Early life and political career
Rousseff was raised in an upper-middle-class household. Her father was a lawyer who immigrated to Brazil from Bulgaria, and her mother was a teacher. In 1964 Brazil’s president was overthrown by a coalition of civilian and military officials, and the teenaged Rousseff became involved in the left-wing opposition to the government. She was associated with the militant group National Liberation Command (Comando de Libertação Nacional; Colina), and she married fellow activist Cláudio Galeno Linhares in 1968. After a raid on a Colina safe house resulted in police fatalities, the pair went into hiding in Rio de Janeiro. She and Galeno later fled Rio de Janeiro for Porto Alegre, subsequently separated, and in 1981 divorced. Rousseff moved to São Paulo, and it was there in 1970 that she was arrested by government forces. She was imprisoned for three years on the charge of subversion and during that time was subjected to torture by her captors.
Upon her release in 1973, Rousseff resumed her education; she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre in 1977. As the grip of the dictatorship weakened, Rousseff became active in local politics, and she was appointed finance secretary for Porto Alegre in 1986. She left that position in 1988 and later spent two years as president of the Foundation of Economics and Statistics of Rio Grande do Sul state (1991–93). She returned to government work in 1993 as secretary of mines, energy, and communications for Rio Grande do Sul, and she was credited with increasing energy efficiency and power production within the state. Rousseff left that post in 1994 and later pursued a Ph.D. in economics. Before receiving the degree, however, she was called back to her former government post in 1999, and it was there that she became affiliated withLuiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores; PT). Her standing in the party quickly rose, and she left her government job in 2002 to serve on the staff of Lula’s successful presidential campaign.
Upon taking office in 2003, Lula appointed Rousseff minister of mines and energy, and she was named chair of the Brazilian state-run oil concern Petrobras. Rousseff emphasized the need for Petrobras to expand its production capacity, and in 2005 Lula appointed her his chief of staff. An expanding economy and a shrinking poverty rate boosted Lula’s popularity, but he faced a constitutional limit of two terms, so he began grooming Rousseff to be his successor. She stepped down from Petrobrás in March 2010 to prepare for her presidential campaign. In the first round of voting, in early October, Rousseff failed to capture the 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a runoff. In the second round, held later that month, she won a commanding victory, capturing some 56 percent of votes. She was sworn into office on January 1, 2011
WHAT’S THE STORY?
BRAZIL’s first female president is facing her own Watergate after a government committee said she should be impeached.
Dilma Rousseff, who is known as the Iron Lady, faces charges of flouting budget laws to win re-election in 2014.
The impeachment recommendation by the committee of the country’s lower house means the former left-wing guerrilla is facing a fight for her political survival.
While she has withstood torture and battled cancer, it is not yet known if she can survive this Sunday’s vote in the lower house over whether she should be impeached.
If two-thirds are in favour and the upper house votes by a simple majority for an impeachment, Rousseff will be suspended while the Senate decides if she is guilty.
Rousseff maintains her innocence and claims the impeachment move amounts to a coup of a democratically elected president from the Workers’ Party.
If she is suspended, vice-president Michel Temer of the PMDB party would take over.
In a bizarre twist this week, a recording of Temer rehearsing his acceptance speech was released by mistake, further increasing tension between Rousseff and her vice-president.
However, Temer may also face impeachment proceedings which means the next in line is the PMDB’s Eduardo Cunha, one of the instigators of the move to impeach Rousseff and who has been accused of taking millions of pounds in bribes in relation to the Petrobras scandal.
WHAT HAS SHE DONE?
IT is ironic that Rousseff is facing impeachment when one of her election pledges was to fight corruption. Indeed, it could be argued that her alleged crime is far less serious than the corruption and bribery charges levelled against many other Brazilian politicians.
“It is absurd to dismiss a president who has not committed crimes, nor stolen a penny. And such a process without crime or fraud, would be a coup,” said Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cordozo.
It is unclear if supporters of her impeachment will gain their two-thirds majority on Sunday but there is no doubt that Rousseff is facing a tough fight for survival.
Her supporters protested in anti-impeachment rallies in Rio on Monday night but her popularity has plummeted in the rest of the country along with the country’s economy. Voters are suspicious, too, that she may be involved in the state-controlled oil company Petrobras scandal.
The government meltdown could hardly come at a worst time as it is less than 100 days until the Olympic Games are staged in the country, the first time the event has been held in South America.
HOW DID SHE RISE TO POWER?
ROUSSEFF is not likely to give up without a battle. Born in 1947 to an ex-communist Bulgarian immigrant, she had a comfortable life in a fairly wealthy household but joined a left-wing underground resistance movement when a military dictatorship seized power in 1964.
She was caught and jailed for three years in 1970 and was reportedly tortured but, despite electric shocks, refused to break.
After her release, she regained her health then, along with her partner Carlos Araujo, she founded the Democratic Labour Party. After holding various prominent posts she left in 2000 to join the Workers Party.
When Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won the 2002 election, she was made minister for energy and then became chief of staff in 2005, succeeding Jose Dirceu who became engulfed in a corruption scandal.
After Lula’s two terms she took over in 2010 but many believe she won power because of his popularity.
IS SHE A GOODIE OR A BADDIE?
ROUSSEFF at first remained faithful to Lula’s commitment to the poor and continued his reforms that have lifted millions out of poverty.
She managed a slim victory in 2014 over centre-right rival Aecio Neves and has sacked several ministers over allegations of corruption.
However, in recent months the opposition has linked her to the Petrobras scandal, pointing out that she was on the board of directors for seven years until 2010.
Voters, meanwhile, have been angered by the government’s support of expensive events like the 2014 World Cup at a time when money is badly needed to improve health, public transport and security in the country.
Left wingers despair at her ambiguous stance on privatisation and her concerted push to finish highly controversial dam projects in the Amazon River Basin, opposed by environmentalists, human rights activists and tribes who will be displaced by the hydro-electric schemes. Others have protested about the terrible working conditions of labourers involved in the projects.
COULD IT ALL BE A PLOT?
THE president’s supporters maintain there is a vendetta against both Rousseff and Lula, who has indicated he may run again for the presidency in 2018.
He too has been implicated in the Petrobras scandal which prosecutors say involved billions of pounds being paid in bribes for building contracts. Politicians from both the governing party and the opposition are involved, according to prosecutors. It is alleged that Lula received “illicit benefits” from the kickbacks scheme. He was briefly detained by investigators last month but was then made chief of staff by Rousseff – a post that protects him from further investigation by the federal judge in charge of the probe. Brazilian law rules that cabinet members may only be tried by the Supreme Court.
If Rousseff is impeached, it would be the first impeachment since 1992 of a Brazilian president. Then, Fernando Collor de Mello resigned just before his corruption conviction by the Senate.
The current impeachment move has polarised Brazilian voters at a time when the country is suffering rocketing inflation and unemployment.