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Cablegate: Senate President Wins Acquittal On Impropriety Charges

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UNCLAS BRASILIA 001745

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL BR
SUBJECT: SENATE PRESIDENT WINS ACQUITTAL ON IMPROPRIETY CHARGES

1. (U) In a historic vote, Brazilian Senate President Renan
Calheiros was absolved on September 12 of charges of misconduct -
the first time the Senate had voted on a charge of impropriety
against its president. The secret vote of 40 to 35, with 6
abstentions, fell short Of the 41 votes needed to find him guilty of
misconduct for allegedly entering into an arrangement in which a
public relations firm that benefited from government contracts
handled child support payments to a journalist with whom Calheiros
has an illegitimate daughter. Calheiros still faces two other
related charges that will also be voted in the Ethics Committee and,
if approved, in the Senate plenary.

2. (SBU) With this vote to absolve, President Lula retains a key
ally in the senate who was, until the ethics scandal arose, en
effective deal-maker for the Lula administration and a well-liked
mediator among his Senate colleagues. Now greatly weakened and
possibly ineffective, he may not be able to recover. The Senate's
public image is tarnished, and the vote guarantees the process will
drag on for weeks or months more. The opposition will selectively
obstruct voting for a while, prolonging both the paralysis that has
plagued the Senate over the last few months and the sense of crisis,
as the media continue to focus national attention on the alleged
corruption of a senior elected official.

3. (U) Comment: Calheiros's victory may indeed be, as one
commentator posited, a "pyrrhic victory" that leaves him with the
title but little power, with another senator emerging as the new
dealmaker who advances the administration's agenda. Some
commentators have suggested that, with his victory won, Calheiros
might even step down from the senate presidency. But the worst may
be over for Calheiros, as some in the senate are suggesting that the
remaining charges could fizzle.

4. (SBU) Comment, continued: Analysts and commentators assert that
the Senate has damaged its image ("committed suicide," quipped one),
but with the Congress's public approval rating already near
rock-bottom, it makes little difference. Media commentators say
public outrage over the verdict is unprecedented, if the volume of
e-mails they received is a reliable gauge. But most Brazilians do
not use e-mail, and probably view the matter as politics as usual,
if they care at all. The Senate's decision shows that the old rules
of the game still hold, that favors and friendship count more than
any interest in punishing impropriety or even improving the
institution's image in the public eye.

CHICOLA

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