Rousseff Critics Stage Rallies as Brazil Congress Watches

BRAZIL-ROUSSEFF-IMPEACHMENT-PROTEST

People demonstrate in support of the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, in Brasilia on Sunday.

Photographer: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images
  • Demonstrations drew fewer people than similar ones this year
  • Recession and fast inflation eroding president's popularity

Brazilians returned to the streets Sunday in nationwide protests against the government of Dilma Rousseff, adding pressure on the embattled president as impeachment proceedings move through Congress.

In the first gauge of public opinion after the start of the impeachment process on Dec. 2, about 100,000 people marched in 100 cities throughout the country, denouncing corruption and calling for Rousseff’s ouster.

Turnout at the demonstrations was much smaller than in previous mass protests in August and March, with some organizers saying they did not have enough time to prepare for Sunday’s rallies. Still, rising unemployment and the worst recession in more than 20 years will keep weighing on Rousseff as she battles for political survival in the coming months, analysts said.

“Everyone expected today’s protests would be smaller because the impeachment legal process is still too young and there was no time to organize massive events,” said Lucas de Aragao, an analyst at Arko Advice, a political consultancy. “It was a rehearsal. Next year, the movement can be stronger. The popular war is happening, and the government cannot ignore it.”

President Rousseff did not address the Sunday protests, unlike August and March, when she issued statements and took to Twitter to defend “Brazilians’ right” to peacefully express discontent as a sign of “a solid democracy.”

In Brasilia, the nation’s capital, about 6,000 people joined rallies in the morning, according to the Military Police. Demonstrators marched down the ministerial esplanade to Congress, holding banners and signs denouncing corruption.

Globo TV news channel said 3,000 protesters gathered in Belo Horizonte, the country’s sixth-largest city, while in Rio de Janeiro, 5,000 participants marched along Copacabana beach, according to the local newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.

30,000 in Sao Paulo

Turnout was larger in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and financial center, with the government saying about 30,000 people marched throughout Avenida Paulista, the city’s main thoroughfare. Earlier this year in March, more than 1 million came out to the avenue in protest.

Paulo Silas, 55, a pro-impeachment supporter in Brasilia, said he closed his design company two years ago because of the slowing economy, and now demand for his freelance work has dropped off 60 percent since Rousseff won re-election last year.

“The PT isn’t a party of the workers, that’s just a mask they used to get power and steal,” Silas said of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.“The government is a mafia of corrupt people.”

Renewed Criticism

The start of impeachment proceedings earlier this month has renewed criticism of the government, with terms including ForaDilma, or Dilma Out, trending on social media. Rousseff’s popularity is among the lowest of any president on record as her political party fights corruption allegations while above-target inflation erodes purchasing power and the sinking economy sheds jobs.

Recent voting shows that the lower house’s opposition remains short of the 342 votes needed for impeachment hearings to begin in the Senate, Eurasia Group said this week.

The president and her supporters liken efforts to oust her to an attempted coup, saying the legal arguments are groundless. Opposition parties, as well as the lawyers who drafted the impeachment request, say Rousseff broke Brazil’s budget law by doctoring fiscal accounts to mask a budget deficit.

“I want to continue in the presidency because I was elected,” Rousseff said this week. “There is no misconduct.”

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