How Brazil’s business federations encouraged Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment

Brasil Observer - Sep 08 2016
prédio fiesp impeahcment
The Fiesp building in São Paulo became the meeting point for the demonstrations in favour of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment

(Leia em Português)


Reporter from Agência Pública checked the procedures of ten state federations for the removal of President Dilma Rousseff; half of them participated in pro-impeachment movements


By Alice Maciel, from Agência Pública |

Business leaders from all over the country arrived in Brasília, the capital of Brazil, in March and April 2016 with a defined mission: to visit federal deputies from their states and convince them to vote in favour of opening the impeachment process of President Dilma Rousseff (Workers Party). They spread quietly through the halls of Congress seeking mainly the votes from those undecided Member of Parliament. In the evaluation of the businesses representatives, the lobby, led by employers’ unions, worked out efficiently.

“It was a very productive trip not only for the results but also for the mobilization itself. We made a ‘body-to-body’ work with Congressmen from Paraná and even went to the house of one of them, who was undecided,” said Elaine Rodrigues de Paula Reis, director of the Paraná Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries Union (Sinqfar). She went to Brasília with a group from the Industries Federation of Paraná State (Fiep), formed by 50 business leaders, on April 17, when the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazilian Congress, cleared the way for the impeachment process. According to the president of Fiep, Edson Campagnolo, at least six votes were reversed “thanks to the mobilization of the population and the work of businessmen.”

The employers unions also went to the front on the streets. While the Unified Workers’ Central (CUT) led the movement against the impeachment, businessmen used various resources to encourage demonstrations against Dilma Rousseff’s Presidency. The Agência Pública investigated these stories to show how the business sector acted in the impeachment process. The survey was conducted in ten major federations of industries. Entities from São Paulo, Santa Catarina, Paraná, Goiás and Rio de Janeiro declared formal support. In Espírito Santo, despite President Marcos Guerra being in favour of the impeachment, the entity didn’t comment. The Industries Federation of Pernambuco State (Fiepe) reported that “the vast majority of trade unions present in the house supported the movement”, but the institution didn’t have a position. The federations from Minas Gerais and Bahia remained neutral.

Dissatisfied with the direction of the economy under the PT (Workers Party) government, the productive sector felt contemplated by the speech of the vice-president, Michel Temer (Democratic Movement Party): “The government alone cannot be populist only to swell the state machine, but must be participatory, and that participation comes precisely from the private sector that is very disappointed. I understand the disappointment of businessmen,” argued Temer during the launch of his party “Unity Caravan” in Curitiba, on January 28. And continued to repeat catchphrases that were music to the business sector’s ears: “The private sector has to be praised because it guarantees employment for our country”; “the private sector is the driving force of the government itself.” During the same meeting, with the presence of various sectors of civil society, Temer released what would become the platform of his government, the “Bridge to the Future” document. Officially launched as the PMDB (Democratic Movement Party) program to deal with Brazil’s economic crisis, its main proposal focused a development policy that places the private sector in the centre.

The first businessmen representative to defend Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment is an ally of Temer, the president of the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp), Paulo Skaff, in a statement made on December 14 last year. He then became a militant of the cause and articulator of the process within the business community. The headquarters of Fiesp, on the Paulista Avenue, heart of Brazil’s biggest city, turned into point of demonstrations in favour of the impeachment, and the famous inflatable duck, created for the campaign against tax increases, became a symbol against the PT government.

Fiesp went further, setting up an infrastructure in front of its building to receive protesters in favour of the process and published a 14-page advertisement in the first section of the main newspapers in the country advocating “Impeachment Now”. Another round of advertising was done in 21 states with photo, phone and Facebook page of Members of Parliament so people could press them during the voting procedures. Hundreds of employers’ unions supported the campaign, led by Fiesp.

The orientation for businessmen to follow the Congressmen from their states was given by Fiesp and the Federation of Industries of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Firjan). “We will all focus on letting Congressmen know that the country wants impeachment. A deputy should represent the people, and I think that every good Congressman, thinking about the people, will do it as soon as possible, to give an oxygenation and a plan for the country to get out of a vicious cycle,” said Paulo Skaff after a meeting with 300 business leaders at the headquarters of Fiesp, broadcasted online to the federations of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, Goiás, Pará and Paraná. On the same day, the president of Firjan, Eduardo Eugenio Gouvêa declared his support for the impeachment process and argued that businessmen should press the Congress. “[We will] show Members of Parliament their obligation to vote for Brazil, changing the president as soon as possible. We cannot continue this apathy,” he said.



The Agência Pública talked to some senators after the upper house of Brazil’s Congress decided to keep the process against Dilma Rousseff. They were in a meeting to vote the Provisional Measure 726/2016, published on May 12 by the interim president Michel Temer, extinguishing nine ministries: Culture; Communication; Agrarian Development; Women, Racial Equality, Youth and Human Rights; Ports; Civil Aviation; Social Communication; Military House; and General Comptroller of the Union.

The leader of Michel Temer’s government in Congress, Senator Rose de Freitas (PMDB), representing the State of Espírito Santo, was keen to point out that the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff “did not have the digitals of the industry sector.” And the rapporteur of the impeachment proceedings in the Senate, Antonio Anastasia (Social Democracy Party), representing the State of Minas Gerais, claimed he hasn’t seen any mobilization in favour or against the process. He said he spent the last few months just working with the Senate consulting team. The federal deputy Leonardo Quintão (PMDB), also representing Minas Gerais, argued that the impeachment was not a movement of sectors. In the analysis of the national president of the PMDB, Senator Romero Jucá, the impeachment is the result of the popular movement and the organized sectors.

Like Senator Rose, both Jucá and Quintão admitted they had been under pressure, but ensured the mobilization of people dissatisfied with the government weighed more on the process result than the mobilization of businessmen, led by industry federations. “The economic sector has a peculiar force. As it represents the productive sectors, but has no vote, it does not have mobilization capacity. I would say it has more organization, more technical proposition. In the case of social sectors, they make more noise, have more electoral political representation, generate more problems for Congressmen who are against their ideas,” said Jucá.

The fact is that with easy access to the offices in Brasília the pressure of the employers’ unions came forcefully to Congress. Businessmen from the State of Goiás were received in the lower house by ten federal deputies and two senators. “We were very well received and we had complete success,” said the president of the Commerce, Industry and Services Association of the State of Goiás, Euclides Barbo Siqueira. In order to return the favour, the Forum of Business Entities of the State of Goiás and the Housing Forum of Goiás held on April 25 a dinner for Congressmen who voted for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Among those present was the rapporteur of the impeachment process in the Chamber of Deputies, Jovair Arantes (Brazilian Labour Party). “I was very honoured today; this gives us more strength to work,” he said during the event. The senators who voted for the impeachment were also treated with a lunch hosted by the Federation of Industries of Goiás (Fieg) on May 23.

Federal deputies from Brazil’s Southern State of Santa Catarina received the message during a meeting between the Parliamentary Forum of Santa Catarina and the Council of Business Associations of Santa Catarina, which took place in Brasilia on March 23. Of the 16 federal deputies from the state, 10 are businessmen, according to a study conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Advisory Department. The capital of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis was one of the towns visited by Temer with the “Unity Caravan” in February. At the time, Michel Temer participated in a panel with representatives of the productive sectors in the Federation of Industries of Santa Catarina (Fiesc). In March, Fiesc released a manifesto calling for a new government.

The lobby by sector also worked. Four days before the vote in the lower house, more than 150 leaders and entrepreneurs from the cargo road transport landed in Brasília “to visit the federal deputies from their respective regions and to strengthen the position of the sector.” “It was a very positive initiative because we had representatives from several states present in this work in Congress. The positioning of the sector, which was already of public knowledge, was reinforced personally with Congressmen, and everyone was extremely receptive,” said the businessman José Hélio Fernandes.



The industry federations were not mobilized only because of their class interests. The political relations permeate these federations and the National Confederation of Industry (CNI). To have an idea, only in 2010, after 30 years, CNI elected its first non-parliamentary president. Robson Braga substituted Armando Monteiro, today Senator by PTB from Pernambuco. Armando Monteiro was Minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade of Dilma Rousseff’s government and, although a reference to the interests of the entity in the Senate, one of the few businessmen who stood next to the president and voted against the impeachment. Robson Braga has signed an open letter to the Congressmen, three days before the impeachment vote in the lower house, in which he said: “It’s time to change.”

The board of CNI has Paulo Skaff in its vice-presidency, who is also ahead of Fiesp and the Centre of São Paulo State Industries (Ciesp). Ally of Michel Temer, Skaf became a PMDB leader already in charge of São Paulo institutions, where he is since 2004. In 2014, he failed to win the election for the State of São Paulo government, but managed to receive R$ 236,300 in donation from Fiesp directors. The Agência Pública did a survey on the board of the ten largest federations to understand the relations of their leaders with political parties. In all of them there are directors who made donations in the 2014 elections. In Minas Gerais and São Paulo, the number of donors was more significant, 12 and 26, respectively.

At Fiesp, in addition to Skaff, another vice-president, Josué Gomes (PMDB from Minas Gerais), son of Brazil’s former vice-president José Alencar, also disputed elections – he ran for Senate. Josué received donation from Fiesp representatives in the amount of R$ 140,000. Altogether, businessmen from the institution donated R$ 4.8 million for the 2014 campaign: the largest share was for PMDB candidates: R$ 3.7 million. The rest of the donations was distributed among nine political parties.

Paulo Skaff and Josué Gomes also received donations from the Federation of Industries of the State of Minas Gerais (Fiemg). The vice-president, Aguinaldo Diniz Filho donated R$ 35,000. Another 11 directors donated almost R$ 100,000 to six political parties.

Fiemg has been chaired by Olavo Machado Júnior since 2010, when he replaced Robson Braga. The president of the Regional Fiemg Rio Grande Valley, Altamir Rôso, is a member of PMDB and was State Secretary of Economic Development. His office was extinct in the administrative reform conducted by the current governor Fernando Pimentel (PT) in July. Despite the national disruption, in Minas the PMDB remains in the PT government base. This suggests an explanation for the fact that Fiemg remained officially neutral regarding the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

In Rio de Janeiro, only the president of Firjan, Eduardo Eugênio Gouvêa, who is in charge of the entity for 21 years, and the vice-president, Carlos Mariani Bittencourt, made donations for the 2014 election, both destined to Paulo Skaff, totalling R$ 20,000. In the same year, the Federation of Industries of the State of Goiás (Fieg) re-elected one of its leaders, José Antônio Vitti (PSDB), to the Legislative Assembly of the state.

Donations to the PT only came from Rio Grande do Sul (R$ 11,700), Minas Gerais (R$ 5,000), São Paulo (R$ 250,000) and Bahia (R$ 1,000). From the parties that received donations, the Communist Party was the least gifted, with only R$ 3,000, which came from São Paulo. PMDB was the party that received most of the donations. In addition to São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Goiás, representatives from Santa Catarina and Parana donated to candidates of the party.



The corporate bench is the largest in Brazil’s Congress, with 251 representatives – 221 out of 513 federal deputies and 30 out of 81 senators, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Advisory Department (Diap). However, it lost representatives from the last term – they were 273. Only Psol (Socialism and Freedom), PCdoB (Communist Party), PSDC (Christian Social Democratic Party) and PEN (National Ecologic Party) don’t have businessmen on their benches. Among the one hundred politicians appointed by Diap as the most influential in the Brazilian Congress, 30 are businessmen.

PMDB is the party with most members of this bench, 34 federal deputies and 10 senators, followed by PSDB with 28 federal deputies and 10 senators, and PP, with 26 federal deputies and 3 senators. This means that half of the PMDB Members of Parliament are made of owners of commercial, industrial, and service establishments or from the rural segment. The survey conducted by Diap also shows that the PMDB proximity to the bosses is not new. Since the legislature 1991-1995, when the organization began this study, the PMDB are among the main representatives of the sector.

Coordinated by CNI, the corporate bench has an agenda made up of 121 proposals. The dispensation of Petrobras, a state-controlled oil company, to have a minimum participation in the exploration of pre-salt oil; new rules for environmental licensing; and regulation of outsourced labour force are some of the proposals submitted as urgent for businessmen.

CNI monitors all projects in the National Congress. The Council of Legislative Affairs (Coal), led by Paulo Afonso Ferreira, former president of Fieg, is the sector responsible for this monitoring and has a team of executives who are in direct contact with Members of Parliament and government officials. “Those responsible for the lobby of the CNI are allocated to Coal,” said Andrea Cristina de Jesus Oliveira in her doctoral thesis presented at the University of Campinas.

In the study she notes that the Coal has the function to monitor, influence, inform and prepare studies that support its actions and at the same time be a source of information for parliamentarians. In addition to monitoring the positive and negative projects for the industry, according to Andrea, CNI also makes a political monitoring to identify allies and enemies of their causes. For instance, the federal deputy André Moura (Social Christian Party) attended a Coal meeting in August and received praises from Paulo Afonso: “André Moura is a pathfinder of projects that were stopped in the house. When the proposal falls in his hands, we know that it will go on efficiently.”

“Coal lobbyists are responsible for the body-to-body of CNI. However, there is an issue to highlight: the Coal lobbyists will never be seen interfering with parliamentarians when they are voting on a particular project,” said Andrea. According to her, the lobbyists prefer to act in the commissions where the projects begin to be discussed.

Coal has some channels of communication with businessmen. Among them Legisdata, a “database of the National Congress actions that allows them to track the legislative proposals. It contains information on projects proceedings, executive summaries, full texts and indicative opinions of the CNI.” Users of the information can also issue their opinions. Monitoring is carried out by the federations of industries in the Legislative Assemblies and Municipal Councils.

“By its monitoring devices, Coal makes a map of all the bills that are presented in the Legislative Houses. In addition to the virtual monitoring, they follow personally committees meetings and public hearings. The action is the direct contact of the productive sector with the Legislative. It will enable the understanding that the proposed laws need to comply with the industrial reality”, says Fiemg.


Privileged access to the ‘House of People’

Photos of the representatives of employers’ associations in Brasília were published in the pages of the entities on the Internet. The images show businessmen in public offices and even in the Congress plenary. Business leaders who were at the federal capital asking for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, extol the reception of parliamentarians.

For them the “House of People” is open and the access to federal deputies and senators has no obstacles. For other classes of Brazilian society, the reception is another. On the same day that the Senate voted the report of the Impeachment Special Committee, on August 9, about 200 indigenous leaders occupied the auditorium Nereu Ramos. They left the place at 10.30pm, after it was agreed that they would be received by the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, at 10:30am the next day.

“In my tribe, the word is what counts, but here is the paper. So we came to bring a paper to the president,” said the chief Nailton Muniz Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe, from the city of Pau Brasil, in southern Bahia. The document, among other guidelines, calls for the end of PEC 215, which, if passed, would remove the demarcation of indigenous lands.

They came to the lower house on time, but were received only two hours later, around 12:30pm. That’s because before them, at 11am, Rodrigo Maia received the CEO of Sebrae, Guilherme Afif Domingos, and members of the Parliamentary Front of Micro and Small Enterprises.

“When we arrive here, we face difficulties to enter,” said the chief Nailton Muniz while waiting for Maia. “Sometimes we feel very embarrassed because there is bad faith to receive us and the acceptance of our claim,” he added. “The businessman comes in and has space for dialogue, has a room to enter the time they want. But we, traditional communities, when we come here, there is a barrier to prevent our entry,” said the representative of the National Articulation of Quilombos, Fátima Barros. According to her, Rodrigo Maia committed to not put the PEC 215 to vote. “He will not take the decision alone, but he said he will not only hear one side,” she said.