Rousseff Packs Bags But Leaves Portrait Watching Over Successor

  • She still receives salary and lives in official residence
  • Will keep making public appearances to denounce “coup”

In the anteroom of Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer, a smiling Dilma Rousseff wearing the presidential sash greets visitors.

A relic of happier days for the now-suspended president, the official portrait will remain on the walls of all public offices throughout the capital city of Brasilia until she leaves the presidency for good. It’s a reminder of the awkward political transition taking place in Latin America’s largest nation.

For the second time in just over two decades, Brazil is impeaching a president. Unlike former President Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned in 1992 during similar proceedings, Rousseff was pushed into a political limbo where she lost the power of the presidency but not its perks.

She still lives in the sumptuous presidential palace, a mid-century marvel designed by the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer. On Friday morning she maintained her daily workout routine with a walk through its gardens, flanked by her security detail. She’s allowed to maintain a small staff of personal aides, and will receive a salary and health benefits. From air force jets to official cars, she will travel in comfort.

The situation has baffled Brazilians, above all the thousands of public servants in the capital. When government employees showed up to work on Friday, many didn’t know who their boss would be, or if they’d still have a job. Some offices in the presidential building were empty, and only one press official stayed behind to give a hand to the incoming team, who was grappling to access government computer systems.

Rousseff greets supporters in Brasilia

Photographer: Lula Marques/Bloomberg

Earlier in the week, Rousseff’s aides and many pundits debated whether she should make a public exit down the ramp of the presidential office building, or make a more discreet exit out the back. She took an alternate route, greeting supporters outside the building without taking the ramp.

Temer, the acting president and a man who Rousseff has accused of staging a coup against her, addressed the outgoing president in his first speech after taking the top job, saying he had "absolute institutional respect for Madam President Dilma Rousseff."

Busy Routine

Legislators have up to six months to decide whether she’s guilty and permanently terminate her mandate. Most political analysts say it’s highly probable she’ll lose the trial.

For now, Rousseff, who’s known as something of a workaholic, says she’ll stick to her busy routine. She’ll only take a few days to visit family in southern Brazil this weekend before returning to Brasilia next week to mount her legal defense. She called a press conference on Friday, and told reporters that she hasn’t ruled out traveling throughout the country -- and even abroad -- to profess her innocence.

"My plan is to get the word out with all Brazilians," she said. "I don’t think I’m going to have much free time now."

The message didn’t travel wide. The local press corps had already moved onto the next story.