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Interview with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 28, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight: Brazil starts the official 100-day countdown to the Olympics.

But will President Dilma Rousseff be around to host the games?

Facing impeachment, she gives us her first one-on-one.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program from Brasilia, the capital of this continent's biggest and most powerful nation

for an exclusive interview with the embattled president, Dilma Rousseff as the economy tanks and democracy itself founders on the rock of corruption.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): With both sides in the impeachment drama marshalling their forces, taking to the streets and the airwaves for and

against the president, since congress voted overwhelmingly 10 days ago to impeach her and 60 percent to 70 percent of the people want her out.

But the opposition insists these proceedings are constitutional. But this is what's extraordinary. Even though Dilma herself is not charged

with corruption, the majority of those arrayed against her have been so charged in the past, many have faced trial and conviction on corruption and

other charges.


AMANPOUR: And the Senate is expected in two weeks to decide whether or not to take up this case. I sat down here at the presidential palace

with Dilma Rousseff.


AMANPOUR: Madam President, welcome to the program.

DILMA ROUSSEFF, PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL: (Speaking foreign language).

AMANPOUR: I know that you have been calling this a political coup. There are many, many people who disagree and who did not like the fact that

you took that to New York and told the world that there's a coup under way against you here in Brazil.

But even your supporters, Madam President, says that what's happening is constitutional; perhaps the legal basis, according to one of your

supporters, was flimsy. But, nonetheless, this is happening within Brazilian institutions.

Can you tell me why, then, you fiddled the books, cooked the books, in order to hide that budget hole before the 2/14 elections?

And do you think that that is electoral fraud or an impeachable offense under the current provisions?

Why did you do it?

And what did you do?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): When we say there's no legal ground to the ongoing impeachment process, it's because we engaged in the biggest

budget slashing exercise in 2015.

Never before in Brazil did the government slash spending as much as we did in 2015. And they are questioning the measures that were taken while

implementing the budget.

It has nothing to do with the previous electoral process. Nor it has to do with cooking or fiddling the books or accounts.

It does have to do with something that has always been current, ongoing practice in Brazil by all administrations prior to mine. Even time

in office to 2011, '12 and '13. That was acceptable practice. It was also regular ordinary practice under Lula da Silva and the administration also

under the previous Cardoso administrations.

So if then it was not a crime, why say it's an impeachable offense today?

AMANPOUR: But I want to ask you this and there's no easy way to say it.

Madam President, you have been rated one of the worst leaders in the world, one of the worst presidents. Your popularity right now is around 10

percent; that's really, really low.

You were impeached by the -- or congress decided to send your impeachment case by an overwhelming majority that surprised even your

supporters. You don't seem to have very many friends in congress.

Do you think you are going to survive the impeachment process in the senate?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): The Brazilian constitution does envisage impeachment, does continue impeachment provisions, yes.

But whoever tells you that impeachment provisions are there should go ahead and complete and finish the sentence. We live in a presidential

system. There has to be a violation. There has to be a violation of the constitution for there to be an impeachment procedure.

In Brazil's presidential system, just as the case in the U.S., no one can carry out an impeachment process just out of sheer unpopularity of the

president because unpopularity is a cyclical thing.

If it were not so, all presidents or all prime ministers in Europe that experienced 20 percent unemployment rates could inevitably have to go

through an impeachment process because they, too, experience --


ROUSSEFF (through translator): -- substantial drops in their popularity.

AMANPOUR: I hear what you're saying.

But do you think you're going to survive?

Do you think you will be president at the end of this process?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): I wish to tell you one thing, more than just thinking that I will survive. I will fight to survive, not just

for my term in office but I will fight because what I'm advocating and defending is a democratic principle that governs political place in Brazil.

Who found the impeachment process against me?

All of them are being charged for corruption charges, especially speaker of the house. My life was turned upside down. They looked

everywhere to find something against me and there's no corruption charge at all against me.

Well, because they have no grounds to legally trigger the impeachment process and notice that the actual -- the ratings of popularity of those

who are undertaking impeachment proves this is lower, much lower than mine today.

I mean, the level of rejection is much higher, the level of rejection is much higher. So the same rationale or justification that is not at all

in line with the presidential system, after all, I was given 54 million votes. I'm not a prime minister. I am the head of government and the head

of state.

My 54 million votes can only be cancelled and done away by means of free, direct elections in Brazil. The impeachment process of today is

overshadowing and concealing, hiding a free electoral process that is not at all in line with the constitution.

There are several ways to undertake a coup d'etat. One possibility is by resorting to weapons. The other way is by tearing the constitution

apart. Yet, a third method of undertaking a coup is a much more, say, discreet, low-profile and polite coup. But, still, it is a coup.

AMANPOUR: Do you not think, though, that as far as this has got right now, an impeachment process could be even more divisive for this country?

Do you ever think that, for the sake of this country, you should perhaps resign?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): I think that time in office does not belong to me. It does not belong to me only. It belongs to the 54 million

votes that were given to me and also to the 110 million that took part.

AMANPOUR: But 60 percent to 70 percent of the people, two-thirds of the people want you to step down, Ms. President.

ROUSSEFF (through translator): The process of removing a president from office cannot possibly boil down cutting an opinion poll. I mean, the

electoral process, of course, it's fine for discussion nationwide. It is not a frozen snapshot at the given point in time.

Could you imagine if the impeachment fell, you know, is replicated elsewhere every time the president experienced ups and downs in his

popularity or ratings, he's going to be removed from office, he or she?

You know a president in view of a crisis -- and, by the way, we did not create this current crisis. This crisis of today stems back from 2008

and has hit emerging countries very hard in 2014 and '15.

AMANPOUR: How much do you think the woman thing is playing in this impeachment drama because you're a woman, the first female president of

this country?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): I think there's a very strong element that has to do with the fact I am a woman, number one, because they have

often said that I was a very harsh woman and I have always replied as follows, yes, I'm a harsh woman, surrounded by cute, polite, gentle and

kind men around me.

And only women are described as being harsh when they take office in a high position. Now the same time in parliament, in the past 15 months,

something has consistently been there in the opposition assessment about me.

There was a point in time when they said that because I was so much under pressure that I had to be either depressed or going through a major

nervous breakdown. They even wrote entire articles and published news about my alleged nervous breakdown.

And they forget that we have a tremendous sense of resistance to challenges, difficulties and crises. I mean, lessons were learned in life

as women because of the social role we perform, especially those of us who belong to a generation that began to have many more opportunities to take

part in public life or work in professions that were unavailable up until recently. We have had to --


ROUSSEFF (through translator): -- of course, face up to a myriad of challenges.

AMANPOUR: Madam President, do you know Hillary Clinton is running to be the first female President of the United States?

She, on the campaign trail said, you know, unlike my husband -- she's talking about Bill Clinton -- unlike Barack Obama, I'm not a great

politician. I'm a great doer. I have great passion. I'm committed to being the best leader I can. But I'm not a great politician.

Do you wish you were a better politician?

Lula was a great politician. It seems that you've suffered because you're not a good politician.

ROUSSEFF (through translator): Lula was certainly a better politician than I am. He's a great politician in that sense, you know, I do agree

with Hillary Clinton, yes. I could have echoed her same words, her words to describe myself. I'm not a great politician as Lula was. I am a person

who does things. I am a doer. I am a devoted person. I am a person who, in the course of my entire life, has been devoted, dedicated to my people.

AMANPOUR: You're also a woman who has gone through prison and torture. Not many other women running for office have.

How has that informed your state of mind and your resistance right now?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): Without a shadow of a doubt, my entire life experience makes me stronger. I believe I am able to realize that,

under any circumstances -- I mean any, any circumstances, whatsoever -- it is always much better to live in a democracy than in a dictatorship. I

have that certainty and firm conviction in my mind.

AMANPOUR: You won't talk about yourself, your fortitude. I'm trying to find out from you not the benefits of democracy versus dictatorship but

about your character.

ROUSSEFF (through translator): I prefer to live with as much freedom as possible. I do not believe that we can flourish as human beings, of

persons in time, when one is a cry for freedom and that is a source of strength to me. I have huge resistance and strength to fight for my



AMANPOUR: If, indeed, the impeachment trial proceeds to the senate, Rousseff could be suspended for up to six months.

In the meantime, are there any lessons learned from this crisis?

We'll talk to her about that after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Our interview with president Dilma Rousseff. Her problems began in earnest a couple of years ago when the source of the country's economic

miracle, commodities market, collapsed and Dilma herself failed to introduce the vitally need economic reforms. Of course, that is almost

nothing in comparison to the massive corruption that infects and connects the private, the pubic will sectors and indeed the government. As one

critic has said here, an election is nothing but a license to steal.


AMANPOUR: This country seems to have an institutional pervasive --


AMANPOUR: -- problem with corruption that affects all elements of public -- of the public sector and the private sector even.

What can you do to break this cycle?

You yourself have not been accused of corruption.

But the question is you were head of Petrobras, which is now facing a huge corruption investigation.

Why didn't you know there was all this corruption going on?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): Interestingly enough, corruption procedures or processes are not so peculiar to Brazil. Undoubtedly,

though, in the course of time, particularly as regards the 2008 crisis, extremely serious corruption processes were underway in the international

financial system.

Of course, we have to put in place an entire apparatus in Brazil to ensure corruption practice could be brought to light. I am proud that my

government actually put in place the conditions and the wherewithal to ensure that the current corruption scandal to be brought to the fore.

It is true that under the Lula da Silva administration we began to establish greater transparency. I believe that, in the processes, such as

those underway in Brazil, institutions are improving progressively.

So what we have built in Brazil in the recent past is we have strengthened institutions and the legislation to tackle corruption.

Corruption is always endemic if there are no institutions to tackle it.

AMANPOUR: One of the things that I assume you agree needs to be reformed is the economy because you were lucky enough to have these great

commodities and that powered the Brazilian economic miracle, then when that collapsed, the economy started to collapse and continues to shrink in


It's unpopular but do you think tough new economic reforms need to be put in place?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): Not only do I think so but I have also forwarded proposals to that effect to congress. From an economic

perspective, we have succeeded in solving our foreign accounts. We had incurred a trade deficit of $4 billion U.S. back in 2014. We are now in

2015, we closed the year with a trade surplus.

So we have pretty much solved our foreign account instability problems. We have no foreign external --


AMANPOUR: Depending on the commodities without sort of diversifying and figuring out how to deal --

ROUSSEFF (through translator): Because, yes, there is a commodity- related problem, indeed, because when commodity prices go down so abruptly, of course, there is an impact on the country's budget, yes.

Every country in the world, when they had to face up to a crisis, what did they do?

Well, to slash spending and increase taxes. There's no other way around it. I mean, there's no miracle here.

What are they doing with this in congress in Brazil?

Well they are preventing this, precluding, they are preventing ask from engaging in any reform I have proposed. Not only have they started to

force their political instability but they have also tried to preclude or prevent the resumption of economic activity.

What am I being accused of?

Well, I'm being accused of transferring funds from one budget item to the other. We don't pay income transfers to citizens because there's a

tremendous inequality out there. So we pay out social security benefits, the family stipend benefit and unemployment benefits.

Now if the estimation or the estimated number of people who will be claiming unemployment benefits is higher than what we estimated before, we

will pay an interest to the bank.

If it's lower, the bank, in turn, will conversely pay interest to the government. That is what I'm being accused of. And they have recently

changed the rule. The rule up until recently was six months. The government had six months to pay or settle the difference.

The time now is five business days. That's what I'm being accused of.

I'm also being accused of a fantastic thing: I'm being charged with expanding federal liabilities and engaging in sanctions.

Now what does that mean?

Just to help you understand exactly what I'm being accused of, I'm being accused of accounting.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned your predecessor, Lula.

Was it a mistake to try to bring him on as chief of staff?

People thought that you were trying to shield him from prosecution.

ROUSSEFF (through translator): In this business or question are we trying to protect Lula by providing him with what in Brazil we call the

prerogatives of the presidency -- in other words, if you hold the position of the president or minister, cabinet minister, you might only be tried by

the federal supreme court.

So it is not exactly, you know, trying to shield Lula from prosecution, not at all.


ROUSSEFF (through translator): Much on the contrary, because, you know, bringing Lula to work with us would be helpful because he's an

experienced person. He served as president of the republic for eight years. And as chief of staff for the presidency, it will be very


He will be great helping me. He's very aware and knowledgeable about Brazil.

And what, why did they not allow him to take office?

Well, because they knew then and know now that he will be certainly strengthen us.

AMANPOUR: You've just spent considerable time right now, putting your case, defending your case. In retrospect, in hindsight, are there any

lessons learned?

Is there anything that you might have done differently to avoid the situation you're in right now?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): During the demonstrations that went on in Brazil in 2013 -- and, by extension, in the quite a few other places in

the world -- we have always had very democratic relations with the demonstrators.

My government never cracked down on demonstrations ever. Everyone in Brazil enjoyed the right to demonstrate and protest, even if they were

against me. So in that regard, I rest very much at ease.

Back then in 2013, we talk about establishing a constitutional, a new constitutional drafting exercise to trigger a political reform in Brazil

because this country needs not just economic reforms. Brazil also needs a political and deep political reform.

Now a political reform to enable anyone who sits on my chair to manage the country and do so with public interest in mind and, therefore, engage

in a proper working relationship with congress in the interest of people at large.

And it is also necessary to lower the cost of this election campaign in Brazil. That's absolutely needed. I support any changes in Brazil but

provided that they be based on free, direct, secret votes.

I am not utterly attached to the position of president. I am against indirect elections. But I will always accept direct, free, secret

elections by the people.


AMANPOUR: When we come back, imagine a world where the president may not even be able to host the coveted Olympic games.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the Olympic flame reaches Brazil next week. It started out, as it always does, with a classical ceremony in

Olympia, Greece, where the ancient games began. But I asked President Rousseff how it would make her feel if, after gaining these games for

Brazil, she won't even be able to host them.


AMANPOUR: Brazil, under your administration, has --


AMANPOUR: -- secured the Olympic Games. You're getting ready for the Olympic Games.

How will it make you feel if you're not able to host them, if you're sitting out the impeachment process for the next six months?

ROUSSEFF (through translator): You know, there's one thing I wish to tell you. If that happens, I will be very sad, indeed, because we have, I

think it is fair to say, we have undertaken a very good effort, number one, in a spirit of partnership with the Rio de Janeiro government.

And we have also engaged in an effort where we have learned many lessons from the recent World Cup.

So we will certainly be in a position to leave a legacy behind, number one, in the form of urban improvements in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the

subway, for light vehicle and rail system and one of the most beautiful architectural concepts, which is the Calatrava Museum.

I would very much like to take part in the Olympic process because I helped build the effort from day one, ever since we accepted the

responsibility matrix, as we call it.

I was there attending the sessions ahead of the chief of staff at the time. But I'm actually sad, a little more sad, for another reason, because

I think the worst thing for any human being is to be victim of injustice.

And I am being the victim of the current impeachment process.

And what do I say, that this is an even worse feeling for a human being because it makes me lose a major democratic achievement of this

country and it takes place during my time in history, something that I would have never, ever thought I would have to experience once again.

So yes, I would feel very saddened if I do not take part in the Olympics. And I would feel very saddened. I do feel very sad for all of

the things of the recent events. I feel sad to see this ongoing impairment of democracy.

President Rousseff, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

ROUSSEFF: (Speaking foreign language).


AMANPOUR: And that is it for our special edition from Brazil tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, watch us online and follow

me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and good night from Brasilia.