Brazil’s political crisis has deepened today after a federal judge suspended the appointment of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as chief of staff and Congress voted to start impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.
The latest crisis began yesterday, after an intercepted phone conversation between President Dilma Rousseff and Lula raised doubts over his appointment as chief of staff, which had been confirmed just hours earlier that day.
In the recording, Rousseff tells Lula that she will give him “the paper,” – allegedly referring to a decree which nominates him for a cabinet position – for Lula to use “in case it is necessary.”
Critics see Lula’s appointment as an attempt by the current president to help him avoid possible detention as a result of charges he is facing.
The ex-president is currently facing charges of money-laundering and misrepresentation over the alleged possession of a luxury apartment in the seaside resort of Guarujá. His appointment as cabinet chief could alter the investigation, as Brazilian law states that sitting politicians can only be tried in the country’s Supreme Court.
The opposition says that the tape demonstrates Rousseff is implicated in the scandal as an accomplice. According to Deputy Antônio José Imbassahy da Silva of the opposition Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) it is “a confession of guilt and a slap to society,” he says. “By appointing him, President Dilma has become his accomplice.”
Rousseff, however, maintains that the position was offered to the ex-president because of his political prowess and popularity in order to save her administration, plagued with discontent over Brazil’s worst economic recession in decades, and a large corruption scandal involving state oil company, Petrobras.
“He is going to help,” she insisted. “We are going to look at returning to growth, fiscal stability, and controlling inflation.”
Though Lula was sworn in this morning, just an hour later federal judge Itagiba Cata Preta Neto placed an injunction to suspend his appointment on the grounds that it could impede the judicial investigation. The government said it would appeal the measure.
After the recording was released by the media yesterday afternoon, protests broke out yesterday in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, and the country’s largest city and financial hub, São Paulo.
While figures vary, estimates place tens of thousands in attendance at the rallies calling for both Lula and Rousseff to resign. Other groups rallied in support of the two political leaders, with skirmishes breaking out in several cities.
Wednesday’s protests followed similar but much larger protests on Sunday in nearly 400 cities across the country. According to police estimates, Sunday’s protests saw over three million people gather – with 1.4m in São Paulo alone – to demand the impeachment of President Rousseff, a process which began late last year over accounting irregularities but has since stalled.
While Datafolha, a respected research center, estimated that protesters in São Paulo numbered closer to 500,000, it said that even the lower figure constitutes a historic record.
Running parallel to the scandal involving Lula, President Rousseff suffered another setback today as legislators in the lower house of Congress approved the creation of a special commission to begin impeachment proceedings against her.
Opposition parties called for Rousseff to be impeached last September, arguing that the incumbent president has infringed the country’s tax laws and manipulated public finances in order to seek reelection in 2014.
The low house of Congress approved the start of proceedings in December, but this was suspended a week later by the Supreme Court over irregularities in the selection of the 65 members of the special commission.
Today’s vote in Congress came after the Supreme Court yesterday clarified the rules for creating the commission.