basically, analysts tell me, Michel Temer has to turn things around very, very quickly. He's deeply unpopular. He's been implicated in the massive corruption scandal here at the state oil company, and no one sees him as the ideal choice for a new chapter.

MONTAGNE: Well, does all of this portend instability there in Brazil?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, we will have to see how many of her supporters heed her call to protest and take to the streets. She really did lose a lot of her base in the past few years, but her party was credited with lifting millions out of poverty in social programs, and so she does have some support still.

You know, when you are presiding over a crashing economy, it's hard to muster though, you know, a lot of support in terms of people actually coming out to basically defend your presidency. That said, you know, the country's extremely polarized, and certainly, I think this saga is not over.

You know, Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America. This could have huge repercussions in the region. And everyone is looking at this very, very closely indeed and thinking that, indeed, this is really not going to be resolved very quickly.

MONTAGNE: Lulu, thanks very much for joining us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaking to us from Brasilia where Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, has been suspended from office this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.