A Breakdown of Brazil's Political Crisis

Here's a play-by-play of the craziness happening in one of the world's biggest democracies

Rachel Glickhouse
Mar 17, 2016 · 9 min read
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Agência Brasil/Creative Commons

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How Did We Get Here?

The left-wing Workers' Party, known as the PT, has been in power since 2003. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was a wildly popular two-term president who became a symbol of Brazil's ascension to the world stage and an inspiration for other left-leaning leaders in developing countries. Known as the "Teflon" leader, he left office with high approval ratings despite a large-scale corruption scandal that unfolded within his administration called the Mensalão.

This GIF of Lula and Dilma went viral this week. You'll see why soon.
Hank Green provides more historical context on the crisis.

The Latest Turn of Events

March 4: Former President Lula detained by federal police

The popular ex-president was taken in for questioning for several hours by police as part of the Car Wash investigation. Lula stands accused of receiving financial and real estate benefits as a part of the large-scale kickback scheme.

Lula's press conference following his detainment.

March 9: São Paulo prosecutors issue a formal request for Lula's arrest

March 10: Rousseff asks Lula to join her cabinet

The controversial move would offer Lula some legal protection in which he could only be tried in the Supreme Court. It could also potentially help Rousseff fight off impeachment.

March 14: The transcript of Lula's interrogation is made public

It's the first in a series of bombshell documents to drop. While there's no smoking gun, it does make for fascinating reading into the life of one of Brazil's most powerful people.

March 15: Key plea bargain testimony is released

Another bombshell. Senator Delcídio do Amaral was the first sitting senator to be arrested in Brazilian history for his involvement in the big corruption scandal. The former leader of the Senate made a plea bargain with police, and his accusations implicate even more of the country's most powerful figures.

March 13: Anti-government, pro-impeachment demonstrations take place throughout the country

They're reportedly the largest protests ever recorded in Brazil.

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March 13 protest in Brasília. (Senado Federal)

March 16: Lula agrees to become Rousseff's chief of staff…

…and later in the day, the judge in charge of the Car Wash investigation releases wiretapped recordings of Lula and Rousseff

Another bombshell. There are claims that one of the recordings prove Rousseff was purposely trying to shield Lula through the cabinet post. While still unproven, the accusation alone causes an uproar. (Also, it turns out that particular recording was made after the judge ordered the wiretap discontinued.) The government releases a swearing-in document referenced in the conversation.

Audio of wiretaps

#TchauQuerida, or "Bye, dear" goes viral, since it's how Lula signs off in one call to Rousseff

March 17: Lula gets sworn in as minister

Rousseff speaks out about the recordings, saying "This is how coups start."

March 17 (later on): A Brasilia judge suspends Lula's appointment

Though as it turns out from his Facebook page, this judge is rampantly anti-Rousseff and even attended anti-government protests. The government successfully appeals the ruling, but another judge in Rio blocks the appointment again. The government appeals to the Supreme Court.

March 17 (even later on): The lower house of Congress approves an impeachment committee

It includes Paulo Maluf, who's wanted by Interpol and has a long rap sheet involving corruption. In fact, about a quarter of those on the impeachment committee are under investigation by the Supreme Court.

March 17 (in the evening): Lula pens an open letter expressing hope that the Supreme Court will treat him fairly.

March 18: The second injunction blocking Lula from becoming minister is struck down.

…meaning he's allowed to take office.

March 18: Large pro-democracy and pro-government demonstrations take place.

March 18 (late afternoon): A São Paulo judge accepts a new injunction blocking Lula's appointment.

So he's yet again prevented from taking office.

March 18 (evening): A Supreme Court judge blocks Lula's appointment and allows the original investigation to continue with the original judge.

So Lula is still not a minister. Someone creates a website, Is Lula Minister? to help people keep track.

March 19 and 20: The attorney general asks the Supreme Court to issue an injunction allowing Lula's appointment.

Lula is still not technically minister.

March 22: Federal police launch a new operation targeting Odebrecht, the construction company central to the Petrobras investigation.

They discover that the company — the largest construction firm in Latin America — had a department just for bribery, and that there were bribes involved in World Cup and Olympics projects. Later, Odebrecht releases a statement saying several executives agreed to cooperate with investigators. This could be more bad news for politicians tied to the probe.

March 22 (later): A Supreme Court judge moves the jurisdiction of the case against Lula to the nation's highest court.

But it doesn't give him the legal protections he would have as minister. A final ruling on whether he can become minister is still pending.

March 23: Documents are released showing more than 200 politicians who received funds from Odebrecht, including how much they allegedly received.

It's unclear whether they were bribes or not, though the amounts differed from publicly recorded campaign contributions, and the politicians are referred to by both their names and codenames. Later in the day, the judge in charge of the investigation orders the documents to be resealed.

March 29: The PMDB, Brazil's largest political party, officially leaves Rousseff's coalition.

It means the president is more vulnerable to impeachment.

March 31: The Supreme Court agrees to take Lula's case.

This means the high court removed the case from the original judge's jurisdiction.

April 5: A Supreme Court judge orders Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against the vice president

Meanwhile, impeachment proceedings against the president are in full swing.

April 11: A recording is leaked of the vice president outlining his administration in the event of the president's impeachment .

The strange leak comes the same day that a congressional committee is set to vote on whether to recommend impeachment. In the recording, the vice president speaks as if the impeachment had already happened.

April 11 (in the evening): A lower house committee votes to allow the presidential impeachment process to move ahead.

April 12: The president accuses her own vice president of a coup and treason.

April 15 (in the wee hours of the morning): The Supreme Court votes to allow the impeachment process to go ahead.

April 15: The lower house of Congress begins a marathon debate session.

It lasts for 34 hours, the longest session in the history of the country's legislature.

April 16: Another congressional debate session is held ahead of the floor impeachment vote on April 17.

April 17: The lower house of Congress votes in favor of impeachment

The process moves on to the Senate.

May 3: The prosecutor general files criminal charges in the Supreme Court against Lula.

It's part of the ongoing Car Wash probe, based on the allegation that Lula participated in a scheme to try to prevent a former Petrobras executive from helping the investigation.

May 3 (later): The prosecutor general asks the Supreme Court to investigate President Rousseff for obstruction of justice.

Also as part of the Car Wash investigation, based on the plea bargain testimony from the senator and nominating Lula to her cabinet.

May 4: The Supreme Court suspends Eduardo Cunha as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and as a legislator.

This is the guy who spearheaded Dilma's impeachment in the lower house. He lost his position as a result of being under investigation for corruption. Cunha is allowed to appeal the decision.

May 4: The attorney general says the government will ask the Supreme Court to nullify the impeachment process.

This is based on the fact that Cunha has been suspended.

May 4: A prosecutor says that Vice President Michel Temer is banned for running from office for eight years due to campaign finance violations — but he's still allowed to become president.

Temer will take over for Dilma if she's impeached.

May 9: In a new twist, the interim lower house president says he's annulling the impeachment vote and that a new vote will be scheduled.

The opposition appeals to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

May 9: However, the Senate is still scheduled to vote on impeachment on May 11.

May 9: In the middle of the night, the interim lower house president revokes his own annulment of impeachment.

May 11: The Senate holds a marathon debate starting in the morning.

The Supreme Court refuses a last-minute request from Rousseff's administration to block the vote.

May 12: After 6am, the Senate votes 55–22 to put the president on trial.

That means she has to step down for up to 180 days while the trial takes place, and her vice president becomes interim president.

May 12: Michel Temer, Rousseff's vice president, becomes interim president.

To be continued.

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