As the cheers and fireworks faded, Brazilians celebrating the fall of scandal-tainted President Fernando Collor de Mello turned Wednesday to the task of getting the paralyzed nation moving again.
The impeachment of Collor late Tuesday by the lower house of Congress was celebrated through the night and hailed as a watershed for Latin American democracy.Collor was ousted after weeks of demonstrations against his government. In a sign of political maturity in Brazil, a political crisis had led to something other than a military coup.
Congress began formal steps Wednesday to strip the 43-year-old Collor of his powers and install his replacment, Vice President Itamar Franco. Senate President Mauro Benevides said Franco could take over by Friday.
Collor's 25-member Cabinet quit after the vote Tuesday but pledged to stay on as a transition team at the president's request. Franco met Wednesday with candidates for his Cabinet.
The Chamber of Deputies voted 441-38 to impeach Collor, who is accused of taking $6.5 million in "undue benefits" from a slush fund operated by his former campaign treasurer.
Collor said through a spokesman that he would not quit voluntarily and would go only if the Senate found him guilty.
A 21-member commission named by the Senate is to review the lower house's action and vote to accept or reject the request for a Senate trial, which is part of the impeachment proceedings.
If the president is convicted at trial, Franco remains in power until Collor's term expires on Jan. 1, 1995. Collor reassumes full powers if the Senate absolves him or cannot reach a verdict within 180 days.
"The Senate will offer all possible speed . . . because this has paralyzed investments in the country," Benevides said.
A two-thirds majority of the 81-member Senate is needed to remove him permanently, but fewer than 10 senators are believed to support Collor.
"It's all finished. The game has ended," Rep. Jose Lourenco, one of Collor's staunchest supporters, said after the lower house vote.
Some 100,000 people rallied outside parliament after the man who took office in 1990 on a clean government platform was ousted Tuesday.
"It's the first time I am able to feel proud that I'm a Brazilian," said Virgilio Montesanto, an 18-year-old student who, like many, had painted his face with the national colors, green and yellow. "I think now I will be able to raise my children in the future in a country that is moving forward."
In the northeastern coastal city of Fortaleza, fireworks exploded and confetti rained down when it became clear Collor had fallen. A roar went up from the downtown crowd of 50,000 after the deciding vote was cast.
"These sobs were caught in our throats," wept Socorro Santana, a college student. "Now we won and can build a new Brazil."
The 4-month-old scandal has paralyzed the economy of Latin America's largest nation, which is burdened by the highest foreign debt in the Third World.
Brazilians hope Collor's removal will allow the nation of 150 million to recharge its economy and seek foreign loans and investment.