Brazil leader looks to shore up support in reduced coalition

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — President Dilma Rousseff looked on Wednesday to shore up the support of parties still in her governing coalition after Brazil’s biggest quit the bloc, complicating her fight to fend off impeachment proceedings as a plunging economy makes reforms difficult and has some lawmakers worried about hosting the Olympics in August.

A day after the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party announced that its members would be immediately giving up their six Cabinet posts and some 600 federal government jobs, it appeared at least three of its Cabinet ministers planned to stay in Rousseff’s government.

The newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo said Health Minister Marcelo Castro and Science and Technology Minister Celso Pansera wanted to work out a deal that would let them remain in the Cabinet, while Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu might sever her ties with the Democratic Movement.

Rousseff was said to be planning to use posts vacated by the Democratic Movement to strengthen her support from the six parties that remain in the governing coalition with her left-leaning Workers’ Party.

She needs to secure at least 172 of the 513 votes in the lower house of Congress to halt impeachment proceedings against her over allegations her administration violated fiscal rules. A vote on the matter is expected around mid-April, and without the Democratic Movement’s 69 votes, Rousseff’s chances of surviving the vote appear diminished.

Speaking at an event for the government’s public housing program, Rousseff again lashed out at the impeachment process as an attempted “coup.” She said she did not commit any crime that would warrant her ousting.

“What we’re discussing is impeachment without responsibility for a crime, and without responsibility for a crime. That’s a coup,” she said to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters who chanted: “There won’t be a coup!”

Rousseff has seen her popularity plummet amid a sprawling corruption scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras that has been moving closer to her inner circle. Rousseff, a former chairwoman of Petrobras’ board, has not been implicated in the alleged bribery scheme, which prosecutors call the biggest ever uncovered in Brazil.

The president’s standing also has been hurt by Brazilian anger that country has sunk into its worst recession in decades, which has put people out of work and is cutting into tax revenues.

The acting governor of Rio de Janeiro state, whose biggest city is hosting the Aug. 5-21 Olympics, warned Wednesday that the state’s finances are “tragic” and suggested selling off property to shore up barren coffers.

Francisco Dornelles told the newspaper O Globo Dornelles that it would take a big effort for the state to meet all its obligations and that officials are looking for credit and other measures to bolster diminishing revenues.

“This is the worst situation I’ve seen in my political career,” he said. His office confirmed his comments.

In the past several months, Olympics organizers in the city of Rio de Janeiro have announced many cutbacks, including to personnel at major Olympic venues.

An opinion poll released Wednesday said just 10 percent of Brazilians have a favorable opinion of Rousseff, only slightly up from the single-digit approval ratings she had last year. The survey, by the Ibope polling agency, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. It was conducted March 17-20, with 2,002 people interviewed nationwide.

Public disgust with politicians reaches far beyond Rousseff. Vice President Michel Temer, who is first in line to assume the presidency in case of impeachment, has been sullied by accusations he took part in the Petrobras corruption scheme as have the two other figures in line to succeed Rousseff — the head of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, and the lower house, Eduardo Cunha. All three are members of the Democratic Alliance and all deny any wrongdoing.

The lower house’s ethics committee met Wednesday to discuss the case against Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who stands accused of lying to a legislative investigatory panel and risks being stripped of his seat. Cunha told the panel he didn’t have foreign bank accounts, but Swiss documents later emerged linking him to accounts that prosecutors allege held money from Petrobras kickbacks.

On Tuesday, the judge in the Petrobras case, Sergio Moro, acknowledged he “may have erred” in recently making public tapped phone recordings of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, including a conversation with Rousseff.

Moro released the recordings hours after Silva was appointed Rousseff’s chief of staff, a move that has been blocked by judges. Silva’s appointment would have made it more difficult for Moro to look into allegations he may have benefited from the Petrobras scheme because Brazilian law requires the Supreme Court to authorize any investigation of Cabinet ministers.

In his written filing to the Supreme Court, Moro offered his “respectful apologies” for making the recordings public. He said he hadn’t intended to “cause polemics or conflicts.”