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President Dilma Rousseff Testifies Before Brazil's Senate In Impeachment Trial


In Brazil today, a passionate defense from a suspended president.


DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Through interpreter) I have come personally to look into the eyes of those who would judge me and tell you with the serenity of those who have nothing to hide that I have not committed the crimes of which I am unjustly and arbitrarily accused.

SHAPIRO: That's Dilma Rousseff speaking during her impeachment trial in Brazil's Senate. Rousseff is accused of breaking fiscal laws and creating a sort of shell game to hide the poor state of the country's economy. She's been fielding questions all day from some of the 81 senators who will decide whether or not to permanently remove her from office.

We'll check in now with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro who is at the Senate in the capital, Brasilia. Hi, Lulu


SHAPIRO: Tell us about what Rousseff has been saying today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, she began with exactly that - an impassioned speech. She's not really known for them, but she defended her actions as president robustly. But more than defending her actions, I would say that she defended her person, who she is.

She talked several times and emotionally about being tortured under Brazil's dictatorship, about how she's never been found to have been corrupt, to have personally enriched herself while in office. She spoke about how she's never interfered in corruption investigations in the country that have implicated so many politicians and business people. And she did this, I think, deliberately.

She wanted to remind people, the Brazilian public that's watching this, of who she is because it does seem that she will be impeached. The numbers point to her losing the vote in the Senate. But she wants to be on the record as saying, I was honest; I always fought for my country, and if I go down, as she put it, I will go down looking into the eyes of my accusers without shame.

SHAPIRO: And those accusers - many of them are themselves accused of corruption even though Rousseff herself is not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it's quite a rap sheet for some of these senators. Sixty percent, Ari - 60 percent are implicated in some sort of criminal wrongdoing. One senator has actually been condemned by the Supreme Court for corruption, and yet he will have the ability to vote on this matter while he appeals on technicalities.

Some of the other stuff is worse. You know, one senator belongs to a family accused of using slave labor. Another had their helicopter seized with 500 kilos of cocaine in it in 2013. You know, how fit is this body to judge Rousseff who really has never been found to have been involved in anything nefarious, has been the subject of a great deal of debate here as you can imagine?

Even last week on the Senate floor as this trial started, we saw a shouting match break out on this very subject, the irony being that everyone shouting at each other was in some way implicated in some kind of criminal wrongdoing.

SHAPIRO: Could this trial actually change things for Rousseff, or is her fate basically sealed already?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's sealed, Ari. This is now about her legacy. Even some senators who are not part of the opposition who might have supported her have said, you know, her coming back at this point would be disastrous for the country. She has no support.

SHAPIRO: What about the people's reaction? Have there been protests? Are people taking to the streets?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We haven't really seen that. And I think that's a sign of how little support she really has and how tired Brazilians are. This has been going on for months and months and months. And you can't forget that Rousseff's ouster, this impeachment trial was in large part given wings by the biggest protest in Brazil's history. So you know, this political crisis was made possible by a very large economic crisis, 11 percent unemployment in the country. People just want to move on I think at this point.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaking with us from Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Thanks a lot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.