Rousseff Future on Hold as Brazilians Take Break From Crisis

  • Congressional recess scheduled to run through early February
  • The break delays decisions about impeachment hearings

Brasilia is becoming something of a ghost town after one of its most tumultuous years in recent memory.

QuickTake Brazil’s Highs and Lows

The protagonists in this year’s political crisis are fleeing the nation’s capital to spend summer holidays in their home towns or seaside getaways, leaving behind questions about the fate of the president and congressional leaders embroiled in impeachment and corruption scandals.

Dilma Rousseff and new Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa
Dilma Rousseff and new Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa
Photographer: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

Supreme Court justices and legislators are on recess until Feb. 2. Then in the second week of February, they are scheduled to take more time off for Carnival celebrations. That means some important decisions, such as voting on whether to try President Dilma Rousseff in Congress on charges she broke the budget law, probably won’t be made until March, according to political consulting firm Eurasia Group.

"Everyone needs a break," said Darcisio Perondi, a lower house deputy for the PMDB party and one of Rousseff’s most vocal critics. "It’s been an intense year."

November Crescendo

Brazil’s political and economic crisis had picked up in late November, when the lower house opened impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, Brazil lost its investment-grade status, and a senator and a billionaire banker were arrested as part of a corruption probe. Tensions in Brasilia flared. Legislators engaged in shoving matches to settle their differences and indigenous groups chanted on the roof of Congress in part to demand the ouster of the lower house speaker, who faces an ethics probe.

Now traffic flows freely and parking in the notoriously-crowded city center is abundant as many civil servants abandon Brasilia. The halls of Congress are unusually quiet.

The Rousseff administration didn’t want it this way. It had been pushing Congress to forgo its recess and continue working, in hopes lawmakers would put an end to the political uncertainty that has helped push business confidence to near-record lows and deepen an economic recession.

Even though it will now have to wait, the administration is heading into 2016 on a more hopeful note following a series of victories in recent days.

The Supreme Court on Dec. 17 made a ruling on impeachment that establishes procedures that could tip the balance in favor of the president. A senior legislator on the lower house budget committee last week said Congress ought to approve Rousseff’s 2014 accounts, a move that would undermine one of the opposition’s main arguments for her ouster.

Economic Agenda

In a sign that the government is seeking to refocus its attention on the economy following weeks of fighting with Congress, Rousseff may meet with some of her cabinet members as early as Monday to discuss the budget and other policy initiatives.

"The executive branch doesn’t have a recess," said Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo. "Each ministry has its priorities, spelled out by the president."

Most Brazilians don’t have as many holidays as legislators and return to work Monday concerned about surging consumer prices and rising unemployment. 

The political crisis and corruption scandal isn’t far from their minds either. One of the most iconic figures emerging in the run-up to Carnival is that of a federal police agent who led arrests of high-profile businessmen and politicians. A samba march starring the agent went viral on YouTube, and designers are molding masks with his image in time for Carnival costume parties.

"I’m in trouble," go the lyrics to the samba song, adding: "The guy from the federal police is knocking on my door."

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