• Administration, party grapple with response to downturn
  • President still needs PT support amid threats of impeachment

Tension between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers’ Party has grown so intense that she decided to skip a major party event this weekend.

Rousseff opted at the last minute to extend a state visit to Chile through Saturday, the same day as an event in Rio de Janeiro to commemorate the 36th anniversary of her Workers’ Party, known as the PT. It will be the first time Rousseff has declined an invitation to a PT event, party president Rui Falcao told reporters on Friday.

As Brazil’s economy struggles, Rousseff’s efforts in her second term to shore up fiscal accounts by trimming labor benefits and cutting pension payouts have strained relations with the PT, which traditionally favors robust social safety nets. Party leaders met Friday to finalize a set of economic proposals, including lower interest rates and the “immediate expansion of social spending,” which goes against the government’s push for fiscal austerity.

“The PT has become the leading enemy of the president’s economic agenda,” said Rafael Cortez, political analyst at Tendencias Consultoria Integrada. “This is making it hard for the administration to garner support in Congress, and makes it even more unlikely that the opposition will cooperate on its economic proposals.”

Dangerous Time

Tension between the administration and the PT comes at a dangerous time for Rousseff, who is trying to fend off a threat of impeachment. While she has enough allies in Brazil’s Congress, on paper, to protect her mandate, a rebellion within the PT’s ranks could weaken the fragile coalition she needs to keep her in office.

In her absence, Rousseff sent a letter to the more than 1,000 party members and supporters gathered in a waterfront warehouse in Rio for political speeches and musical shows. Her letter said she was proud “to walk arm-in-arm” with the Workers’ Party to defend social inclusion, democracy and national sovereignty.

Rousseff almost certainly would have been booed if she had shown up at the event, according to Glaucia Regina Cornelio, a 55-year-old actress and party member. She said she came to the event to encourage former president and party icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to run for president again in 2018.

“Lula is an enlightened being,” Cornelio said. “Lula at least managed to explain to the people what he was doing. Rousseff doesn’t have close to the political talent he has.”

Family Member

In his speech at the event, Lula asked the Workers’ Party to continue supporting Rousseff, as if she were a member of their family with whom they sit down at the dinner table to resolve their differences peacefully. He blamed Brazil’s economic troubles on international factors and said Rousseff continues to defend the fundamental values and goals of the Workers’ Party.

“Comrade Dilma, as much as we can disagree, she is one of our own,” Lula said. “She needs us right now.”

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