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Dilma Rousseff Defends Herself Before Brazil's Senate

Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gestures before delivering a speech in her defense at the National Congress in Brasilia on Monday.
Evaristo Sa
AFP/Getty Images
Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gestures before delivering a speech in her defense at the National Congress in Brasilia on Monday.

Brazil's suspended president, Dilma Rousseff, faced her country's Senate on Monday, making one last case for herself as her impeachment trial nears its end.

"I have honored my commitments to democracy and the rule of law," she told the senators, according to a BBC interpreter. "I am going to look in your eyes and I will say with the serenity of someone who has nothing to hide that I haven't committed any crimes."

She described those working to impeach her as elites "trying to create a democratic rupture," imploring senators to "vote against impeachment and vote for democracy."

Rousseff spoke for more than 30 minutes, before the floor opened for various senators to step forward to confront her with direct questions.

The trial opened last week, and Rousseff's testimony comes as the Senate approaches a final vote that is widely expected to end in her permanent ouster.

Rousseff is accused of manipulating budget items to misrepresent the state of Brazil's economy. The charges are "pretty weak," NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro said, and many other members of Brazil's government have been implicated in more severe forms of corruption.

Rousseff has described the trial as an attempt at a coup — a characterization she brought up again in her speech on Monday, during which she denounced her accusers as corrupt and their allegations as unfounded and hypocritical.

She described the charges against her as "pretexts in order to perform a coup against the constitution." She repeatedly noted she had been elected by 54 million Brazilians, characterizing the impeachment as a challenge to the "solemn will of the people."

"What's at stake here is the future of our country," she declared, saying that her government had worked to protect women, minorities, LGBT people and the poor and that the more-conservative interim government would undo that work.

She also reminded Brazilians that she had been tortured by Brazil's dictatorship, drawing a parallel between her struggle then and her legal battle now.

"Today gets, if you will, to the emotional heart of the trial," Lulu said in the lead-up to the speech — and Rousseff's oratory did indeed have moments of high emotion.

"We will be judged by history," she said, again according to a BBC interpreter:

" 'Twice I have faced death — [first] when I was tortured, days and days [of] horrible acts that made me doubt the meaning of life.

" 'I also faced cancer, which could have taken my life away.

" 'Now I am afraid for the death of democracy.' "

Lulu said the speech was never really going to be about persuading senators to vote against Rousseff's impeachment.

"This is now about her legacy. This is her address for posterity," Lulu said before Rousseff's speech began. "She is betting on history possibly judging this differently than it's being judged now. She is trying to frame this argument that she is a victim of unscrupulous political forces in the country — she wants to embarrass those trying to oust her."

"She's not trying to change her fate, I think — it's pretty much sealed from everything that we understand. This is more a question of making sure she has her say," Lulu said.

"And by the same token, you can expect those questioning her throughout the day, the senators, to try and frame a different narrative, that of an arrogant, out-of-touch leader whose economic policies sank the country."

That questioning has now begun. Lulu said some 47 senators have signed up to address Dilma, either in support or condemnation.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.