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Impeachment Trial To Begin For Brazil's Suspended President Rousseff


And you might say the Olympics helped Brazil forget their troubles for a few weeks, but today, the political crisis there takes center stage once again. The impeachment trial of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gets underway this morning in the Senate. She has already been suspended, and this is the last stage in a process that could see her permanently removed from office. To talk about what this means for the world's eighth-largest economy, we're joined by NPR correspondent Lulu Garcia-Navarro. Good morning, Lulu.


GREENE: So this has been going on for months, a brief respite during the Olympics, but remind us what exactly is happening today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed, a very brief respite. It's really the end of the line. Over the next few days, we're going to see witnesses for the prosecution, and the defense will appear in the Senate. They will be questioned by the senators. And to remind you, what she's being tried for is fiscal mismanagement of the economy, juggling the books to hide the real state of the economy. Rousseff herself will testify on Monday, and then, after that, the Senate will vote. The whole thing will be over by next week.

GREENE: And for people who haven't been following every twist and turn of this, just remind us how we got here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rousseff was re-elected in 2014. That was only two years ago, but it was by a very slim margin. It was a very tight election. And right after that, the economy just began tanking. We saw huge protests against her, the largest in Brazil's history. And then her coalition partners started turning against her because there was this massive corruption investigation implicating many in the political class. And she always says that she has not been implicated in corruption while many of those who are judging her in the Senate in Congress have been.

She says this is a coup. She says she's innocent. And she says the people who are taking her down are trying to protect themselves from prosecution and undo years of progressive leftist policies. So two very different ways of looking what's happening to Dilma Rousseff.

GREENE: Throughout the country, are there people who believe her?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's really interesting. I'll tell you two anecdotes. One happened after Brazil's Olympic women's soccer semifinal. There were tens of thousands of Brazilian fans. They were leaving the Maracana Stadium when all of a sudden these political chants were taken up, and one side was chanting fuera Temer, out Temer. He's the interim president who is deeply unpopular and seen by many of the left as someone who betrayed Dilma and orchestrated this impeachment. And the other side started chanting fuera PT, out PT, which is Rousseff's party. So no one came to blows. There was no violence. But this is a divided country, and people do see what is happening very differently.

That said, Dilma Rousseff does not have a lot of support. Polls show that, and leftists that I've spoken to in the favelas during the Olympics - I kept on talking to people about the political crisis. One of them said to me, you know, we will not fight for Rousseff. She betrayed her base by trying to put in austerity measures. She was just a lousy, arrogant politician, according to one of the people I spoke to.

GREENE: So is there any reason to believe she could survive this?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, no, everything points to the fact that she will not survive this. Fifty-four senators are needed to vote against her. and the numbers at this point seem to be well over that.

GREENE: And then I guess the question for Brazil is, what happens after that when a president is removed?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. So Temer, and that's the unpopular interim president, will be sworn in as president. And he will see out her term of two more years. The main issue for him is the economy. We've seen massive job losses. Unemployment is at over 11 percent. And ultimately, his fate hangs on the question of whether he can resolve the important question of the economy for Brazilians.

GREENE: OK, real political crisis in Brazil as an impeachment trial of the president begins today. Lulu Garcia-Navarro in Brazil, thanks very much.

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.

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