Brazilian president quits as corruption trial begins

Published Dec. 30, 1992|Updated Oct. 12, 2005

Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello resigned Tuesday at the start of his impeachment trial. Vice President Itamar Franco was sworn in as head of Latin America's biggest nation.

Collor's resignation, announced by his attorney in the Senate just minutes after his trial began there, ends months of political crisis caused by impeachment proceedings on corruption-related charges.

The Senate later voted 73-8 to continue the trial, since the resignation came after it began. Conviction would mean Collor could not hold public office for eight years.

In a letter addressed to Senate President Mauro Benevides, Collor, 43, said: "I bring to your attention that on this date and by this letter I resign my presidential office for which I was elected" in December 1989.

"The president fought to the end to get a fair trial and didn't get it," Collor spokesman Etevaldo Dias said. Collor was widely expected to be convicted on charges stemming from an alleged influence-peddling scheme.

Collor, who came to power on a "clean government" platform, also faces criminal charges in connection with the alleged scheme. He is accused of taking $6.5-million from a slush fund run by his former campaign treasurer and using it for improvements like waterfalls at his private mansion.

Franco, 62, was inaugurated in a tumultuous ceremony at the lower house of Congress about four hours after Collor's resignation.

Franco read the oath of office before a roaring, clapping gallery of supporters singing the national anthem and chanting, "The people united will never be defeated." He was not presented with the customary ceremonial sash and made no speech.

Several congressmen on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies were tossed T-shirts reading "Collorbusters" from the galleries. One legislator slipped his on, then raised his arms in triumph to cheering onlookers.

Many of the youthful spectators had their faces painted with the national colors of green and yellow _ a reminder of the mass protests that led to Collor's suspension by the Chamber of Deputies Sept. 29 and Franco's takeover as acting president.

Franco's inauguration ends months of uncertainty over whether Collor would return to power. The peaceful changeover also is a sign of strength for Brazil's youthful democracy, which emerged from 21 years of military dictatorship in 1985.

Although Franco has been acting president for almost three months, his plans as Brazil's leader are not clear. He has not given a major speech or news conference since Collor's suspension, preferring to wait until the end of the impeachment process.

Franco will make his first address as president with a televised speech to his Cabinet this morning, the state news agency Agencia Brasil reported.

Franco, a former senator from the mining state of Minas Gerais, is known as a longtime supporter of government efforts to regulate the economy, in contrast to the prevailing free-market trends in Latin America.

However, his economy ministers have vowed to continue Collor's program of selling off state companies and deregulating the economy. The Sao Paulo stock exchange surged 2.5 percent after news of Collor's resignation.

Foreign Minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso said: "Brazil is going to continue to meet all its international obligations to the letter." He said Franco, who is not a member of any party, had no plans for economic shocks to cure Brazil's deep recession and inflation of 25 percent a month.

Collor, who has an apartment in Paris, has no plans to leave Brazil and will continue living at his Brasilia estate, his spokesman said.