The Chamber of Deputies of Chile approved, this Tuesday (9), the opening of impeachment proceedings against President Sebastián Piñera. The action is linked to the appearance of the agent in the so-called Pandora Papers, in a case of possible conflict of interest involving the sale of a company linked to his family.
In the vote, 78 deputies were in favor of opening the process, while 67 were against and 3 abstained. 78 votes were needed.
Approved in the Chamber, the impeachment request is now being discussed in the Senate. Piñera, who has a mandate until March 2022 —the first round of the election is scheduled for the next 21st— will only lose his post if the removal is determined by the upper chamber.
For this, two-thirds of the parliamentarians would be required, that is, 29 of the 43 senators. Today, however, the possibility of a new defeat is small, as the ruling alliance has a majority in the House. If he is actually taken out of office, Rodrigo Delgado, currently Minister of the Interior, will take office until the end of his term.
A poll by the Ipsos institute, released last week, showed that 60% of Chileans say they are in favor of the president’s impeachment. According to the most recent report by the Cadem Institute, Piñera has 15% popular approval — the rejection has also impacted the government’s successor candidate, Sebastián Sichel, now fourth in the polls.
The session in the Chamber this Monday (8) was marked by a great effort by the opposition to stretch the discussions as much as possible. More precisely, until dawn on Tuesday. That’s because a member of parliament critical of Piñera, Giorgio Jackson, was in quarantine after having had a person infected with the coronavirus and could only leave the house after midnight.
With votes counted one by one from both sides, Jackson’s presence was considered critical by the opposition. As part of the strategy, socialist Jaime Naranjo arrived at Congress carrying a folder with 1,300 sheets of paper. He spoke for 15 hours, taking breaks only to go to the bathroom, in order to prolong the session and allow the presence of his quarantined colleague.
The indictment text approved in the Chamber, presented by the opposition in early October, deals with the “violation of the principle of probity and the serious compromise of the honor of the nation”.
The lawsuit against Piñera began after the release of the Pandora Papers. The journalistic investigation, led by the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), revealed that the agent had carried out an operation with a potential conflict of interest involving an offshore account in the British Virgin Islands.
The sale of mining company Dominga, which belonged to the family of the current head of the Executive, was closed in 2010, the year in which Piñera also occupied the Presidency of Chile. According to news reports, the buyer, a close friend of the politician, demanded that an environmental area not be created in the company’s operating zone, which would hinder the exploration of ore in the region.
The transaction, which involved US$152 million (R$838 million), would be divided into three installments, the last of which would only be released if the protection area required by activists was not established. At the time, the government ended up not delimiting the area as a green zone, and the payment, therefore, would have been confirmed. The Chilean Public Ministry is also investigating the case.
The president presented his defense in writing last week, in which he claims that he turned over his business to a trust in 2009. In fact, Piñera has been dissociating himself from some of his companies only after criticism and accusations revealed by the press after the beginning of his first term in 2010.
Still, the president says the case revealed by the Pandora Papers is not among them. The completion of the sale of the mining company, however, according to the journalistic investigation, took place nine months after the inauguration.
This Monday’s session began at 10 am, with the reading of the 99-page accusatory piece. Then began Naranjo’s long speech, who lined up arguments pro-impeachment — from impacts on the environment involving the mining company’s operation to technical points in the Constitution about impeding a president and the use of offshore accounts.
The deputy took a brief afternoon break, during which a doctor took his blood pressure and informed the bench that he was free to continue speaking and participate in the vote. In addition to bathroom breaks, he also interrupted the speech a few times by telling him that he would have “a little water”.
Around midnight, the congressmen seated in chairs next to his displayed posters for the cameras that were broadcasting the session that read “Força, deputy Naranjo”.
Neither Piñera nor his congressional supporters questioned the opposition’s strategy. According to the president’s defense, as the disputed case has no merit, filing an appeal would be to acknowledge this point. “Our defense is against the fundamental issue, the lack of merit of the prosecution,” said lawyer Jorge Gálvez.
In addition to the episode linked to the Pandora Papers, which gave rise to his impeachment process, Piñera faces damage to his image because of the Constituent Assembly, formed after claims of large protests that set the country on fire in 2019, and because of friction with the Mapuche peoples.
Last month, he announced the militarization of four zones in regions inhabited by these indigenous peoples after, in a protest by these peoples in the capital, a woman was killed in a clash with police officers. Constituent parliamentarians called for an investigation into possible abuses committed by Chilean security forces.