A Venezuelan guide to the Brazilian crisis

The process to impeach Dilma Rousseff is like a long, complicated Brazilian soap opera. We lay it all out for you, using our own political realities to help you relate to it.

Confused about the Brazilian crisis? Here is a brief rundown.

In Brazil, there is a thing called “judicial independence.” This means that prosecutors and judges are not governed by the ruling party, but rather (largely) go by the law. They are particularly vicious in going after powerful politicians and businessmen.

In terms we can understand, imagine that instead of Luisa Ortega we had Liliana Ortega, and instead of Gladys Gutierrez we had Jose Ignacio Hernandez. Poor Brazilians.

A few months ago prosecutors began looking at massive corruption inside Petrobras, the company’s largest company. Petrobras is partly private, but still controlled by the State. The scandal was called Lava Jato, because the scheme originated in a car wash, and it involved money laundering. Corrupt businessmen would bribe Petrobras executives for contracts, and part of that money ended up in the coffers of politicians.

So, it’s like if Wilmer Ruperti were somehow bribing PDVSA for millions of dollars in contracts, and PDVSA was financing the governing party with the proceeds – something that would never, ever happen in Venezuela. Oh, wait …

Lava Jato, along with Brazil’s tanking economy, have made Dilma incredibly unpopular, although her numbers have risen slightly as of late. She apparently has not personally benefitted from the graft scheme – something that foreign correspondent think is really important, all the while minimizing the fact that during the years in which the massive scheme was ongoing, she was the chairwoman of the company.

In other words, it’s as if massive corruption was discovered in PDVSA, but Rafael Ramirez alleged he was not involved, and the press pointed that out time and again.

Some of Dilma’s (former) allies include the powerful PMDB, a somewhat centrist political party that specializes in patronage and pretty much nothing else. One member of that party, Eduardo Cunha, is also the president of the Chamber of Deputies. Dilma’s VP, Michel Temer, also belongs to the PMDB. Both are sleaze balls, but hey, Brazilians elected them. The strain caused by the scandal has split the coalition between Dilma’s PT and their party.

In terms we can understand, it’s as if Henry Ramos Allup and AD were allied with Maduro, and then they had a huge tiff, and then an impeachment occurred, with Ramos Allup poised to take power.

What are they alleging?

Impeachment advocates say Dilma broke fiscal rules by masking the budget deficit during the election year. Dilma says this is a technicality, that all Presidents have done it before, and that it does not constitute a crime.

She might be partially right, but the real reason behind the impeachment is the massive graft that the PT orchestrated, led, and directly benefitted from.

In other words, the President is being impeached for a minor thing, while the real reason lies elsewhere. We saw something like this in Venezuela in 1993, when Congress (with Ramos Allup leading the pitchfork brigade, by the way) impeached a President for a minor thing (giving money to Nicaragua), but the real reason was another problem (the loss of privilege due to the tearing down of the system of state corporatism that sustained the IVth Republic).

Dilma and Lula both allege that her impeachment amounts to a “coup.” They have even brought in the Secretary General of the OAS to say that, tsk tsk, it looks like a coup to him. While they go about blasting the opposition, they are rousing up the rabble, even going so far as bringing supporters to Brasilia by bus to support them.

It’s as if our President alleged he is being overthrown every time somebody says he should go away, and organized massive rallies to defend himself with public funds. That … would never happen, right?

So, that is where things stand. If 342 deputies (out of 513) vote yes tonight, the bill to impeach Dilma goes to the Senate. She could appeal the process at any time, but so far the Supreme Court has turned her down.

In the Senate, if 41 out of 81 senators vote yes, impeachment begins. At that point, Dilma would be removed from office, and Temer would be sworn in. The impeachment would start and last for 180 days. At the end of that period, two-thirds of the Senate would be required to convict the President.

If they fail to get those votes, Dilma returns. If they succeed, Temer finishes out her term until 2018 … unless, that is, he gets impeached too, something that may also be in the cards.

As you can see, it’s all a big fat mess. To put it in Venezuelan terms, it’s as if the country’s politics were roiled in controversy and chaos – something we have a hard time relating to, no?