Full Interview with Dilma Rousseff on Her Ouster, Brazil’s Political Crisis & Fighting Dictatorship
On Friday we brought you an excerpt of our extended exclusive interview by Brazil’s former President Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached last year in what many describe as a legislative coup. Here is our complete discussion of the country’s political crisis and her removal from power after 14 years of rule by the left-leaning Workers’ Party, which had been credited with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Her successor, Brazilian President Michel Temer, is now facing mounting calls to resign or be impeached, following explosive testimony released by the Supreme Court accusing him of accepting millions of dollars in bribes since 2010. This week, he authorized the deployment of the Army to the capital Brasília as tens of thousands of protesters marched to Congress to demand his resignation. Rousseff also discusses her time a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the U.S.-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed from 1970 to 1972, during which time she was repeatedly tortured.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Nearly a year ago today, the lower house of Brazil’s Congress voted to start impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. The vote came as Brazil was engulfed in a major corruption scandal. But Rousseff herself was never accused of any financial impropriety. By August of 2016, she was removed from office in what many describe as a coup. Her removal ended nearly 14 years of rule by the Workers’ Party, which had been credited with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty.
Since Rousseff’s removal from power, Brazil’s corruption scandal has only widened. At the center of the scandal are many of the right-wing politicians who orchestrated Rousseff’s ouster. Just this week, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered corruption probes into 98 politicians, including one-third of the Cabinet of Brazil’s new president, Michel Temer. Last month, a federal court sentenced Brazil’s former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, to more than 15 years in prison for corruption. Cunha was a key leader in the push to impeach Dilma Rousseff, who was Brazil’s first female president.
Well, today, the former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff joins us here in our New York studio to talk about what happened, as well as her own remarkable life. Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the U.S.-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed from 1970 to 1972, during which time she was repeatedly tortured. She would later become a key figure in the Workers’ Party under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. She was elected president in 2010, re-elected in 2014.
President Dilma Rousseff, thanks so much for joining us.
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It’s a pleasure to speak with you, Amy Goodman, and with Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to Brazil? How were you ousted from power?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I believe that the motives that led me to be removed from my position as president—and in what was really a coup d’état, because there was no real high crime and misdemeanor in my case—I could attribute this to three motives. One, which is more important than all the others, has to do with great misogyny. And for the first time, a woman was elected president. This misogynist treatment has to do with how men and women are seen and described in politics. Women are harsh and insensitive; men are strong and sensitive. Women, when working intensely, are considered obsessive-compulsive, whereas the man is considered a hard worker. So, all of these uses of instruments to attack a woman were mobilized against me, in addition to the many low-quality words.
But what led to the impeachment were two major things. One, they sought to keep—they, the coup mongers from the PMDB and PSDB, two political parties in Brazil—they were trying to keep the corruption investigations from reaching them, so they said, “We’re going to get rid of her in order to keep the investigations from continuing and for this thing to continue.”
In addition, we had won four elections in a row with a government program that was clearly against many of the trends that were in vogue in the United States and Europe, which were exacerbating inequality. We were fighting inequality. And we had secured some very important results. We took Brazil off of the U.N.’s map of poverty, and we lifted up some 86 million from extreme poverty. We were not selling our lands without any limitations to foreigners. And above all else, we had a whole structure of social protection in Brazil. So, for the coup mongers, it was a question of implementing the only way—the only thing they could do to stop our program, which was to support social rights. They wanted to set back our gains for workers. They were not able to do this through elections, so they did it through the impeachment.
AMY GOODMAN: For all of the misogyny of the elite, you were elected president—not once, but twice. Can you explain the difference between the population and those who are in power?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Now, look, I was elected not just once, as you said, but twice. Why? Because the program that we defend sought not only to resolve a very long-standing problem in Brazil. Brazil was the last country in Latin America and in the New World to emerge from slavery. So, we exited slavery without the 40 acres and a mule that the slaves here in the United States received. No, our slaves received nothing. The situation of slavery, in a way, was perpetuated and privileged, as well. This is related to gender inequality, because poverty in Brazil has a face. Poverty in Brazil is a woman, black and obviously with many children.
So why was I re-elected? I was re-elected because I responded to the demands of the population. And more than that, Brazil has a level of economic development and income levels that injected dynamism into the domestic economy. Brazil was a country that gave way for millions of consumers who previously had no notion that they might be able to consume any number of kinds of services—for example, to take an airplane. Traveling in an airplane was a great discovery in Brazil. In addition to that, we gave rights to domestic workers. We gave rights to rural workers, men and women. We guaranteed a process by which education became a major element of covering social needs. For the first time, a very large number of black men and women had access to higher education. For the first time, many people who before were excluded, for example, from a medical school, because medical school was considered a kind of training that should only be for the elite, there was access for people who had very poor background, children of domestic workers, of rural workers. All of this explains my re-election against the Brazilian elite.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the current Cabinet—almost all white, wealthy men?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] When the Cabinet was installed, soon after I was hit with the blow of the impeachment, I said this is a Cabinet of older, rich white men. It was, therefore, misogynist with respect to women, because I wasn’t the only high-level woman in the government, though, of course, it’s very important to have a woman as president. I had a planning minister. The most important social program was run by a woman, Teresa Campello, who was in charge of the whole policy of ensuring access to income and quality services for the poorest of the poor. I had women ministers who were directing a bank. The largest company in Brazil was run by a woman.
So, it was very striking to see a Cabinet of all men and also no blacks. I say that because I believe that they later tried to bring a black woman into the Cabinet. That doesn’t solve the problem, because the policy—the policy on women, for example—was not just a matter of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs or the National Secretariat of Women’s Affairs. It ran through all of the Cabinet, because you cannot think that you are waging a policy to fight gender inequality, for example, just in one ministry. Rather, women have to be in health, education, culture, in all activities. So, a Cabinet made up of all men is a very serious matter in Brazil, because we are 50—well, not 50, but 51 percent of the total population of Brazil is women. But also, a Cabinet with no blacks. Brazil is the largest black country in the world outside of Africa. And in that situation, the question of racial equality overlays, as well, with the whole question of economic and social equality.
AMY GOODMAN: The man who led the charge against you, who led your impeachment, Eduardo Cunha, now faces 15 years in prison for corruption. Your thoughts?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] What I regret is the fact that what led him to be put on trial and to be convicted for 15 years—well, I’m not in a position to give an opinion about the situation of the inquiry, the right to defense and so forth, but what I do know is that all of the evidence that led to his conviction was available to the judiciary and the prosecutorial authorities before my impeachment. The strange thing is that they let that process run before my impeachment, and they didn’t take any measures, because no one was unaware of it. There was a whole set of evidence before April 17th, 2016, that incriminated Mr. Eduardo Cunha. So that’s my first assessment.
My second assessment is that he came forward. He wasn’t just one person. He represents a very bad process in Brazil, a very dangerous process, which is the following. Brazil always had to construct a democratic center for governance, and that need to have a democratic center stemmed from the 1988 constitution, when we emerged from the dictatorship and embarked upon democracy and having this democratic center while it was progressive.
Now, what happened with the arrival of Eduardo Cunha on the scene? He was ultraconservative with respect to social rights, but especially with respect to individual and collective rights. He’s a homophobic man. He opposed the women’s policy having a gender bias, for example, which is absurd. So, what happened is that he led to the hegemony of the far right over the democratic center, which led to this coup.
Those who are also part of the group are as responsible for the coup as he is, so the fact that he is in prison doesn’t mean that those kinds of political practices that he represented were extinguished. Quite to the contrary, today they’re all in the government, those who supported the coup and who constitute a very strong political group along with him.
AMY GOODMAN: In addition to Cunha, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered corruption probes into 98 politicians, including a third of the current President Temer’s Cabinet. Would you say part of the reason you were impeached is that they feared being investigated themselves? They were trying to stop this?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I’m not the only one who thinks that. Before my impeachment, the press put out a recording, and that recording was a conversation between two senators—well, one senator and one former senator, both of the same party, of PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. What did this recording say? One of the senators, who was a major leader of the coup, Senator Romero Jucá, said to the other one, who was recording the conversation, “Look, the president needs to be removed, so that we can stop the bloodletting.” Now, what does that mean? Well, he continued to explain it. “Because she will not interrupt the investigations into the Car Wash scandal. She will not interrupt any investigation into corruption. And so we need to remove her by forming a national pact that would impede those investigations from reaching us.” This reason is the reason that led the politicians to carry out the coup, the politicians that always lost the elections to us, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, the party of the last senator and the current senator, who were foreign ministers of the republic. And let me tell you, I don’t believe that the reason that led to the coup was just that. That’s part of the reason.
The other part of the reason had to do with trying to bring Brazil economically, socially and politically into neoliberal policies, because we had blocked part of the neoliberal policies, which would transform the public budget into a budget empty of any social content. And this part, this was the most important part. It was strategic to draw part of the market, the media, the big Brazilian media, to support impeachment, because they were losing the hope of their programs becoming viable by democratic means. So they had to suspend democracy. But you can’t suspend democracy like you might have suspended a military coup before. But they introduced exceptional measures into democracy. And one of these, which would be an exception in the United States and Brazil, would be impeachment without what is called a crime of responsibility. And that is equivalent to what in the U.S. Constitution is called high crimes and misdemeanors.
The allegation for removing me was that I had issued three decrees, which represent 0.15 percent of primary expenditure, not even of the total budget is 0.15 percent, and that I had set aside a subsidy for farmers, small, medium and large, which is something that’s been done in Brazil since 1994. It’s just that—well, they changed the understanding and had a backward-looking understanding. In other words, I was accused of something that I didn’t even participate in. I had no involvement. So everyone knows in Brazil about this.
And I believe, profoundly—what did they want? They wanted him to come up with the reforms that he is trying to come up with. And that’s the contradiction that the government is experiencing today. If he is going to deliver the reforms, gradually he’ll become more and more unpopular. The more unpopular he becomes, the less he won’t be having a congressional majority. Now, if he doesn’t turn out—deliver the reforms, the coup mongers who supported the coup aren’t going to give him their support. So, today, the main thing happening are the investigations into corruption. This is a very bad process, because Brazil needs democratic stability. What for? To grow again. We need democratic stability for that.
AMY GOODMAN: President Rousseff, do you feel you made any mistakes? Would you do anything differently today?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Look, I think that one of the most difficult things to face is looking back. Well, of course, you make mistakes. No one can be involved in a complex process such as this and then look back and say they didn’t make any mistakes. I’ll name two of the mistakes that I think are important mistakes that I made.
The 2008-2009 crisis didn’t reach Brazil in 2009, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13. It wasn’t until mid-2014. In 2014, the crisis reached Brazil. When the crisis reached Brazil, Brazil has no problem in terms of suspending payments. It has $380 billion in reserves. So, the budget fragility came up with the crisis. And so, what did I do that was a mistake? I exempted from taxes—I exempted private business from tax payments, in an effort to preserve the jobs. What did they do, the private businesses? They increased the private profit margin without increasing production or employment. And with that, I lost revenue. And with that, I rendered the budget more fragile. So that was a mistake.
Another mistake, and the one I’m now going to tell you about, is more difficult. It’s more difficult to have avoided. You can’t run a country like Brazil, with the political regime we have, without a coalition. You can’t adopt—get any legislation through the Congress. A clear mistake I made was the choice of my vice president. That was a terrible mistake. That is to say, he was someone who betrayed my confidence. He conspired against me, and he put himself forward as an alternative to me. So, this is like all this going on behind your back. So the mistake—I don’t know if I would have had any other alternative without a political reform. We need a political reform, because, otherwise, this type of system would induce this kind of partnership, which is very bad. But unequivocally, I must recognize and accept the reality that I made this mistake.
AMY GOODMAN: Temer was your vice president, the man who would replace you when you were ousted.
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I don’t like to mention his name, it was—is the vice president of the republic, who, unfortunately, is not someone you can trust. And I can’t trust him, and Brazil can’t trust him.
AMY GOODMAN: President Rousseff, you have a very important history that expresses the history of Brazil. Can you talk about your years in the underground, how you got involved with politics, and then being imprisoned?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Look, I was 20, going on 21, years old. When I was 15, 16 years old, the military coup occurred. The military coup in Brazil had two moments: that moment in 1964 and then again in 1968. It was in 1968 that they really shut everything down. From ’64 to ’68, there was still a democratic space with people debating, discussing. It was a time of great cultural activity in Brazil—music, theater. And the opposition movement began in the streets. There was the march of 100,000, which was so important in Brazil. In 1968, they shut things down.
Shutting things down in Brazil meant the following. No one can express disagreement. If a student were to express disagreement, they would be put in prison, and they might be in prison for a long time. In addition to that, the whole process of repression began, the harshest repression. I am a person who was affected. My generation was very much affected by this shutdown. And we went into the resistance. The resistance could only be, as you said, underground, because if you were resisting or arguing against them reducing workers’ rights, or supporting students, then you’d be put in prison. So there was no way. You either had to go into the underground—and so people went underground and moved about there.
In that process, gradually, as of 1968, they established centers, centers that were responsible for investigation, for investigating people and taking people to prison. Now, as of 1970, they began to kill people. Depending on their assessment of a given activist, they might kill him or her. Many of the people I worked with were killed in those situations. I was taken to prison January 16th of 1970. So I survived. I wasn’t on that list of people who are going to die, because it was as of September that they began to kill.
So it was a very tough process for me. Why? Because you were taken prisoner. Immediately you were tortured, so that you could turn in your companions. And there, it was a fight against time. Torture is a fight against time. No one is a hero in torture. People are capable of resisting. Each of us is capable of resisting in his or her own way. How did I do so? Well, you try to find resources within yourself to gain time against the interrogator. And you have to keep certain things in your mind always. You know more than they do about yourself. Second, you can never believe—well, if you think you can put up with it for a day, that’s a good strategy. Or you have to put up with it for one minute, two minutes, three minutes, 10 minutes. For 10 minutes is an eternity in the face of pain. So, it’s a very tough process.
I will tell you something about women. It’s very interesting. Women and men face torture. They grow weak in the face of torture, because it’s not a simple thing. But I will tell you about women. We have an ability to deal with pain which is different from men. I think it’s because we bear children, for various reasons. But what I perceived was great strength among women to maintain their integrity in the face of torture, which is very important. Torture can’t destroy you. And what you have to do with respect to your companions and your colleagues to keep them from being destroyed, those who are weaker are the ones who you have to support the most, so that they can recover afterwards. You can’t think about your colleagues and your companions that because someone might have turned someone in or said something under torture, that they become your enemy. No, you have to support them and protect them. And that’s what women do very well.
So, it’s a very tough process. No one should have to suffer torture because a military regime. But I think that those of us who experienced what we experienced, well, I learned several things. I learned how to resist. I also learned that you can’t ever think that you’re going to be defeated in prison, unless you want them to defeat you. Defeat is not just an objective reality. Defeat is a reaction in the face of difficulty. So I suffered two coups, two blows: torture and this parliamentary coup. And they’re not going to defeat me. And I owe this to all of my colleagues who did not survive.
AMY GOODMAN: When you were imprisoned, how did they torture you?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It was absurd that they had a protocol. The protocol for torture was like this. I was taken prisoner by a military and semi-military group that was under military control, that was called Operation Bandeirantes. It was a center that was controlled by the Brazilian armed forces you would be taken to. Immediately there would be a strong din and murmuring, people shouting. It’s a way to thrown you off. And then—well, the first thing they would do, in my time—well, later it was different because they’d put a hood on peoples. But when I was a prisoner in Rio de Janeiro, they did the following. They would throw water at you. And they would also connect wires to your toes, when they still hadn’t taken off your clothes, and they would also place on your hand and ear these electric cables. The worst thing in torture is electrical shock. And then, they would do what was called the “parrot’s perch,” which was a method where they would place a stick or a bar under your knees and then place your hands on the same bar, and there they are. And they would combine this technique with electrical shock. The problem is that your ligaments begin to hurt a lot. Up to—and then, at a certain point in time, the blood stops running, and the pain diminishes somewhat. It’s unimaginable. People would withstand it because we were 20 years old. I don’t think somebody my age today would be able to withstand it. At the time, I was 20 years old. And if you’re 20 years old, you can withstand anything. Basically, the torture was like that.
Now, there’s a basic component of torture in all torture, in all times of history and everywhere. The person who is torturing, the group that is torturing you, wants you to perceive, first of all, that you are not part of the category of human beings and also that no one likes you and that no one has a relationship of understanding with you—that is to say, a relationship whereby I recognize you, you recognize me, and we have a certain empathy because we’re the same gender or because we have common experiences, for several reasons, or even just that because we’re all human beings. So, they want to short-circuit that perception. And they have two ways of doing so: aggression, but there’s also another, which was to block you, that is to say, by placing a hood over you, and you don’t see the person who’s talking with you, so you have an issue of sensory deprivation. And that is also very common. They want to cut off all contact with the outside world.
AMY GOODMAN: Is rape a part of the torture?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] There was in Brazil. But at the time that I was being tortured, where I was, it didn’t happen. But I know of a friend who said that she was raped, someone who was at what was called the House of Death. The House of Death, well, there were houses in Brazil, at that time, where people were put there clandestinely by those who would torture in Brazil, and there was rape in such places. It was said that someone by the name of In√™s Etienne who denounced that. She has died since. Her story is a terrible one. And I believe there were similar stories in Argentina. That is to say, someone who is kept alive for a time, knowing that they’re going to kill you. And so, there’s rape torture. Well, it’s unimaginable what they must have done with those persons. I can’t really imagine it, quite frankly.
AMY GOODMAN: The people who tortured you, and others, were they ever held accountable?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] In Brazil, several times in the country’s political history, we have had periods of transition. From the empire—Brazil had an empire—from the empire to the republic, there was a transition. And the transition always occurred with negotiations among the elite. Now, these were not major ruptures like here with the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. And this also happened in the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
What happened at that time? In that transition, even though there was a mass movement, the whole campaign for direct elections now, when that effort was lost, because Congress did not approve direct elections at that time, a negotiation process came. And it was more conservative, much more conservative, than what would have happened had Congress approved direct elections of the president at that time. They negotiated amnesty.
And how did they negotiate the amnesty? They negotiated amnesty in the following way. There was no conviction of the prisoners or those persons who had carried out armed actions. There was no conviction of the torturers. And so a crime which is a horrific crime in any society—that is to say, torture—was amnestied. That was the agreement. And that was an agreement that was made among the elites during that transition. There are disagreements about this in Brazil. Some say that if that had not happened, the transition wouldn’t have happened. But in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, it did happen. Maybe it is after the fact. Now, we don’t really need to keep discussing how that happened or not. It already happened. And the Supreme Court of Brazil had recourse, saying that torture is a nonproscribable crime. It has no statute of limitations. International organizations, the United Nations, the OAS had a different point of view. And this led the Brazilian Supreme Court to review that whole process. And the Supreme Court said, no, the amnesty works in both directions. So, once the Supreme Court decided, there was no way to go back to that question, at least at that moment of political and cultural understanding, at that political moment in Brazil. Perhaps at some time in the future, these matters will be revisited.
Now, this is a very serious matter. Why? Because it made it possible on the day of my impeachment, for example, for a federal member of Congress, who based his own vote—this is a member of Congress from the far right, and he based his vote saying the same thing: “I vote as a tribute to the military dictatorship and to Mr. So-and-so, who—a man who has since died, because this person came into the presidency as a torturer.” And that was the basis for his vote. So, in this eminently democratic space, to have a vote cast in this way, well, could only result from this amnesty. So we bear the burden of these kinds of decisions made in moments of transition.
AMY GOODMAN: Madam President, in 2014, when you released the findings of the truth commission, you wept. Can you describe what you were releasing and your feelings?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I believe that the least that we had to do was to have a truth commission, the minimum and the least. It was the least we could do in light of the transition that I was just describing. Now, this process requires valiant persons who made up the commission and who were capable of collecting the whole history that had not been told. And you’ll see that this happened in 1964 and in 1968. And it was not until 2012 or 2013 that we had this truth commission.
And I cried because of the following, because it was extremely moving. I referred to some members of the military in my speech. And I, why do I cry? And I cry right now as I keep talking. I cry because my relationship with all that is not just a political relationship. It’s a personal relationship, as well. There are persons who did not survive, who didn’t have an opportunity to continue living. They didn’t have the opportunity to have children, to have grandchildren. So I always remember that moment in lifting up what I had to lift up, which is our history. But at the same time, I have a personal relationship with all of that. And so, unmistakably, I also regret that all that happened, because they did not survive.
AMY GOODMAN: You knew what happened, when you became an underground guerrilla. What gave you the courage to take on the state in this way? You knew that people were being killed and that that’s what you risked, losing your life.
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] What makes people struggle in those conditions anywhere in the world is the conviction that you are fighting for a better world. You have to believe it. No one is able to struggle if they don’t think that they’re fighting for a better world. And we were convinced that we were fighting for a better world. More than believing in it, we were absolutely certain of it.
I believe that the force that led to movements at that time, in many parts of the world, not just Brazil, in the 1960s and 1970s—and there’s the question of democracy. I think the most serious thing that can be done to a country during military dictatorship is for its youth to not have any hope in democracy, because if there’s one thing that you learn in that struggle, you learn democracy is the only regime, mechanism, space for action. For what? For you to be able to transform your country. Always in Brazil, when democracy was reduced, it was through these coups, through exceptional measures, through the saviors of the homeland. Democracy mitigated, and so social transformation is reduced or eliminated, or there are setbacks. I learned in life that if you have a commitment to your country, you have to expand democracy. That’s why the name of this program is so important, Democracy Now! It’s very important, this idea in Brazil, democracy now, because we only win with democracy, and we lose when democracy is attacked. And so we have this expression in Brazil: Democracy is the right side of history. And I believe in this, because democracy is the right side of history.
And democracy emerged with two concepts. There are two concepts that emerged in the time of the Greeks, which is our tradition: the concept of democracy and the concept of politics. Even where there is a selective democracy—that is to say, when it is possible to have a democracy in the public plaza, in the public space—politics means you have to take a position in society upholding the interests of all your community or in your activity. Without that, it’s impossible to have a democratic process. I don’t believe that there is any country in the world with democracy without politics. Technocrats don’t engage in politics in the broad sense of the term. I think that democracy—the technocracy always comes up. The technocrats come forward in Brazil, offering solutions above and beyond the whole process of election and popular vote.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you, Madam President, about U.S. support for the Latin American dictatorships. In 2014, the National Security Archives revealed that almost two years before the April 1st, 1964, military takeover in Brazil, President John F. Kennedy and his top aides began seriously discussing the option of overthrowing the Brazilian government. In July 1962, Kennedy asked top aides, “What kind of liaison do we have with the military?” In March ’63, he instructed them, “We’ve got to do something about Brazil.” Your thoughts? What did the U.S. do?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I believe that at that time of the Cold War and the way the United States viewed Latin America, well, they were thinking, “This is my space, and there can’t be a dissent in my space.” Dissent. And that’s the worst part of the story. The governments that were the governments that were overthrown were not communist governments. They were popular-backed governments. There were communists who participated in the government, but they weren’t the main force in the government. These were popularly supported governments.
Even if there were communists in the government, one country should not intervene in another and decide the destiny of the other. I would tell you the following. This is a form of dictatorship imposed from abroad. So strange that a democratic country is exercising dictatorial forms over another country. This is very serious at any time in history. At that time, this was a very heavy matter, because it wasn’t just the arms that supported the coup. There was a fleet in the bay by Rio de Janeiro. No doubt whatsoever, in 1964, there was a direct presence and a direct incentive or instructions given to those who carried out the coup. Now, no one—now, these who carried out the coup in Brazil were already coup mongers. What’s unpardonable is for a country to ally with a force in the other country in order to remove a legitimately elected government.
And so, I believe that is one of the roots of technocracy. Technocrats say they know what’s best for a country, independently of what the people think. That is the most authoritarian way of thinking. And it can lead someone to political action. It’s as though the U.S. government were to know what were the interests of workers from the northeast of Brazil or from the south of the country. So this is a key thing. There was participation in the coup. At that time, Brazil was much less complex than it is today. It was open participation.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have you, yourself, who was imprisoned under the U.S.-backed Brazilian military dictatorship. You have the current president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, also imprisoned during the U.S.-backed military rule, in a coup that was backed by President Nixon. She and her mother and her father were imprisoned. She was tortured. When Michelle Bachelet steps down next year, all of the rulers of Latin America, all of the leaders of Latin America, will be men—you, forced out in a coup, and Michelle Bachelet, stepping down, both victims of imprisonment and torture under these U.S.-backed regimes. Your thoughts?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I think it’s an extremely serious matter, because in addition to being president at the same time as Michelle Bachelet, there were many other presidents in South America, in Central America—Cristina Kirchner in Argentina. And now all of the women have left the presidency or are on their way out.
I think this is very bad, but I believe in one thing. I believe that a new wave is coming. I think that we have opened the way. We’ve not closed off the way. We’ve opened it up. I’m certain that another woman will come along in Brazil. And I believe that in Chile, as well, in terms of thinking that another woman will come along. And Brazil, I’ll tell you symbolically why.
I was at the airport. I was going to travel during my election campaign. And a couple, with a little girl, came up to me, and the mother said, “She wants to speak with you, and she wants to ask you a question.” And she asked the following question: “A woman can?” I didn’t reason it so quickly. I said, “Can a woman do what?” She said, “Can a woman become president?” And I said, “Yes, she can.”
This is very interesting. What I what I find interesting about this story, well, that before, not a single girl in Brazil would have thought about whether she might be able to become president. Not a single girl would see the possibility of becoming president. And I believe that, as of my election, all girls can imagine being president or play being president, because this is the reality.
Clearly, they’re going to face difficulties. There is this typical misogyny, for example, that treats women different from men, that seeks to diminish women, to transform women.
AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t it interesting that, despite all that, there was a woman president of Brazil, you; Michelle Bachelet, in Chile; in Argentina, Cristina de Kirchner; but not yet in the United States?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] We thought—I think the women of the world thought that there would be, but unfortunately that’s not the case. But I do think that the road has been opened for that. The way has been opened, because no one would have imagined that a black man would have been elected president of the republic. That’s a great step forward. The next great step forward would be having a woman president in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Why does it matter?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Why is this important? Because of what I was telling you about the little girl. It’s important because I think women are strong and capable of being president, but also because we are raising our heads with issues we are working in every area. Here I am as the main person on this program. When does that happen? A woman, alone. So this world is changing. And in the 21st century, this change will happen, not just in Brazil, not just in the United States, not just Chile or Argentina. I believe that this is happening everywhere in the world. And from the time we came on the scene, I hope it’s for the best—that is to say, that we will put forward positions more advanced than those that have been defended by men thus far.
AMY GOODMAN: Under the Obama government, it came out that you were being monitored, surveilled, your cellphone tapped. It was a big scandal. You were coming to the United States. You canceled your state visit. Talk about the significance of this and how you feel about this today. We also learned this of another woman leader, and that was the leader of Germany, Angela Merkel.
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Yes, myself and Chancellor Angela Merkel were, in a similar manner, at the same time, subject to violent wiretapping. It wasn’t just myself. They were wiretapping the government, and especially Petrobras, the state oil company. I believe that that was part of a new area of political struggle in the world. There is no hypothesis under which somebody who is subject to espionage, that that is for good or not. It is not for the good of the person or the government or the company.
What they wanted to find out—well, in the case of Petrobras, there had been a discovery of one of the largest oil reserves in the world. In the case of the Brazilian government, I think they were also looking at the fact that the Brazilian government had a strong multilateral approach, without lining up exclusively with one country or one group of countries.
I believe that the Obama administration, at least from everything that I’ve heard, was not directly involved in that story. I believe, while I don’t know exactly how it all works, but that’s what I imagine and also based on everything I was told. There was a certain autonomy on the part of those who were wiretapping and recording things from my government and from Angela Merkel’s government. But I know that—well, I imagine that not everything is under absolute control. At least I believe, I trust. I might be mistaken. I don’t think that there would be such emphatic denial.
Well, my suspicion—and I open up a whole field here for those who might say I am wrong—what do I see? I see something very dangerous, extremely dangerous, which is controlled by certain agencies over politics and political relationships of the countries. It was the NSA that was wiretapping me and looking into my situation, an espionage service which is very worrisome.
Now, it’s the story of espionage, is that it’s not restricted—if you have mechanisms for espionage of Brazilian citizens and the Brazilian president, that you can also conduct espionage against American citizens. That’s a big problem. It’s important to be concerned about the possibility of citizens being subject to espionage, if countries are carrying out espionage against one another. Now, I’ve decided not to discuss this a lot. If I—otherwise, I’d come here, and we’d look at this one dimension of our relationship—espionage—and I’m not interested in that, because I don’t think the issue of espionage can be resolved by discussion alone. Measures have to be taken. The big problem of espionage is a through the back door. It’s a perverse instrument of espionage.
AMY GOODMAN: As a kind of penance, I remember when Vice President Joe Biden came down to Brazil—it was right around the time of the Olympics—and gave you U.S. documents on the U.S.-backed dictatorship in Brazil.
DILMA ROUSSEFF: Yes, he gave.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what exactly he gave you? What did you learn?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] He gave us documents about the dictatorship in Brazil. And he delivered that officially. I’d like to say that, for us, that was very important. And we passed those documents on so they could be studied, because we really want to understand how that complex relationship between the United States and Brazil has been.
Also, we want to see what is the information the United States has about what happened in Brazil. So it’s important, because the U.S. government has information that is important for us, important for us to study. The information is detailed. I didn’t read it all. I had a briefing in this regard. But I do believe that it was extremely important for Brazil, and I’m grateful to Vice President Joe Biden, with whom I had a very good relationship.
AMY GOODMAN: Madam President, I wanted to ask your thoughts today. You’re in the United States this week, when the U.S. dropped the largest bomb in the history of the world—the Pentagon calls it the “Mother of All Bombs”—a Massive Ordnance Air Bomb, on Afghanistan, the largest bomb in the history of the world since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This followed last week’s bombing of Syria and the continued U.S.-backed bombing in Yemen. Your thoughts?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Now, I’m not the president of the republic, but I would tell you what we would have said as president: Without a shadow of a doubt, we are against that kind of action. Why? First, I don’t think it resolves the problem of ISIS. Why do I think that this kind of repression isn’t the appropriate approach? What I’ve read in the United States newspapers is that oftentimes, when bombing Syria or Afghanistan—well, I know there is no dialogue with ISIS. With ISIS, it’s a different kind of relationship. But what has happened is that, when bombing, civilians and allies are killed. So I ask myself: What’s the point of such an action, if it’s going to kill civilians and allies? What might someone think who’s living in Syria or anywhere, and all of a sudden a bomb is dropped?
I think it’s extremely dangerous, because those groups don’t gauge consequences. It’s a very radical policy. So I am extremely concerned about the reaction afterwards. That is to say, I don’t believe that there’s any circumstance in which we can come up with some easy answer. When the war was taken to Iraq, when the war was taken to Afghanistan, when there was a bombing done in Syria, it’s very difficult. And this unleashes the whole process of such violence that the consequences are uncontrollable. How long has it been that they’ve been fighting in Syria, and they’re not able to stop ISIS? How long has al-Nusra and al-Qaeda continued doing what they’re doing? So I think we need to ask about this.
And I’m very concerned when civilians and allies are the ones who are killed. That’s what it says in today’s newspaper. So, I don’t think that such bombardments produce results, and I’m not in favor of dropping bombs when they kill civilians and allies, because it’s just putting more fuel on the fire.
AMY GOODMAN: The bomb was developed during the Bush years. He didn’t use it, George W. Bush, in Iraq. President Obama didn’t use it. Within two months of the Trump presidency, they have engaged in this historic act, the largest bomb in the history of the world, outside an atomic bomb. Your assessment of the Trump administration, of President Donald Trump?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I don’t evaluate the performance of presidents of other countries, because I’m a former president, so I don’t talk about that. Obviously, I have an assessment, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk about it. I can talk about positive accomplishments, but otherwise I won’t say anything.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you feel has been done right?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I don’t have anything to say. Well, I’m not going to talk about that. My assessment of the Trump administration is something I’m not going to talk about. It’s not up to me to do that. That’s your job.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be running for president of Brazil again in 2018?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: No, I am not running. [translated] I will not run for president in Brazil in 2018. I think that 2018 is a very special moment. Look, Brazil is facing a political economic crisis, a crisis generally. I don’t believe that we’re going to be able to find the way if there’s a dialogue just at the top. We’re going to try, which is what’s being done. We’re going to try to have a dialogue and talk. But it’s not going to go anywhere, because there are many insoluble contradictions in the current conversation.
So what do I think? I think we’re going to have democracy grow. If there is an electoral process above the election, there could be any number of agreements. But if there is no grassroots base to give legitimacy to the government, then I doubt that we are going to reach the stability that Brazil needs to find its way.
Now, I should also say I don’t think that Brazil can find the way forward without a political reform. Why? Because the Brazilian political system is absolutely corroded by certain practices that are absurd—selling positions, trading favors and so forth. And is this because everybody is corrupt? No. Perhaps not everyone is an example of virtue, but the system leads to those practices. Why? Well, there are 25 parties in Congress, and it is impossible for each of those parties to have a different proposal for Brazil. That wouldn’t happen in politics. It’s not because they have such different understandings of the situation.
There was a clause that requires a party without sufficient congressional support to have access to certain things. For example, access to free advertising on television. That’s very important for democracy, because it means that political power doesn’t wield as much influence in an election. And a political party fund—this is also important, because if the law gives parties funding proportionally to their representation, so they needn’t get the illicit funding.
Now, what has happened? Since there is no threshold requirement for gaining access to these benefits, any party can do so. So negotiation in Brazil is not based on ideological and political proximity, but rather as a matter of interests. And so, if my view is right, you need to have virtuous institutions, because to guarantee that all men and women are very virtuous is very difficult. Now, the constitution should limit bad faith, corruption and so forth.
So, today in Brazil, we need two things: presidential election and a constitutional assembly exclusively to carry out an effective political reform. And why do I say exclusive? Because of the old dictate that you can’t put the fox in charge of the hen house, because they’re going to have access to all the hens. So, similarly, you cannot entrust the Congress with reforming itself. To have a group that is elected carry out a reform that would send them back to their homes? No. I think that democracy in Brazil has to be expanded. If democracy is not expanded, then we’re not going to find the way forward.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end by sharing a clip of Noam Chomsky with you, the world-renowned dissident, linguist, who recently appeared on Democracy Now! and talked about Brazil.
NOAM CHOMSKY: There was just enormous corruption. It’s just—it’s painful to see the Workers’ Party in Brazil, which did carry out significant measures, just—they just couldn’t keep their hands out of the till. They joined the extremely corrupt elite, which is robbing all the time, and took part in it, as well, and discredited themselves. And there’s a reaction. I don’t think the game is over by any means. There were real successes achieved, and I think a lot of those will be sustained. But there is a regression. They’ll have to pick up again with, one hopes, more honest forces that won’t be—that will, first of all, recognize the need to develop the economy in a way which has a solid foundation, not just based on raw material exports, and, secondly, honest enough to carry out decent programs without robbing the public at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Noam Chomsky, who said, “There was just enormous corruption.” He said, “painful to see the Workers’ Party in Brazil, which did carry out significant measures, [but] they just couldn’t keep their hands out of the till.”
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] The first thing I want to say is the following. I want to put some things in perspective. The greatest corruption in recent years occurred with the subprime crisis. Now, I don’t know that as a result of the subprime crisis, I don’t believe that all of the companies that were involved in corruption were destroyed. Maybe their CEOs or others who committed corruption had to answer for it, but they didn’t destroy the institution. Rather, they took the person who committed the crime. The company is not a thinking and speaking entity. The company is all of its compounds together. Now, unless the entire—it’s corrupt in its entirety, then you don’t destroy the organization.
So, why do I say this? Well, first to say that Brazil has the greatest corruption in recent years. Brazil’s corruption is significant. It matters to Brazil. It has to be fought. Later, I can tell you about what my government did, but I don’t think that it has to, that the party has to be destroyed. I don’t believe that banks were destroyed or agencies were destroyed or that persons who were not involved were prosecuted. Same thing applies to a political party, because the political party, as an institution—well, some say it’s different from a company, but I don’t believe that one should criminalize the Workers’ Party. One should criminalize and prosecute the individual members of the party who committed crimes. But one should not combat the entire Workers’ Party in Brazil, which is the largest party in Brazil, without a doubt. No.
And I’m sorry to get so excited, but I want to explain the following. I think it’s fundamental in Brazil to fight corruption. I think it’s fundamental, because corruption in Brazil is a way in which economic power interferes with political power. And one of the processes in this corruption is characterized by the fact that in Brazil, before—even though it’s spelled out in the law—those who come to corrupt public officials have never been prosecuted. In 2013, for example, there was a law on fighting criminal organizations that we sent to Congress, and two measures had been taken. One was to more clearly define the terms of the statute on plea bargaining-type arrangements. Here, for example, plea bargaining is only accepted when the person is still free. But in Brazil, this is being done with persons who are already in prison. So that is a problem.
Now, another important measure having to do with investigations was punishing those who come forward to corrupt public officials. And this law made it more unequivocal. That is, it’s not just the corrupt persons in government who must be punished, but also those who corrupt them. There is active and passive abruption. It’s not that there’s more corruption in Brazil today than in the past. It’s that today it’s seen. Before, it was duly hidden. Several of those taken prisoner say that this whole process has been going on for at least 50 years. What’s happening is that it’s now being fought.
All of the political parties are much more involved than the Workers’ Party. That doesn’t mean they all need to be destroyed. No one is going to think of this absurdity, because without political parties we don’t know where we’re going to end up. So the one who made the mistake should pay for it. The law exists. It should be properly applied. The Workers’ Party will answer for its mistakes—it has to—but not by putting an end to the party. Punish the individuals who committed the crime, but not the party. This whole story of punishing the whole party dates back to 1946, when all opposition parties in Brazil that had—well, the more radical opposition—the Communist Party, Brazilian Socialist Party—were made illegal. I don’t agree with that whole process.
I don’t agree with destroying companies. I’ve never seen a single bank or company destroyed. I saw CEOs have to answer. Now, what I find extremely unusual is that they take Petrobras, the state oil company, and make it—paint it as being corrupt per se. There are many people in Petrobras who are corrupted and who are accused of corruption. So I think it’s very clear, the one who corrupted—the one who was corrupted should be prosecuted, with a right to defense, without spectacular media treatment. Because what’s happening in Brazil is that the media places people on trial before the case even goes into the courts. Now, I don’t think that in any democracy in the world, as far as I know, the media can take the place of the judiciary. I don’t believe the media guarantee the right to defense. It plays a fundamental role in democracy. Now, the role of meting out justice has to be performed by those who have an institutional mandate to do so.
And one last thing on this point. I’m very concerned that in Brazil, in this process, we have a very complicated mechanism, which is exceptional-type or state of emergency-type measures being adopted against democratic principles, when there is an impeachment of the executive without high crimes and misdemeanors. There is a major crisis in Brazil. One branch of government is fighting with another. And one member of the Supreme Court has an acrid debate with the attorney general, judges talking outside of the courtroom, judges maintaining explicit political relationships with individuals who they are investigating. So, in Brazil, we need to go beyond fighting corruption and to demand strict respect for justice. Why? Because the action of the justice system is basic for any democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, President Rousseff, in the 1960s, you were involved with the underground resistance to oppose dictatorship. Are you seeing a right-wing shift in Latin America and the United States? And what form do you think that resistance should take today?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Today, it’s difficult. I believe that our resistance today—and this is a major gain for us in Latin America—today, we can resist without having to go into the underground, without—rather, using the most important weapon of democracy, which is the word, discussion, debate. We can do that today. Before, we couldn’t. Before, we were somehow shackled by the dictatorship.
Today, our resistance and the resistance in the United States is the same. That is to say, I think we are all going through the following process. There is an increase in financialization. Instead of the financial industry serving productive industry and productive services and all activities, the financial sector became the master. On becoming the master, it channels to itself the largest part of income. And this produces inequality, stagnation, precarious employment and cooptation by some of the press, which means that shareholders, CEOs, all of management are the models who are above and beyond the workers, the consumers and so forth. In other words, it creates a world which is not going to bring well-being and affluence for the population as a whole. We’re all going through that neoliberalism, financialization, greater inequality and more and more exceptional-type measures—here in the United States, as well. The PATRIOT Act, in a way, was an exceptional act, because when you put persons on trial without guarantees, then, well, that’s an exceptional type of act. This happens in Brazil with several measures. For example, a court has said that I can suspend the constitution, because the Car Wash scandal is an exceptional event, and therefore we can suspend the law. But that’s not possible.
We have, in a way, a mitigated democracy that we have to expand. We are experiencing a time of greater inequality and financialization. In a way, taking stock of the history of our experiences, of our movements, we have a lot—all of those of us who defend democracy have a lot to share with one another.
AMY GOODMAN: I asked you if you would be running for president in 2018. You said no. What about running for Senate in Brazil?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Well, I’ve answered that question once already. I’m not going to say that I won’t run. Right now I’m not intending to run. Now, I know there may be any number of situations in the future that might lead me to run, but today it’s not in my plans. Now, if my country or a particular situation were to come about, I could run for Senate or for a member of the lower house, but I don’t want to run for any other executive office. I already did my part in that regard.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe Lula will run for president?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I think that Lula will run for president, unless there is an effort to convict him on appeal, because, today, if Lula were the candidate, well, he’s still the only person who has a significant number of votes. He has a 38.5 percent support. The others in the latest polls all had around 10 percent, 9 percent, 5 or 6 percent. So there is that difference. There is a concern on the part of those who carried out the coup. They are very concerned about this situation. Now we have to see how things evolve. I think it’s very difficult to convict him twice. I don’t think there’s any basis for that, because the witnesses who were called, when I called him, they did not incriminate him.
In addition, I think there could be other efforts to avoid the 2018 elections, because certainly those who carried out the coup and are pushing the coup program are not going to enjoy popular support. I can assure you of that. The risks are that the old saviors of the homeland might step forward. You know, when there’s greater inequality and when certain measures are adopted, there’s a greater possibility of the saviors of the homeland coming forward. And we know about that in Brazil. So it’s quite dangerous.
But I believe that we will be able to face the situation, if that, and do well if the conditions are there for free and fair elections. Every time there’s been a major crisis in Brazil, there have been efforts to shift to a parliamentary system, which I don’t believe in. What happened? The parliamentary system was defeated. I don’t support the parliamentary system in Brazil because of the following. In Brazil, the sectors in the federal government have always been more progressive than the regional oligarchs, who were represented in the provinces, in the states. For example, even the emperor was against slavery. The emperor was against slavery and had some characteristics of a more liberal man, whereas the regional oligarchy is, towards the end of the period of slavery, very fully behind slavery. They spoke in liberal rhetoric, but they were not very liberal when it came to affecting their interests. So we have that contradiction in Brazil. And there’s still a big oligarchic media and financial filter in elections. Proportional elections have a great deal of influence, but in the elections that are won by the majority, they tend to be more progressive outcomes.
AMY GOODMAN: The Wall Street Journal just reported that a former construction executive in Brazil said that the Brazilian president, Temer, was involved in a deal to funnel a $40 million bribe to his political party—an allegation that threatens to erode his ability to govern. Your thoughts on this latest news?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] Look, I think that if this happened, it’s extremely serious, because $40 million, that would be 130 or 140 million reais, the Brazilian currency. This is appalling. Now it will have to be proven. This is an accusation. And even though the president is my political adversary, I still think he should enjoy the right to defense. But I can let you know that this is very serious, if it’s proven. I don’t think someone should be free, much less be president, if that’s the case. But, as I say, it has to be proven, if one is democratic-minded for one’s adversary, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: And my final question: Madam President, what gives you the most hope?
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] I like the Greeks a lot. I think that the image of Pandora, when she opens the box, and they tell her, “Don’t open it!” but she opens it, and all of the monsters and such emerge from the box, and there’s only one thing that remains in the box, which is hope. I believe in hope. Hope moves us. We can, if we have a commitment. I have a commitment to my country and to my people.
That sentiment, which is more than a sentiment, it’s hard to explain just what hope is, just as it’s hard to explain what freedom is. But hope is the great driving force that allows us, in democracy, to transform the world. We have to hope for a better world. I believe, with great strength and passion, that we must have hope in a better world. It might not materialize right now.
But I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story of the tailor of Ulm, who went in the 16th century to the bishop of Ulm. It’s a story by Bertolt Brecht. He said, “I know how to fly.” He was told no human being knows how to fly. And so he made special clothing to fly. He went up to the tower of the church, and he jumped out and came to the floor. And the bishop said, “You see, he didn’t fly.” But, well, men couldn’t fly in the 16th century, but 400, 500 years later, human beings flew. So hope has no date. And that’s what I want to say with the story of the tailor of Ulm.
AMY GOODMAN: Madam President, thank you very much for joining us today on Democracy Now! Dilma Rousseff, the former Brazilian president. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.