Turmoil Deepens in Brazil as House Speaker Splits From Rousseff’s Coalition

The announcement ratcheted up pressure on President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing calls for her ouster over a sweeping graft scheme at the national oil company.

Brazil’s scandal-plagued political establishment was thrown further into turmoil on Friday when the embattled speaker of the lower house of Congress announced that he was breaking from a coalition with the governing Workers Party, ratcheting up pressure on President Dilma Rousseff.

The move by the speaker, Eduardo Cunha, an evangelical Christian radio commentator whose sway in Congress makes him one of Brazil’s most powerful politicians, could give momentum to the efforts to impeach Ms. Rousseff, who is facing calls for her ouster over a sweeping graft scheme at Petrobras, the national oil company, political analysts said.

The rupture came after a consultant for a Petrobras contractor, who reached a plea bargain with prosecutors, testified this week that Mr. Cunha had solicited and accepted a $5 million bribe. Mr. Cunha rejected the claim, accusing Ms. Rousseff’s administration of orchestrating a conspiracy to weaken him.

“The government has a personal hatred of me,” Mr. Cunha, 56, said at a news conference in the capital, Brasília. “They want to drag me through the mud, and that’s something I won’t allow.”

In a statement, Ms. Rousseff’s office said that it had not interfered with the investigations of Mr. Cunha and other figures implicated in the Petrobras scandal, arguing that it had intervened only when there were signs of abuse of power by investigators. Mr. Rousseff’s administration said it still expected “impartiality” from Mr. Cunha regarding his leadership of the lower house.

Dozens of political figures have been implicated in the scandal, including a former president, Fernando Collor, and the treasurer of Ms. Rousseff’s leftist Workers Party. Marcelo Odebrecht, the billionaire chief executive of the Odebrecht construction giant, is among the various powerful business leaders in jail on accusations of allowing the graft scheme to flourish.

Now, the scandal is intensifying with the testimony against Mr. Cunha and his maneuvering against Ms. Rousseff, reflecting the fragility of the coalition that controls both houses of Congress and is anchored by his centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party.

Mr. Cunha said his rupture with Ms. Rousseff was a personal decision but that he would push for his party, called the P.M.D.B., to break completely with the government. The party said in statement that such a move could be taken only with a decision by its leadership, emphasizing that Mr. Cunha’s move was “personal.”

Along with Renan Calheiros, the influential head of Brazil’s Senate, Mr. Cunha had already been rebelling against Ms. Rousseff this year, thwarting her cabinet nominees and advancing conservative legislation at odds with her government.

In breaking with the president and blaming her for the corruption accusations he is facing, Mr. Cunha risks alienating even some of Mr. Rousseff’s strident critics by deepening the sense of political crisis, at a time when the authorities are struggling to lift the economy from a debilitating slowdown.

The P.M.D.B. had “agreed with the task of assisting Dilma Rousseff with governing, not sabotaging her,” the influential newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo said in an editorial, describing the moves by Mr. Cunha and Mr. Calheiros as “blackmail” aimed at enhancing their own power at a time of political disarray.

Various corruption scandals are unfolding simultaneously.

Just this week, the son of the chief justice of the federal auditing court was accused of operating a scheme at the court that favored a large construction company, while federal prosecutors said they were opening a full investigation into claims of influence peddling by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ms. Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor as president.

Ms. Rousseff, who is six months into her second term, faces a precariously low ebb in her presidency. Her approval rating stands at 10 percent, according Datafolha, a prominent polling company. The poll, conducted on June 17 and 18 in interviews with 2,840 people, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

“I won’t fall,” Ms. Rousseff insisted in an interview this month with the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, rejecting speculation that she could resign. “I won’t. I won’t. It’s that simple, this is a political fight.”

New York Times| By SIMON ROMERO

Top
We use cookies to improve our website. By continuing to use this website, you are giving consent to cookies being used. More details…