A Recent History of Presidential Impeachments in Latin America

The recent impeachment scandal occurring in Brazil stemming from President Dilma’s alleged involvement in the Lava-Jato scandal has resurrected stories from past impeachment scandals around Latin America. The Dilma impeachment scandal, which was started by lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, represents one of the first impeachment processes that is going through all prerequisite legal processes.1 While investigation into claims that Dilma was involved in money laundering while heading the Petrobras board have yet to be proven, Cunha has taken claims to the STF (Supreme Court of Brazil), as set by constitutional measures of impeachment.2 This marks an important step in democracy in Latin America since past many past impeachments, mostly beginning in the early 1990s, after many countries were rebounding from dictatorships, were not carried out constitutionally.

The Dilma scandal echoes a similar scandal involving former president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992 who, after democratically assuming power, was quickly ousted after a corruption scandal. After assuming power, his mission was to fix the over inflated economy but only five months after becoming president the finance minister of Collor’s cabinet resigned, leaving the economy in flux. Shortly after, Collor’s brother testified that there was large scale money laundering going on amongst Collor and his confidants. With Collor’s party, the PRN, holding few seats in the senate and chamber of deputies, it was nearly impossible to defend the president when impeachment claims arose. Along with congressional committees working on his impeachment, thousands of protesters across Brazil took to the street against the corruption. Much like what is happening now with Dilma, this process went through some governmental paths and has had strong backlash from the public, but in a different turn, instead of waiting for the outcome of the trials, Collor simply resigned from his presidency.

Shortly after the presidential scandal in Brazil, a similar impeachment scandal occurred in Venezuela involving president Carlos Andrés Pérez. Much like what happened in Brazil, Pérez, who had been elected president in the past and led Venezuela to a golden age of economics, was constantly plagued by corruption scandals along with a lagging economy. In a story involving media investigations, complaints from national celebrities, military contracts, protests in the capital, and congressional hearings, President Pérez was eventually impeached in 1992. Even though the economy had grown, knowledge of corruption sent both politicians and citizens over the edge and Peréz lost congressional backing after elections. In 1992, congressional hearings confirmed the corruption scandals and suspended the president and eventually led to a military coup of the presidency. In this case, democratic measures set up the impeachment process but the following presidencies of Caldera and Chávez were unstable and led to further military coups, destabilizing the democracy that Venezuela was heading towards.

Along with these examples of the instability of impeachments, three others occured in the 1990s in Colombia, Ecuador, and Paraguay because of narco-funding, unruly leaders, and resurrections of military dictatorships respectively. A common thread between these cases is the fragility of the state of democracy in all the countries mentioned. When the impeached presidents reached office, the respective governments were on the precipice of a new age of democracy but could not seem to shake the past legacies of corruption. In the current case with President Dilma, her government has been participating in democratic governance for the past 20 years so the outcome of the trials and the impact of the citizens protest will prove important for the future of democracy in Brazil.


  1. Watts, Johnathan. "Brazil Opens Impeachment Proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff." The Gaurdian. N.p., 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

  2.  Falcão, Marcio. "Ministro Do STF Suspende Andamento Do Impeachment Na Câmara." Folha De São Paulo. N.p., 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

  3.  Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. "Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America." (2007): n. pag. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

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