Concerned that the U.S. government’s silence on the "power grab" in Brazil offers a tacit stamp of approval to the recent installation of an unelected government, 40 members of U.S. Congress have penned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to call for the “protection of constitutional democracy and the rule of law” in the South American country.
“What we're seeing in Brazil is a power-grab by politicians who weren't able to win at the ballot box,” said Democratic Congressman John Conyers in a statement on Monday upon the release of the letter. “Our government should speak out against the anti-democratic travesty taking place in Brazil.”
The United States has failed to comment on the political crisis in Brazil amid the conservative-led impeachment bid against President Dilma Rousseff that has been widely condemned as a parliamentary coup given the lack of basis for removing her from office on legal grounds.
The Congressional letter, endorsed by a number of U.S. trade unions as well as other groups, calls on Kerry to “refrain from statements or actions that might be interpreted as supportive of the impeachment campaign,” calling instead for the U.S. government to voice “strong concern” regarding the process and its impact on Brazilian democracy.
“This is not a legal trial, but a political one, where a two-thirds majority vote by a Senate riddled with corruption can end President Rousseff’s tenure,” reads the letter, which comes just weeks ahead of a final vote in the Senate on whether to permanently remove Rousseff.
“The U.S. government should express concern about the threat to democratic institutions unfolding in a country that is one of our most important political and economic allies in the region, and the world’s fifth most populous country as well as Latin America’s largest economy,” the letter continues, adding that the the impeachment attempt has been questioned from the outset and caused “enormous controversy.”
The letter notes that the installation of Michel Temer in the country’s top office upon Rousseff’s suspension on May 12 “immediately replaced a progressive, diverse and representative administration with one that contains only white men who have announced plans to impose austerity.” The regressive moves include slashing funding for social and poverty reduction programs and cutting key ministries.
Although Rousseff’s conservative rivals long attempted to paint the impeachment bid as a campaign against government corruption, Temer’s cabinet has already lost three ministers over fraud scandals, while the unelected “interim” president is also embroiled in corruption and banned from running for public office for the next eight years.
“The interim authorities are rushing to replace the president’s progressive administration with austerity and privatization, before the Senate even indicts her,” said Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison. “This is a serious threat to the democratic process in Brazil, and our administration should not support it.”
But the United States has been completely silent on Brazil, sparking criticism over its hypocrisy in Latin America given its its strongly outspoken response to recent political dynamics in Venezuela.
When asked by journalists to comment on the conditions surrounding Rousseff’s impeachment in a press conference last month, U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner repeatedly refused to comment on Brazil after detailing lengthy criticisms of Venezuela.
“I’m not aware of the particular allegations that you’ve raised,” Toner told journalists raising questions about the political crisis in Brazil. “We believe it is a strong democracy.”
When pressed, Toner got exasperated saying, “look, I’ve said my piece (on Brazil). I mean, I don’t have anything to add.”
The 40 Congressional representatives who wrote to John Kerry also expressed concern over such statements.
“We are dismayed to note that to date, State Department officials have limited themselves to expressing confidence in the democratic process in Brazil, without noting some of the very obvious concerns regarding the impeachment process and actions taken by the interim government,” they wrote, cautioning Kerry to avoid “signals that could be interpreted as supportive.”
One such signal is the fact that in April U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with right-wing Brazilian Senator Aloysio Nunes, a key supporter of the impeachment attempt, in Washington in what some described as a public relations trip ahead of Temer’s installation as unelected president.
The Congressional letter also highlights another key point: “President Rousseff herself has never been formally charged with corruption and the impeachment claims are not based on corruption allegations.”
A recent report by Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s office found that Rousseff is not guilty of any crime. The final vote on her political fate is expected in late August.
A mock International Tribunal for Democracy ruled last week that the impeachment against Rousseff is a coup and a serious blow to Brazilian democracy.