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At People’s Tribunal, Brazilian Grassroots Groups Leery Of US Role In Rousseff Impeachment

Even though a federal prosecutor assigned to investigate the case concluded Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff committed no crime, the right-wing opposition led by interim president Michel Temer remains committed to impeaching Rousseff.

On July 19, grassroots organizations in Brazil, including the Landless Workers’ Movement, held a People’s Tribunal to call attention to the democracy crisis facing Brazilians. The tribunal involved witnesses and oral arguments by prosecution and defense on the impeachment process. It also featured jurors, who spoke about their votes, and a verdict on the process.

The tribunal aimed to show how a fair and just process would treat Rousseff and contrasted with the anti-democratic actions taken by members of the Brazilian government with the support of the United States government.

“In today’s world, a democratic rupture occurring in a country like Brazil is not limited to its domestic effects,” organizers declared. “Rather, the impeachment process also produces effects throughout the Latin American continent and also in other countries with which we maintain close diplomatic relations.”

“In order to make transparent to the world the debate on this process of impeachment, which is not based on the demonstration of the occurrence of a crime committed by the President and is characterized instead as a new type of coup, the Brazilian social movements decided to establish in Rio de Janeiro an International Tribunal for Democracy in Brazil,” the organizers stated.

The jury for the tribunal featured representatives from Mexico, Italy, France, Spain, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, and the United States.

Azadeh N. Shahshani, a member of the National Lawyers Guild, participated as a representative of the United States. She told Shadowproof the tribunal “really meant a lot to the social justice movement in Brazil.” Some members of Rousseff’s party even appeared to speak to those in attendance.

A verdict in full support of Rousseff and against the impeachment process was handed down by the academics and civil society leaders from the global progressive community, who participated.

“Impeachment should only be reserved for a serious crime, and based on the evidence that has been out in the open,” Rousseff committed no crime, Shahshahani said.

Shahshahani was particularly struck by the testimony of one professor, who addressed from a feminist perspective how the right-wing is attacking Rousseff for being a woman. The professor said the opposition has promoted crude sexual jokes about her time as a left-wing guerrilla, particularly when she was tortured and raped.

In April, as the Brazilian congress voted on impeachment, The Guardian reported, “Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his yes vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era.”

Shahshahani said those in attendance see this coup unfolding before their eyes and believe it poses a threat to “gains of social justice.” The “social safety net” will “deteriorate if this coup is allowed to proceed.”

“Everyone in Latin America is keeping a close eye on what is happening in Brazil,” Shahshahani added. “What happens there could potentially have a big impact on the rest of Latin America as well. All the gains that we saw in the past decade with all the leftist leaders in Latin America could potentially come under attack.”

“If Dilma Rousseff is to go, there is one less leader that those of us in the global progressive community can count on,” Shahshahani stated.

Grassroots organizations are very aware the U.S. has sought to establish relations with the new right-wing leaders installed by Temer, and they understand the U.S. history of supporting dictators and overthrowing democratically-elected leftist leaders.

Both Honduras and Paraguay stand as recent examples, where the U.S. supported the right-wing opposition as supposed technicalities in laws were seized upon to justify the removal of elected leaders.

In each of those cases, bombs and tanks may not have been involved, but they still had hallmarks of past coups in Latin America.

The 2016 Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro on August 5. How the right-wing opposition may take advantage of the prestigious event to conceal government corruption and paper over rampant class conflict did not come up at the tribunal.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."