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Impeachment Trial Begins For Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff


We're going to spend the next several minutes overseas, starting in Brazil, with our regular segment Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand what's happening in the news by parsing some of the words associated with those stories. And our word is not Olympics. It's actually a name - Dilma, as in Dilma Rousseff. She was president until she was suspended, and is likely on her way out.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Speaking Portuguese).

MARTIN: That is her impeachment trial you're hearing there. You can hear the anger. Tomorrow morning, the temperature will probably crank up even higher when Rousseff testifies before the Senate. Here to tell us more is Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR correspondent in Brazil. Hi, Lulu.


MARTIN: So could you remind us again exactly why Rousseff is on trial? What's she accused of?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, she is technically on trial for fiscal mismanagement of the economy. The accusation is that she was hiding the terrible state of the economy by filling budget shortfalls in popular social programs through creative accounting. It's a very technical issue. Her defenders say this is a longstanding practice going back many presidents from different parties and she is guilty only of a mistaken economic policy.

They say the Senate is not empowered to remove a legitimately elected leader simply because they don't like her decisions in running the economy. So ultimately, I think this trial is not about whether or not she committed a crime. You know, impeachment - it's a political act. It's not a criminal inquiry. So, you know, she's going to stand or fall not necessarily on the evidence, which is considered pretty weak, but rather on the political forces arrayed against her. And those are very strong.

MARTIN: Well, the impeachment trial, the proceedings themselves, began last week. What's happened so far?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, as you heard there in the intro, it's been very dramatic, very impassioned - shouting matches, senators accusing each other of having no moral authority or standing to conduct the trial. You know, let me remind you that many of the senators in Brazil are under investigation for corruption, for bribery, something Dilma Rousseff has never been implicated in. That's become a huge point of contention, Michel. A Senate with so many under investigation is judging a president who has not been proven to be corrupt. And so that is the main point here that many are arguing.

MARTIN: What do you think we'll hear in her testimony on Monday?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think it's going to be really interesting. Rousseff has made it clear that she feels she's being removed through a coup. Let's not forget she's a former leftist guerrilla. She was tortured by the dictatorship. She's a fighter, and she wants to make her case to the end. She has always said she never considered resigning. She never wanted to make it easy for those who are seeking her ouster. We understand she will make a very personal statement about how her impeachment is a threat to Brazil's democracy. It's basically going to be her last chance to make her case directly to the Brazilian people, and she's going to take it.

MARTIN: And then what happens? After she testifies, what happens after that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I mean, ultimately, after she testifies the Senate is going to vote. They need 54 out of the 81 senators to say that impeachment should happen, and it seems that they do have those numbers. It's almost inevitable that she will be removed. And then her vice president, Michel Temer, takes over for the rest of her term. She will also be barred from running for political office for at least eight years.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro joining us from Brazil. Lulu, thank you.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.