Brazilians Take to the Streets as Rousseff Assembles Allies

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Protests in Brazil
Demonstrators protest against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Sao Paulo, on Aug. 16, 2015. Photographer: Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images

Brazilians took to the streets Sunday in anti-government protests as President Dilma Rousseff tries to rebuild her coalition and outlast a political crisis.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators came out by mid-afternoon in the country’s largest cities to denounce corruption and economic mismanagement, in many cases demanding impeachment or Rousseff’s resignation.

Waves of people marched toward Congress in Brasilia, beside the beach in Rio de Janeiro, and down Sao Paulo’s main drag. They chanted anti-government slogans and carried Brazilian flags, handmade signs and effigies of politicians that were the subject of their indignation.

“I’m outraged at Brazil’s corruption in general, especially the government,” said Gustavo Raulino, a 38-year-old engineer from Brasilia, who said he was protesting against the worsening political crisis and weak economy.

Sunday’s march is Brazil’s third mass protest this year. While the number of demonstrators has yet to surpass the over one million people who participated in March, Congressmen and governors who have wavered between tepid support for the government and outright rebellion are watching the turnout to gauge support for impeachment proceedings and the level of discontent in their home districts.

With unemployment rising and a widening corruption scandal, Rousseff’s popularity has fallen to the lowest on record for any Brazilian president.

“I support impeachment because it’s better to have short term-pain to clear out those responsible,” said Raulino.

Deepening Crisis

Rousseff in the past two weeks has attempted to fashion a coalition that may allow her to hang onto power. Business associations, bankers, and some of the country’s largest media outlets joined workers and farmers traditionally aligned with the Workers’ Party in speaking out against impeachment.

Still, the crisis could deepen if protests intensify and workers strike in industries unable to provide wage increases, according to an Aug. 14 report from political risk firm Eurasia Group.

“Momentum stemming from the 16 August movement will be an important signpost to monitor,” the report said, referring to Sunday’s wave of protests.

Rousseff, 67, met Saturday with her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to discuss how to turn around the government’s record low popularity, the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported. She monitored Sunday’s protests from her official residence, and will meet with part of her cabinet in the afternoon, according to a Justice Ministry press office.

Daily Headlines

Against daily reports of corruption and a sinking economy, only 8 percent of Brazilians said their president is doing a good job, according to a survey by polling firm Datafolha taken Aug. 4-5. More than two thirds of respondents said they support impeachment, the poll showed.

Flatbed trucks stacked with speakers and draped with anti-government slogans lined Avenida Atlantica in Rio de Janeiro, blasting a mix of political rock music and speeches calling for an end to the Workers Party. Protesters wore Brazil’s green and yellow national colors under a blazing sun.

“We’re here to look for an improvement in government,” said Monica Godinho, a 35-year-old biologist who went to Copacabana to protest with her family. “The Workers Party has been there for so many years and has had so many scandals.”

Labor unions members dressed in the red shirts of the Workers’ Party participated in a demonstration “in defense of democracy,” according to the Facebook page of a metalworkers’ union in greater Sao Paulo. Union president Rafael Marques called for the “maturation of the workers’ fight for freedom.”

Popular Frustration

The corruption scandal that ensnared the country’s largest construction firms and state oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA has also been a drag on Latin America’s biggest economy.

Brazil’s economy will contract 2 percent this year, and inflation will end the year at more than 9 percent, according to a Central Bank survey of analysts. High interest rates meant to stem inflation have fed into popular frustration with restricted consumer credit.

Prosecutors are looking into the alleged involvement of more than 30 sitting politicians in the corruption case. Rousseff herself is not under investigation.

“We’ve had 13 years with lots of theft and embezzlement,” said Hermes Gomes, 34, a publicist and anti-corruption activist in Rio who supports an impeachment trial and new elections. “We hope a lot of people come out” Sunday.

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