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ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro end tonight, and along with that, for Brazilians, a great distraction from a deep recession and the turmoil facing their government — specifically Dilma Rousseff, the nation’s president who was recently suspended from office. Rousseff stands accused of violating budget laws by illegally moving money between state-controlled entities to make her government’s budget deficit appear smaller than it really was. The impeachment trial begins this Thursday in Brazil’s Senate.
Joining me now via Skype from Brazil to explain what to expect is” Wall Street Journal” reporter Paulo Trevisani.
Paulo, can you explain to us what takes this from creative accounting to something illegal in Brazil?
PAULO TREVISANI, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So, about 15 years ago, Brazil created this law, this is called “Fiscal Responsibility Law”, by which (INAUDIBLE) is like what Dilma Rousseff is accused of doing, is became illegal and subject to impeachment.
STEWART: Do her accusers say she did this on her own? How could she do this on her own?
TREVISANI: Well, what the accusers say is that it was her responsibility to make sure it didn’t happen. Even if her ministers or whoever was working in the government made the mistake, it was, the accusers say, Dilma Rousseff’s final responsibility to make sure it didn’t happen.
STEWART: Rousseff plans to testify in her own defense. What has been her argument so far?
TREVISANI: Well, she says that everything she did was legal or at least it was based on precedent from previous presidents. The accusers say that the scale was much bigger than anything ever seen before. It’s a debate that boils down to politics at the end of the day. No matter how much legal arguments people toss around here and there, the final results that President Rousseff lost political support. She is going to testify, Monday, the 29th, and there is great expectations around it because it will be the first time that she talks eye to eye with her accusers. And we are all waiting to see what — if any new revelations she’s going to deliver.
STEWART: In Brazil, in the Brazilian Senate, there are 81 senators. I believe it is 54 have to vote for impeachment for it to happen. What do people anticipate will happen?
TREVISANI: The forecast at this point, there could be around 60 votes, six more than needed against Rousseff. There was a vote recently, you know, just (INAUDIBLE) of the process, and total of 69 senators voted against her. So, it’s pretty likely that she’s going to be ousted.
STEWART: And to give our viewers a little context, can you explain some of the challenges economically that Brazil is experiencing right now, while also dealing with the president facing possible impeachment?
TREVISANI: Of course, this is the one of the major crises in Brazil history ever. The political crisis with impeachment is dovetailing with a major recession. Brazil — the economy has shrunk 3.8 percent last year and it’s likely to shrink again about the same extent this year, about three-point-something percent. So, that means that right now, some 11 million Brazilians are jobless and that’s, of course, a major social problem with the economy. Inflation is running high.
And there is also a major corruption probe going on in the background that is unfolding as we speak, and dozens of politicians are being accused of corruption, including people very close to President Rousseff, even though she is not accused of anything in that corruption probe. But what we have for Brazil is enormous cleanup job to be done in the next several years.
STEWART: Paulo Trevisani from “The Wall Street Journal” — thank you so much for joining us.
TREVISANI: My pleasure.