“I know I will be judged, but my conscience is clear. I did not commit a crime,” Ms Rousseff told senators at her impeachment trial yesterday.
Ms Rousseff reminded senators that she was re-elected in 2014 by more than 54 million voters. She said that at every moment she has followed the constitution and done what was best for the country.
“I can’t help but taste the bitterness of injustice,” Ms Rousseff said.
In the middle of her second term, the left-leaning leader is accused of breaking fiscal rules to hide problems in the federal budget. Brazil’s first female president denies wrongdoing and argues that her enemies are carrying out a “coup d’état”.
During her 30-minute speech, Ms Rousseff argued that in early 2015 the opposition in Congress began creating a climate of instability by refusing to negotiate and throwing “fiscal bombs” in the face of declining revenues.
She said the impeachment process had exacerbated the recession in Latin America’s largest economy, flipping the blame on the opposition, which argues that she has to be removed for the financial climate to improve.
Ms Rousseff branded interim President Michel Temer a “usurper”. Her vice president turned arch enemy will serve out Ms Rousseff’s term if she is removed. Mr Temer took over when the Senate in May voted to impeach and suspend Ms Rousseff for up to 180 days while a trial was prepared.
Ms Rousseff said Brazilians would never have voted for a man who picked a Cabinet of all white men in a country that is more than 50 per cent non-white. The Cabinet that Mr Temer put in place in May has been roundly criticised for its lack of diversity. Three of his ministers were also forced to step down within a month of taking office amid corruption allegations.
Ms Rousseff said action against her was launched by Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house of Congress, who is facing numerous changes of corruption. Ms Rousseff said he tried to “blackmail” her into providing votes from her Workers’ Party to quash an ethics inquiry into him.
She said it was “an irony of history” that she would be judged for crimes she did not commit by people accused of serious crimes. “I ask that you be just with an honest president,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
The impeachment process began late last year, when opponents in Congress presented a measure to remove her from office. Her appearance comes a day or two before the Senate votes on whether to oust her from the presidency.
Several hundred supporters demonstrated outside Congress, and cheered when she arrived. Outside Congress, a huge wall was put up to separate her supporters and pro-impeachment activists.
Ms Rousseff’s appearance came on the fourth day of the trial which has seen name-calling, shouting and a declaration by the Senate President Renan Calheiros that “stupidity is limitless”.
Opponents claim her manoeuvres were an attempt to continue high spending and mask deficits, which exacerbated a severe recession.
The trial is being presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski. Before Ms Rousseff spoke, he warned senators and spectators to remain silent.
When she finished speaking, many senators applauded, prompting Mr Lewandowski to suspend the session.
“We are holding a judgment trial here, not a political debate,” he said.