Was Dilma’s impeachment to blame? – 05/20/2023 – Celso Rocha de Barros

The publisher, however, has just published a very good book: “Operação Impeachment”, by Fernando Limongi. He is one of the greatest Brazilian political scientists, author, with Argelina Figueiredo, of a classic work that showed that coalition presidentialism worked much better than previously believed.

In “Operação Impeachment”, Limongi’s proposal is simple: based exclusively on facts reported by the press (which were therefore known to political actors when they made their decisions), Limongi tells the story that begins in the internal conflicts of the first term of Dilma and leads to impeachment.

There is, however, a theoretically informed framework that guides the text.

When Limongi describes the actions of Dilma or her opponents, she is always asking herself: why did those mechanisms that previously worked in coalition presidentialism not work in 2016? Limongi is talking to his own work and 30 years of Brazilian political science.

On the other hand, Limongi is not interested in the big impeachment speeches. He has no interest in discussing whether or not it was a coup: what interests him is precisely the fact that the institutions were still there, but they stopped working.

Nor does he have patience with the story “we caught the PT stealing, then we went there and overthrew Dilma”. Lava Jato’s accusations show a cartel of construction companies that operated for decades and financed everyone, including everyone who carried out the impeachment.

The thesis “the problem was that Dilma was inept” is accepted with more reservations than usual: even if Dilma failed, she played hard against her opponents, won for many years and was far from the only one who played wrong.

Limongi also demonstrates healthy skepticism towards the idea, common among some PT members, that Lula in Dilma’s place would have resolved all political crises.

But if Dilma played, why did she fall? The explanation, according to Limongi, is Lava Jato.

Not because the findings of the operation inspired a mass movement that overthrew the president. Brazilian politicians carried out the impeachment to defend themselves against Lava Jato, as they no longer believed that Dilma would be able to stop it.

Longtime readers of the column know that this is also my interpretation. In the end, Lava Jato was even dismantled by the guys who were on the side of Deltan Dallagnol in last week’s speech. But the impeachable centre-right was decimated in the 2018 election, with dire consequences for Brazilian democracy thereafter.

What Limongi’s book forces us to ask is what the productive reaction of the political system to the Lava Jato revelations would have been. From the point of view of the rational interest of the actors who carried out the impeachment, what alternative was there? Accept arrest when his connections to the contractors’ cartel were revealed? From the country’s point of view, were there only the alternatives “agreement” and “fratricidal crusade”?

In any case, Limongi’s book is important to show that there is much worth rebuilding in the Brazilian political system after a decade in which we rarely missed the chance to take the wrong turn.

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