Crisis deepens In Brazil as judge blocks Silva appointment

Protesters demonstrate against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvas appointment as chief of staff in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Picture: Getty Images

Protesters demonstrate against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvas appointment as chief of staff in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Picture: Getty Images

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Brazil’s political crisis has deepened as judges filed injunctions to block the appointment of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as chief of staff to his successor following a tumultuous swearing-in ceremony and heated protests.

The first of the injunctions was overturned by a higher court, the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency said yesterday. But another was issued immediately by a second judge in Rio de Janeiro, adding to the country’s political confusion.

Shaking society on the base of untruths, shady manoeuvres, and much-criticised practices violates constitutional guarantees

Dilma Rousseff

President Dilma Rousseff’s opponents accuse her of trying to help the once-popular Mr Silva avoid legal woes. He was taken in for questioning in a sprawling corruption probe less than two weeks ago. Cabinet members cannot be investigated, charged or imprisoned unless authorised by the Supreme Court.

Ms Rousseff has insisted the cabinet appointment has nothing to do with any legal problems, saying Silva would help put the country back on track economically and spearhead the fight against attempts to oust her over allegations of fiscal mismanagement. The impeachment process moved a step closer on Thursday as the lower house established a special commission on the matter.

The simmering anger that bought an estimated three million people onto the streets in nationwide anti-government demonstrations over the weekend again spilled over, with protests flaring in Brasilia and Sao Paulo, where demonstrators brandished inflatable dolls of Silva in black-and-white prison stripes.

Ms Rousseff went on the offensive at Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony, calling those pressing for her removal “putschists” and accusing Sergio Moro, the judge who is leading the corruption probe at the state-run oil company Petrobras, of violating the constitution and acting in a partisan manner.

“Shaking Brazilian society on the base of untruths, shady manoeuvres, and much-criticised practices violates constitutional guarantees and creates very serious precedents,” Ms Rousseff said. “Coups begin that way.”

The injunctions suspending Mr Silva’s nomination were widely expected as such tactics are often used against political appointments and decisions. Legal experts were divided on the effects. Some attorneys insisted Mr Silva is now a cabinet minister regardless of the injunctions, and enjoys the special legal standing afforded by the role. Others contended the injunction must first be ruled upon by higher courts.

Solicitor General Jose Eduardo Cardozo, a close ally of Ms Rousseff’s, said “political motivations” were behind the injunctions, which he called “absolutely inappropriate”.

Both Ms Rousseff and Mr Silva have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but Ms Rousseff has seen her popularity nosedive as the country of 200 million has spiralled into crisis after crisis.

The Petrobras corruption investigation has stained Brazil’s political and business elite. The country is ground zero for the Zika virus, which scientists believe can lead to birth defects.

The economy is mired in the worst recession since the 1930s. And in the midst of it all, Brazil is set to host the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

At Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony, Ms Rousseff lashed out at Wednesday’s surprise release of tapped phone calls between Silva and a host of prominent public figures, including herself.

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