Brazil’s reviled lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha resigns in tears
Brazil’s lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha has resigned in tears less than three months after he orchestrated the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
His departure is the latest twist in the country’s ongoing political turmoil, but few are likely to lament the reviled head of a despised institution.
Cunha – an ultra-conservative evangelical – had already been suspended by the supreme court while he is investigated for alleged corruption, intimidation of lawmakers, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
Although he has denied the charges and previously vowed to stay in his post, he has come under increasing pressure to step down. This week, his former ally in the Brazilian Democratic Movement party, interim president Michel Temer, advised him it was time to go.
Cunha’s resignation speech was typically abrasive: “It is well known that the house is brainless,” he said of the institution he helped to shape.
He described his treatment as cruel and inhuman, wished success to Temer and his successor, and then called on god to bless Brazil, before departing the stage he has dominated since 2015.
The question now is whether Cunha will also be stripped of his seat in the lower house, which would expose him to a possible trial in the lower courts. Police involved in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation say privately this is only a matter of time because there is so much evidence against him.
While many in Brazil would like to see him go to jail, the prospect is likely to alarm many of his former allies. Like Frank Underwood in House of Cards, Cunha is thought to have built a political power base on his knowledge of other politician’s dirty secrets. According to the domestic media, he has warned Temer that if he goes to prison, he will not go alone.
Cunha initiated the impeachment process against Rousseff last December as a form of retribution after her Workers party refused to back him in the ethics committee.
But if he hoped the battle against the president would also divert attention from his case, or win rewards from those he put in power, he has been proved wrong.
“Cunha was very functional in destroying Dilma, now he is being destroyed,” former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso told the Guardian shortly before the speaker was suspended.
Cunha is one of three senior figures in the ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB), alongside Temer and Upper house leader Renan Calheiros. A trained economist, he was a protege of Fernando Collor, the only previous president to have been impeached since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985.
He converted to the Assembly of God – one of the country’s biggest evangelical churches – and rose to notoriety as the outspoken host of a radio show on an evangelical station. With support from the Christian right, he won his first seat in the chamber of deputies in 2003 as a representative of Rio de Janeiro, and became speaker in 2015.
In polls, he is consistently among the most unpopular politicians in the nation. A Datafolha survey earlier this year found 77% of the voters wanted Cunha to be stripped of his mandate, compared to 61-67% for Rousseff.
Public anger has been stirred by reports that he hid $5m in illegal kickbacks in a secret Swiss bank account, that he threatened opponents and enjoyed a profligate lifestyle that was far beyond the means of his declared annual income of $120,000.
Prosecutors have leaked credit card statements showing that Cunha and his family splurged $40,000 on a nine-day family holiday in Miami at the end of 2013, then followed this with similar shopping and restaurant sprees in Paris, New York and Zurich. Cunha and his wife also allegedly own a fleet of eight luxury cars, including a Porsche, which were registered under the name of Jesus.com and C3 Productions.