Brazil’s Te­mer: I won’t re­sign

Pres­i­dent de­fi­ant amid cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions.

Star Tribune - - NATION & WORLD - By PETER PRENGA­MAN, MAURI­CIO SAVARESE and SARAH DILORENZO As­so­ci­ated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer on Thurs­day re­jected calls for his res­ig­na­tion, say­ing he will fight al­le­ga­tions that he en­dorsed the pay­ing of hush money to a former law­maker jailed for cor­rup­tion.

Even in this coun­try weary from the con­stant drip of rev­e­la­tions of a wide-rang­ing cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the in­cen­di­ary ac­cu­sa­tion set off a firestorm and Brazil’s high­est court opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Stocks and the cur­rency plunged and ru­mors cir­cu­lated that Te­mer would step down.

In­stead, the em­bat­tled leader re­mained de­fi­ant in a na­tional ad­dress to re­spond to al­le­ga­tions that he was recorded en­dors­ing pay­ments to former lower House Speaker Ed­uardo Cunha. The ex­is­tence and the con­tents of the record­ing were re­ported Wed­nes­day night by the Globo news­pa­per.

“At no time did I au­tho­rize the pay­ing of any­one,” Te­mer said em­phat­i­cally, rais­ing his voice and pound­ing his in­dex fin­ger against the podium. “I did not buy any­body’s si­lence.”

“I will not re­sign,” he said. The Supreme Fed­eral Tri­bunal opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ac­cu­sa­tions and lifted the seal on the record­ing. Globo then posted the nearly 39-minute record­ing, which is scratchy and of­ten in­audi­ble.

In it, two men can be heard talk­ing about Cunha, who is now serv­ing a sen­tence on cor­rup­tion charges but who many be­lieve could still pro­vide dam­ag­ing tes­ti­mony about dozens of other politi­cians. Globo’s re­port said they are Te­mer and JBS meat­pack­ing com­pany ex­ec­u­tive Joes­ley Batista.

One man, who is be­lieved to be Te­mer, com­plains that Cunha could po­ten­tially em­bar­rass him.

“Within my lim­its, I did the most I could there. I set­tled ev­ery­thing,” re­sponds the other man, ap­par­ently Batista. “He came and col­lected, etc., etc., etc. I am good with Ed­uardo, OK?”

The first man then says: “You have to keep that up, see?” To which the sec­ond man re­sponds: “Ev­ery month.”

Even be­fore the au­dio was re­leased, Thurs­day be­gan in a panic af­ter Globo’s re­port.

Within 90 min­utes of the open­ing, Brazil’s main Ibovespa stock in­dex dropped 10 per­cent and trad­ing was stopped for 30 min­utes. Brazil’s cur­rency, the real, lost 8 per­cent of its value against the U.S. dol­lar, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Bank’s clos­ing fig­ure. Congress can­celed its ses­sions, in­clud­ing sus­pend­ing work on leg­is­la­tion that Te­mer’s ad­min­is­tra­tion hopes will pull Latin Amer­ica’s largest econ­omy out of its worst re­ces­sion in decades.

The pres­sure built against Te­mer through­out the day. There was talk that Cabi­net min­is­ters were con­sid­er­ing quit­ting their posts, and the cul­ture min­is­ter did step down by day’s end. Op­po­si­tion politi­cians called for his im­peach­ment. Two small al­lied par­ties pulled their sup­port for Te­mer in Congress.

“There are par­ties leav­ing his base, min­is­ters leav­ing the Cabi­net. Even if the record­ings don’t show some­thing that ter­ri­ble, you can’t put the tooth­paste back in the tube,” said Clau­dio Couto, a po­lit­i­cal-sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Fun­da­cao Ge­tulio Var­gas, a Sao Paulo-based univer­sity and think tank. “If Te­mer doesn’t fall, he will lead a walk­ing dead ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

In the evening, a protest of sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple in Rio de Janeiro was bro­ken up when men in masks threw ob­jects at po­lice, who re­sponded with tear gas. In Sao Paulo, the na­tion’s largest city, hun­dreds of pro­test­ers gath­ered on a main av­enue to de­mand Te­mer go.

“Af­ter the con­tents of the tape be­came pub­lic, there’s no other way out for Te­mer than to leave,” said Au­gusto Tadeki, a 23-year-old un­em­ployed com­puter tech­ni­cian. “He ei­ther has to re­sign or he’ll be im­peached. We will stay here; we will demon­strate ev­ery day un­til he leaves.”

Five of the top 10 trend­ing top­ics in Brazil on Twit­ter were re­lated to the scan­dal, in­clud­ing the sub­ject “Te­mer will re­sign.” Many Brazil­ians ex­pressed shock on so­cial me­dia when Te­mer fi­nally spoke Thurs­day night and said he would stay in power.

“Michel Te­mer is like that boyfriend who doesn’t know it’s over,” one Twit­ter user said.

AN­DRE PEN­NER • As­so­ci­ated Press

Hun­dreds of pro­test­ers gath­ered in Sao Paolo to de­mand that Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer re­sign.

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