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Impeachment Bid Against President Drives Political Turmoil In Brazil


She is known as the Iron Lady of Brazil. Despite cracking down on corruption and pushing for social welfare reforms, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is an unpopular leader. There's a bid to impeach her. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us now from Rio de Janeiro. Hey there.


SHAPIRO: Why do people in Brazil want to impeach their president?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there's two things happening here. First of all, you have popular opinion. Dilma Rousseff is an incredibly unpopular leader. She's being blamed for the state of the economy. Right now, the economy is in a freefall. It's in recession. There's also a massive corruption scandal at the state oil company. And all of this is being blamed on her. But that is separate to what's happening in the Congress. In the Congress, she is being accused of cooking the federal books. They say that she was masking the real state of the economy and that it was in a much worse state for a long time. And so this impeachment proceeding is rolling forward, judging her on those grounds.

SHAPIRO: And where is that process now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the moment, it's on vacation because this is summer and Congress isn't convening again till February. When they do, a committee is going to be formed, which will look at the charges against her. They will make their determination, and then it will go to the lower house of Congress for a vote. Two-thirds of the Congress have to vote in favor of impeachment for it then to move to the Senate. Then two-thirds of the Senate has to vote in favor of impeachment for her to actually be impeached. The bar is very, very high, and most analysts say at the moment it doesn't seem likely that Dilma Rousseff will be impeached. It's causing a great amount of turmoil in the country, as you can imagine.

SHAPIRO: The people are on break for the holidays at the moment of course, but does it look like this is likely to happen?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you know, the bar is really, really high. And at this point, you're seeing all the newspapers almost every day sort of saying what are the votes for this? You know, are there enough votes to get her impeached, are there not? It's sort of, like, this political jockeying. And it seems that at this point the pro-impeachment camp just doesn't have the votes. So it doesn't look likely that this will happen. But this political drama is happening at a really difficult time in Brazil. As I've mentioned, you have this terrible economic situation. And there is political paralysis because of the impeachment proceedings. So nothing is really moving forward.

SHAPIRO: This is such a turnaround for Brazil, economically and politically. Dilma Rousseff is the first female president, and Brazil was, just a few years ago, seen as a huge rising power in Latin America. Now the economy is in terrible shape. Why did everything go sour?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, that's the million-dollar question. I mean, as with everything in a publicly polarized country, which Brazil is right now, it depends who you ask. So, you know, supporters of Rousseff and her leftist government will say she's been ambushed, you know, by the global economy. Commodities prices have gone down. Brazil is very dependent on commodities. It exports iron ore, soybeans, and so those prices have gone down, which means less money is coming in, which means the economy is really being hurt. China's economy is contracting. That's Brazil's biggest trading partner. So, you know, they say this isn't my problem. This isn't my fault. Don't be mad at me. This is global economics at play. On the other side, her critics say that she has badly mismanaged the economy. She spent lavishly even though there was ill economic winds blowing. They say it's all her fault for not taking action sooner. And Dilma Rousseff has been unable at this point to really turn things around.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking with us from Rio de Janeiro. Thanks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.