—Juliano Zaiden Benvindo, University of Brasilia, Brazil
Impeachment has become a common word these days. Recently, examples of impeachment proceedings appeared in Madagascar, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Paraguay. In Latin America, the 1990s and 2000s were clearly marked by an “unprecedented wave of impeachments” proceedings, including in Brazil (1992), Venezuela (1993), Colombia (1996), Paraguay (1999 and 2003), Peru (2000), and Ecuador (2004). Even the United States was faced with an impeachment proceeding in 1998 with Bill Clinton’s sexual scandal and the resulting charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Generally explained as a legitimate mechanism of constitutional democracies applicable in extreme cases, some of these recent examples show that it has also been used in much less drastic circumstances and served as an instrument for political pressure and bargaining. Brazil, which in 1992 had its President Fernando Collor de Mello impeached after a wave of protests and a corruption scandal, has again had its democracy challenged by people on the streets demanding the impeachment of the recently-reelected President Dilma Roussef. While the protestors have been vocal and mass protests have become routine since her reelection last October (including on March 15th, April 12th, and August 16th of this year), their claim seems unreasonable. So, what’s going in Brazil?
First of all, we have to examine this wave of protests in the context of a country whose democracy has strengthened since the promulgation of the Constitution of 1988. Brazil has changed and an increasing curve of democratic learning and constitutional living has brought about concrete social and institutional benefits. An inflection point in Brazilian history was its very process of constitution-making, when the Constituent Assembly had to deal, as never before in Brazilian history, with organized civil society directly intervening in its legislative activities. Notwithstanding some interpreters arguing that the Constituent Assembly was characterized by political arrangements that “impeded the institutional development necessary for a consolidated democracy,” history has proven the contrary. Without denying the perverse effects of many of those political bargains, something unprecedented also happened. Since the 1970s, many social groups from distinct social and economic strata created an environment where inclusive institutions could start to take shape, and, in the 1980s and especially during the Constituent Assembly of 1987-1988, this movement directly impacted the framing of the Constitution. A culture of popular involvement gained momentum, building up the conditions for bolstering the “performative meaning” of Brazilian constitutionalism in subsequent years.