Full transcript: One-on-one with Dilma Rousseff

Latin America

Dilma Rousseff, the suspended president of Brazil, defends her record and says there is absolutely no legal basis for her impeachment. She also says she made a mistake selecting Michel Temer as her vice president. Read her full interview with  CCTV America below. 

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

PAULO CABRAL, CCTV CORRESPONDENT: First of all, thank you very much for having us here at the Alvorada Palace and for this interview. And to start with, I’d like to say that you’re recognized as a fighter. Your supporters call you a “braveheart.” You are a guerilla fighter in your youth. Where does this fierceness come from? Does it have anything to do with your family? With your parents?

DILMA ROUSSEFF, SUSPENDED BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT: I believe that in general the woman in Brazil is a fighter. She has to fight to raise her kids, to maintain her profession and there’s a lot of prejudice against women. But it has a lot to do with my own life. Throughout my life, I fought. For example, against the military dictatorship in my country. There was a long period of resistance and after that we achieved democracy and a great improvement in our lives. And I also fought against a disease. Against cancer. And life also taught me how to persist.

Now I’m fighting an injustice. A profound injustice. And this is a struggle always in the case of somebody who has principles and values and who defends her country. And a group of common interests of justice, peace and everything that signifies prosperity for her people. This struggle has a lot to do with values and the reason for which I’m fighting. I’m fighting a just fight.

PC: It’s interesting you have referred to the two battles that you’ve won — against dictatorship in Brazil and cancer. Why do you think you’ve won that? What do you think led you to be a winner?

DR: I think I ended up winning because in both cases I never backed down. In life – I think in all of our lives and lives of Brazilians, Chinese, everyone in the world – whoever insists, whoever persists, whoever believes in what he’s doing is victorious. Or has a great chance of doing so, I think it’s that.

PC: You certainly know the classic Chinese text “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. He says, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” Do you see any option other than fighting right now?

DR: No, there is no other option. This is the moment to fight. I agree with Sun Tzu. It’s a very wise statement, these words. There are times in life when you should not fight. On some occasions you shouldn’t fight. You should regain your strength — avail yourself of the moment. To show a certain passivity to restore your strength to fight a later battle. Now I’m at the point that I have to fight. And I believe that this will be a fight for my country. That’s why I know that I have to fight. Not only for my presidency. Of course it’s for that, too. But above all because in Brazil not only is democracy being threatened, but all of our achievements up to now are being threatened. And everything that has to do with the betterment of our lives, all of our achievements.

We brought 40 million people out of poverty. And everything that we have achieved in the international arena. Everything we did in the sense of giving more attention to the BRIC countries, to Latin America, to the continent of Africa, to the United States, the European Union. Whereas before our foreign policy was not built around this. It was as if we had turned our backs on our own region and on these other regions I mentioned. So this struggle that I’m mentioning is the struggle, the fight to guarantee that these achievements of ours over the past 13 years be maintained. That they be solid. And that there be no steps backward.

PC: When you fight, are you dangerous? Should your enemies beware?

DR: I believe that anybody who believes in what she’s fighting for is dangerous. Because they are very strong at that point. Because the danger doesn’t come from threats. The danger comes from the fact that any one of us who fights for his convictions is strong.

PC: You accused Vice President Michel Temer, now interim president, of betraying you and democracy. What’s the basis of this accusation?

DR: The basis of this accusation is that this impeachment process is produced and led by a person who is a very important person in this whole story. The ex-president of the Chamber of Deputies. He himself has been accused of money laundering, of corruption. He has foreign bank accounts, in Switzerland for example, among other countries. He’s mentioned in the Panama Papers. This individual put this coup together. Without him, this entire coup would not have gone forward and it would not have succeeded. So then, the Vice President is an ally of this gentleman. In a way, where he was subordinate to him, he received this position of provisional president. He took the coup process into his hands. Had he acted in a more decent and honorable way, he could have stepped aside and not participated. But no. He actively participates. And the proof of this is the government that’s been formed in which a number of people, a number of these members were appointed by this former president of the Chamber of Deputies. This is clearly laid out in the press. The former president of the Chamber of Deputies, before the impeachment was adjudicated or accepted, manifested himself as the interim president. So he never obfuscated his betrayal.

PC: But, in the end, you were elected together. And when you chose the vice president, you said, ‘Rest assured. In my absence you’re going to be in good hands with this person.’ What do you think of this now? Was this a bad choice?

DR: Well in hindsight, yes. I think it was a bad choice. It was a bad choice because you can’t suppose, you can’t judge, the character of certain people unless you’re in an extreme situation when their character is put to test. So it was a bad choice because in fact Vice President [Temer] really does not have the basic wherewithal to be a president. It requires loyalty above all else. So he doesn’t have this quality.

PC: You have referred to Eduardo Cunha as the former president of the Chamber and Vice President Michel Temer as members of this coup, as you say. Are there other political figures in Brazil that are also included in this sabotage of your government?

DR: There are a number of members of this group. The press has been very clear in indicating who they are. In the papers today, you see mention today that Eduardo Cunha continues to interfere in government. And in fact, this impeachment process has this characteristic. It is a process which lacks a central issue. It lacks a crime of responsibility on which it should be based. That is why we define it as a coup. A coup, however, that is different from what has occurred in Latin America. There are coups here that are usually armed military coups where an oligarchy would be unhappy with a government. The government would be substituted with military regimes. Now we have another kind of coup. It’s a congressional coup.

We have here a presidential form of government in Brazil. In the presidential form of government, the constitution provides that the president can only be removed when a crime has been committed. I have not committed a crime. I don’t have bank accounts in Switzerland. I have not been accused of corruption. They accused me of what? They accuse me of having manipulated the budget in an irregular way. And instead of cutting expenses, I let them proceed. First, that didn’t happen. Maybe we made fiscal adjustments in Brazil. But why do they accuse me? They’re accusing me of this because they don’t have anything else to accuse me of. So, this is a very fragile accusation.

All other presidents who came before me conducted themselves in the same way. They not only practiced supplementary credits, but they did so much more often than I did. And it’s a common practice that’s carried out in the everyday operation of government. And it wasn’t a crime then. When this process was received by the president of the Chamber, he did so why? He wanted to take revenge on the government that didn’t accept his blackmail. So it’s the fruits of a power grab. He used this process again to avenge himself and he has this process, as I said, it reflects an ideal that’s completely different from that of my government. It has proposals that are very neo-liberal, conservative.

Who was elected with 54 million votes? That was me. They don’t have the wherewithal to put themselves up for elections. So, we have here a type of indirect election. A coup. A coup designed to put themselves up artificially in power. They’re using a 1950s law wherein you see a number of contradictions, whereby I’m suspended for 180 days. So you have two presidents in Brazil. You have the legitimate president – myself – and you have the provisional president who’s living on the same street. It’s an absurd scenario in a country that’s as complex, as huge as Brazil. We’re going to have to face this issue after going through this process.

This is unacceptable. And he gives himself the right to dismantle the government that we had. Now we have a government that’s without women, without blacks. In a country of majority women and with enormous proportion of its people being black. Now we have a government being run by white men in the context of a society that doesn’t reflect this government. And they’re committing absurdities. They’re doing away with the Ministry of Culture. We need the Ministry of Culture to guarantee the consolidation of our culture. But they also want to do away with universal health coverage. If not do away with it, they want to reduce it radically. We’re proud of a unified system guaranteeing universal health to all Brazilians. So there are a number of mechanisms that are being used to dismantle everything that was achieved.

PC: In most cases, a coup d’etat is followed by a dictatorship. If you say there is a coup d’etat in Brazil, do you think this country could be, in your opinion, on the path to dictatorship?

DR: I don’t believe so, and I’ll tell you why. These are different situations. In the past, a coup meant a destruction of democracy. If you imagine democracy as being a tree, a coup d’etat achieved through arms, through weapons, would be as if you used a machete or an ax to cut down the tree. This coup d’etat, in which the greatest concern is to not call it what it is, it’s done as if you’re using the institutions to destroy the tree. And using the weaknesses of the institutions to destroy the democracy or the tree as if they’re parasites. In this sense, the parasites don’t kill democracy, don’t destroy the tree. But they compromise the health of the tree. And I’m building this image to explain the differences. And this explains how, in a number of countries in Latin America, some impeachments have occurred, but this is all based on the process of impeachment. Some impeachments are based on legal processes. Some not. Those that are not are really coup d’etats. The big difference from the past is that they don’t do away with democracy, but they compromise the development of democracy and weaken it.

PC: You’re the first woman president of Brazil, which is in a region of Latin America that the world has thought to be a region of male machismo. Do you think that still is the case in Brazil and Latin America and do you think this has played any part in this political crisis?

DR: No doubt. This has played an important role in this political crisis. I believe that the fact that I’m a woman makes this a problematic situation in an environment that was always dominated by men. I don’t think that’s the chief reason. It’s a factor. But not the chief one.

PC: I want to get back to your past fights as a young Marxist guerilla in the 1960s and 1970s. You were captured and tortured by the Brazilian military. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? What was that story? What happened to you then?

DR: I fought against the military dictatorship in Brazil. I participated in the democratic resistance. And throughout that process, I was in prison for 3 years after which I was released. Obviously during that period after I left prison, it was still a dictatorship and I was under their vigilance. After the dictatorship, I was totally free. And despite that persecution, I was very happy with the resurgence of the country and finally we continued our struggle and achieved democracy.

Many people contributed to the struggle. Some died. Some were tortured. Some were exiled. But everybody struggled in his own way. And we built a democratic process in Brazil. This process found expression in constitution called a “citizens’ constitution” that not only solidified democracy but it established a number of rights for Brazilian citizens.

And what was the big role that myself and President Lula played? We put into effect these provisions. Provisions for the rights of citizenship. Through Bolsa Familia, the minimum wage, access to housing for millions of Brazilians through the “My House My Life” program. Access to university and technical education. A whole array of measures and programs. So when the economic crisis hit us, you have a whole process of reductions in the level of these benefits. Nobody likes this. But there’s a different situation. There are adjustments. But we maintained all of these policies. We didn’t do away with any. We cut some other expenses, but not the social programs.

PC: You have already spoken about this. But, I’d just like to go briefly into the definition of what happened in Brazil as a coup d’etat. It’s a very inflammatory definition but some say it’s not accurate because impeachment is in Brazil’s Constitution? So why are you so certain it’s a coup d’etat? And when you spoke at the United Nations you refrained. You did not use such strong wording as a coup d’etat. Why is that?

DR: I’ll explain. Yes, it’s provided for in the Brazilian Constitution. But, they don’t tell you the other part that’s provided for. And what’s that? It’s also mentioned that impeachment can only be carried when there’s a crime of responsibility. The fact that a crime of responsibility did not occur in this case, renders this impeachment a fraudulent process and a real parliamentary coup. What did I say at the U.N.? I said that Brazil would be stronger than any step backwards. I hadn’t been given any legitimate adjudication. The senate hadn’t tried me at that point. And we consider it a coup. We left this clear. A coup is a coup is a coup. But I didn’t mention the word “coup” because we were talking about other issues. We were talking about climate. But, immediately afterwards, I said to the press – to the international press – that in those terms what was happening was indeed a coup d’etat. And the literature talks about this. Article 85 of the Constitution requires that there be a crime of responsibility for the impeachment to be carried out. Now, it’s absolutely disingenuous to say that it’s provided for in the constitution. You can’t say a half-truth. What’s the rest of the truth? That there has to be a crime of responsibility. And they are not able to say that it’s a crime of responsibility. With the six decrees in the Safra plan, I didn’t even have one accusation in this case. So, it’s a process that causes enormous difficulty for them.

That’s why they wanted me, systematically, to resign. Because if I had resigned, it would have made everything much easier for them and their process. They wouldn’t have had to face the problem of motive. I am being removed unjustly. And that is what makes a coup d’etat. It’s an expediency for removing a person when there is no basis for removal.

PC: Not many years ago, you were extremely popular. You had 92 percent approval rating at the beginning of your government. You were even more popular than Lula da Silva. With the benefit of hindsight, seeing what happened, would you be able to single out a couple of reasons why your popularity dropped so dramatically?

DR: I will give you a big reason. The economic crisis that all of us, emerging countries avoided when it began in 2009, we avoided through a number of policies, which we called anti-cyclical policies. Investments in infrastructure, reducing taxes, increasing access to credit markets, increasing financing. We were able, in Brazil, to get to 2014 with a healthy economy through these policies. But afterwards we suffered a precipitous decline in the price of commodities: oil, minerals. All of these commodities which are important to our economy.

Secondly, there was a slowing down of all emerging economies that are our economic partners. So this crisis hits us very hard. In the face of this crisis, we had to take certain measures. We had to adopt measures that are seen as if they’re very hard on the people. Now no country was able to overcome or face a crisis by pretending it didn’t exist. We had to make certain adjustments. Brazil is a democracy, so reforms and adjustments were seen as something very negative. Now we can see that we did reforms and adjustments without taking away the rights of citizens.

And now we’re seeing that the provisional government is removing the rights which we arduously fought for. That also explains my low popularity before. And it explains why things are changing now. Because people are starting to compare the different situations.

PC: But you are an economist. And you were in Lula da Silva’s government when the economy was roaring, just booming. Was it a mistake not to have made adjustments at that time when the economy was good? And not to have invested in infrastructure? To better prepare the government to face a time of crisis?

DR: We invested a lot in infrastructure during Lula’s presidency. Now the economic crisis – that can happen in any country. The United States was deeply affected. It happened and it’s happening. Throughout the European Union, the economic crisis hit the emerging economies. You have to keep in mind that there’s a portion of the cycle where it accelerates and then it slows down. It always happens that way.

What was particularly bad – in 2014 I won the election with 54 million votes. And my adversary received 51 million votes. And from the first day I took office, what happened? First, they asked for a recount. And they confirmed there was nothing wrong. Then, they asked for inspections of the voting stations. Then they wanted me not to assume office for other reasons. Then, they systematically tried to sabotage my government through the majority they had in the Chamber of Deputies. So we didn’t just have an economic crisis. That wasn’t the only thing I was facing. I faced an economic crisis under a political crisis, where the opposition was forcing the deterioration in the environment. And forcing conditions that brought on this present crisis of the impeachment.

PC: You were one of the people that helped to organize the Olympic Games that are coming to Brazil. Not only in Brazil, but the first in South America. And you won’t be the president, or the acting president at least, when the Olympic Games come. Is that disappointing for you? Where are you planning to be watching the Games?

DR: I’m very proud to have not only participated from the beginning with the signing of the pact which they call the “responsibilities matrix” that brought Brazil to become the host of the Olympics. But also to have contributed to the financing of the infrastructures, to have helped provide for all of the infrastructure, the Olympic park. The infrastructure that provides for stadiums, for arenas. And the other aspects of physical infrastructure, guarantees enabling the building of power lines and communications. And also the security infrastructure.

So I would be very sad to not be able to participate in all this as president. But I still can be there as president. Maybe I’m not exercising the role of president. But I’ll still be president. If I’m not there as president, I might be sad.


PC: I covered all of the impeachment protests. And when I went to pro-government protests, people supporting you – even from them I heard criticisms. They were saying that you betrayed left-wing ideals, that you had allies from the right-wing. That you had made too many concessions for them. Do you think this warrants the need for left-wing political groups in Brazil, your party, to rethink what you can offer to people? The kind of alliances that are done? The way that you reached power and to stay there?

DR: I believe, as I’ve said – that there’s a legitimate criticism as to what we did. But, the most positive consequence of this process is the regrouping of the left. And this regrouping of the progressive groups. And the very existence of this government, with this nature, with this profile, you can see the big difference between this government here, this conservative anti-progressive movement and what we used to have.