Brazil impeachment opens diplomatic rift in Latin America

BRASILIA: The dismissal of Brazil's president upset relations with leftist Latin American governments on Wednesday as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia recalled their ambassadors to protest what they called a "coup" and Brasilia responded in kind.

The Brazilian Senate voted 61-20 to convict the country's first female president, Dilma Rousseff, of illegally using money from state banks to bankroll public spending. The vote ended 13 years of progressive Workers Party rule and brought to power her conservative former vice president, Michel Temer.

Leftist leaders in Caracas, Quito, La Paz and San Salvador have been consistent allies of Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who said the United States was behind the impeachment push.

"This coup d'etat isn't just against Dilma. It is against Latin America and the Caribbean. It is against us," Maduro said in a televised speech. "This is an attack against the popular, progressive, leftist movement."

Brazilian Foreign Minister Jose Serra defended the constitutionality of Rousseff's impeachment and questioned the legitimacy of Maduro's government.

"The Venezuelan government has no moral standing to talk about democracy, since they don't have a democratic regime," he said in comments posted to a government website, in which he accused Venezuela of holding political prisoners.

A political crisis in Venezuela has already heightened tensions with the Temer government, which took over on an interim basis when Rousseff was suspended in May to face trial.

Earlier this month, diplomats from Brazil and Uruguay traded barbs over the latter's accusation that Brasilia was trying to "buy" its vote to block Venezuela from taking the rotating presidency of the region's Mercosur trade bloc.

Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay have refused to allow Venezuela to take the Mercosur presidency, arguing that it has not complied with the minimum requirements to belong to the common market.

Adding its voice to the criticisms, the leftist government of El Salvador said in a statement that Rousseff's removal "represented a serious threat for Latin America's democracy, peace, justice, development and integration."

However, it did not say it would recall its ambassador.