Brazil's Rousseff braces for impeachment battle
(Associated Press) - December 3, 2015 - 9:39am

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff dug in Thursday for a long and bitter battle with a deeply fragmented Congress after impeachment proceedings were introduced against her in the lower house.

The timing couldn't be worse for the leader of Latin America's largest economy.

Brazil is facing its deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression as consumer demand and commodity prices have plummeted, and a sprawling kickback scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras has cast a pall over the entire business community and frozen investments.

Speaker Eduardo Cunha introduced impeachment proceedings Wednesday evening, citing a court's finding that Rousseff's administration violated fiscal responsibility laws by using money from state-run banks to fill budget gaps and pay for social programs.

Rousseff's Workers' Party has indicated it will argue before the Supreme Court that Cunha exceeded his powers as house speaker.

Cunha in the coming days will give the 29 parties with representatives in the lower house 48 hours to appoint members to a special House commission that will debate the impeachment measure and vote on whether it moves forward to the full house.

Analysts said the impeachment proceedings will likely make it out of the commission, but seem unlikely to get the needed two-thirds vote in the full house.

But if impeachment does pass the House, Rousseff would be temporarily removed from office for up to six months, her vice president would take over, and the Senate would then decide whether Rousseff should be permanently removed.

Rousseff, who has the lowest poll ratings since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985, sharply rejected any wrongdoing.

"I've committed no illicit act. There is no suspicion hanging over me of any misuse of public money," the president said in a national broadcast speech late Wednesday.

Although Rousseff was narrowly re-elected last November, her image has suffered as a result of the political corruption scandal at Petrobras, even though she faces no accusations of wrongdoing.

Cunha, on the other hand, has been charged with taking millions in bribes in connection to the scheme. Prosecutors allege Cunha has at least $5 million hidden in Swiss bank accounts and it is widely thought he could be arrested.

Rousseff's allies charged that Cunha was retaliating against the president over his own legal troubles.

"Cunha's decision shows the desperation of a man who faces corruption allegations and is willing to use all means, including blackmail and the violation of democratic principles, to stay in power and satisfy his wishes," said Jaques Wagner, Rousseff's chief of staff. "Brazil is stronger than Eduardo Cunha."

An ethics committee in the House of Deputies is considering whether the full body should vote on the question of Cunha losing his seat because of the corruption investigation.

He launched the impeachment proceedings just hours after three Workers' Party lawmakers on the 21-member ethics committee indicated they would recommend he be removed from Congress.

"I have no political motivation," Cunha said. "There have never been as many requests to impeach a president as in this administration."

On the public animosity that exists between him and Rousseff, Cunha told reporters on Thursday that "there is no war between us. What exists is the incapacity of an executive branch that isn't able to govern. There are no personal attacks in the facts."

Cunha's Brazilian Democratic Party is the strongest partner in Rousseff's ruling coalition, though Cunha and some other members have clearly drifted away from her in recent months.

Members of the opposition backed Cunha's impeachment effort.

"It is not a coup. We are talking about a mechanism that exists in our Constitution," said Sen. Aecio Neves, who narrowly lost against Rousseff in last year's presidential election.

The impeachment effort comes as Brazil's economy is expected to contract more than 3.5 percent this year and again be in recession next year. That could be a wild card for her as she fights for her political life.

"President Dilma Rousseff, who began in such a gloomy state less than a year ago, is now facing dark days. The outcome is unpredictable," wrote Eliane Cantanhede, a political columnist for Estado do S. Paulo. "She may or may not survive."

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