Brazil's Embattled Rousseff Courts Base With More Spending

Brazil Economy Seeks Way Forward After Impeachment
  • President likely to be removed from office this month
  • She decries impeachment as coup, attack on `working class'

President Dilma Rousseff promised increased spending on her party’s most popular social program and took other measures aimed at her electoral base, less than two weeks before Brazil’s Senate is expected to vote in favor of the impeachment process she calls a coup d’etat.

At a rally of labor unions and Workers’ Party faithful in Sao Paulo on Sunday, Rousseff announced tax cuts, more public housing units and an average 9 percent increase in the cash transfer program known as Bolsa Familia, even as Brazil faces a record budget deficit. The May 1 rally, traditionally a celebration of worker rights and leftist policies, this year doubled as a protest against the drive toward impeachment approved by a wide margin in Brazil’s lower house. The Senate vote May 11 on Rousseff’s ouster.

“This coup isn’t just an attack on democracy and my mandate, but also on the victories of the working class,” Rousseff said. “I will resist. I will fight until the end.”

Aides to Brazil’s first woman leader concede it’s all but inevitable the Senate will vote to temporarily remove her from office this month while the impeachment process plays out, handing power to Vice President Michel Temer. Rousseff’s critics say Sunday’s policy announcements are intended sabotage the transition and the government’s budget, while her supporters say the moves are an extension of programs that reduced inequality in Latin America’s biggest nation.

Impeachment Request

The Sao Paulo demonstration was one of many held across the country in which the red-shirted supporters of the Workers’ Party and Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticized austerity policies expected from a future Temer government. Leftist organizations and labor unions led chants of “there will be no coup,” repeating that Rousseff has committed no crime that merits impeachment.

A special Senate committee is analyzing the current request to remove Rousseff from office based on allegations her government used accounting tricks to hide a budget deficit. The committee report will then be put to a vote on the floor of the Senate. Approval by a simple majority would force Rousseff, 68, to step down for as long as 180 days during her full trial in the Senate. The chamber then would need support from two-thirds of its 81 members to impeach the president and terminate her mandate.

General Strike Possible

Self-described militants within the Workers’ Party, which has governed Brazil for more than 13 years under Rousseff and Lula, promised to resist a future Temer government. Some demonstrators called for a general strike.

Members of pro-impeachment labor groups at an opposing rally, also in Sao Paulo, blamed Brazil’s recession on Rousseff’s economic mismanagement and said Temer promised to preserve workers’ rights and fight unemployment.

Eduardo Cunha, Rousseff’s sworn political enemy and speaker of the house, who has been charged with corruption, said via text message that the measures announced on Sunday were “fiscally irresponsible,” especially since the government risks shutting down if Congress doesn’t approve changes to this year’s budget goal by May 22. He contested Rousseff’s claims that the increase was already in this year’s budget, and said the decree could be viewed as another “crime of responsibility” by the president.

Bolsa Payments

Sunday’s decree raises the monthly wage levels considered to be poverty and extreme poverty as a way to make more families eligible for payments under the Bolsa Familia program, according to a statement from Rousseff’s press office. The average benefit paid to almost 14 million families will be 176 reais ($51.23) a month, a 9 percent increase compared to what was paid in April. It’s unclear how many additional families may be added to the program’s rolls under the higher caps.

In addition to increased spending on Bolsa Familia and a 5 percent income tax adjustment, Rousseff offered extended paternity leave for public servants, increased financial help for small-scale farmers, and the creation of a council with representatives from labor groups, businesses and government to look after workers’ rights.

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