Brazil's Rousseff loses palace, but life goes on

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Sebastian Smith
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Brasília (AFP) - Dilma Rousseff will soon abandon Brazil's beautiful presidential palace along with its luxury sports facilities and helicopter pad -- but perhaps post-impeachment life won't be so bad after all.

Stripped of office by the Senate on Wednesday, Brazil's first female president joined the ranks of nearly 12 million unemployed in Latin America's biggest country.

She'll walk out one last time from the modernist Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, taking her pet dachshund Fafa with her.

She will have to rediscover life without the presidential plane and an army of secretaries, advisors, cooks and guards, along with an approximately $9,500 monthly salary and other perks that come with governing the country of 206 million people.

But she's not exactly being thrown out on the street.

Rousseff is expected to return within days to her hometown of Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil, where she keeps a modest apartment.

However, she gets 30 days to check out of the Palacio da Alvorada, which translates as Palace of Dawn. The moving is paid for and she'll be able to use an Air Force plane one last time, Folha newspaper reported.

She'll also retain eight staff: four guards, two aides, and two drivers, Brazilian media reports say.

- From Dawn to Sadness -

As her impeachment trial moved inexorably toward conviction on charges of having illegally manipulated government accounts, Rousseff already started weeks ago to move books and clothes to Porto Alegre, Folha reported.

Her apartment is in a neighborhood of the seaside city called Tristeza, meaning sadness. However, Rousseff is said to have always been happy there.

Escaping there during her bruising impeachment trial, Rousseff would bicycle in the mornings and see her daughter Paula, ex-husband Carlos Araujo and grandsons Gabriel and Guilherme, ZH Politica reported.

The sea air "helps her relax," the newspaper quoted politicians close to Rousseff as saying.

Some argue she may even be relieved to quit the Alvorada.

Designed by the brilliant Oscar Niemeyer, the low, white building on the outskirts of Brasilia might feel cavernous and isolated for a single, elderly woman.

There are glass walls, a vast lawn, enormous swimming pool, separate chapel, and all sorts of goodies like a medical center and movie theater. This being Brazil, there's also a football pitch.

"She'll be sorry to leave. She has a 24 hour doctor there. She can't even know how ordinary Brazilians live and how horrible our public hospitals are," said tour guide Irma Ferreira, 47, who knows the palace well from taking tourists on weekly visits.

But others say something on a more human scale will be a welcome change.

"Honestly, I think she'd feel more comfortable with a simpler way of life," said Alexandre Fragos Lacerda, a 41-year-old systems analyst standing outside the Alvorada to show his support for the ex-president.

New Yorker Arnold Stevens, who was on one of Ferreira's tours, agreed, calling the palace "very spooky."

"It's in such a serene environment, so calm -- it belies the drama happening right now," Stevens, 31, said.

- Job hunting? -

What will a famously workaholic ex-president do without a job?

Rousseff has already turned down two offers to study abroad, one in France and the other in the United States, according to Folha.

But in a surprise move on Wednesday, the Senate voted against banning Rousseff from politics for eight years, which had been widely considered automatic with an impeachment conviction.

So instead of receiving what she'd called a "political death sentence," Rousseff could, in theory, start campaigning again.

A quick return to the presidency -- the ultimate revenge -- is excluded because she has already won two consecutive elections, the maximum. She is also hugely unpopular across Brazil for having presided over a deep recession.

However, it's not inconceivable she could run for Congress.

A source close to the presidency told AFP that the upheaval of impeachment has, if anything, given Rousseff new life.

"There's nothing depressed about her, not at all," the source said. "Impeachment has boosted her."