Rousseff Can’t Shake Crisis as Half-Million Brazilians Rally

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Half-Million Brazilians Rally Against Dilma Rousseff

Nationwide street protests Sunday against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff kept the pressure on the government without dealing her administration a fatal blow.

More than half a million people, many wearing the yellow jersey of the national soccer team, took to the streets to denounce corruption and economic mismanagement amid calls for Rousseff’s impeachment or resignation. In cities from Sao Paulo to Natal, protesters chanted anti-government slogans and carried Brazilian flags, handmade signs and effigies of politicians that were the subject of their indignation.

While the weekend rallies drew fewer people than similar demonstrations in March, they were in line with protests in April and the message this time was more focused on Rousseff and her Workers’ Party. The turnout was neither weak enough to be dismissed nor strong enough to decisively demand action from lawmakers weighing the possibility of impeachment, according to Joao Paulo Peixoto, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia.

“The tendency of the protests is to lose some of their force, but they are still very important,” Peixoto said by phone. “I think they’re going to continue, and that’s a concern for the government.”

The real weakened 0.4 percent to 3.4975 per U.S. dollar at 9:03 a.m. local time. A central bank survey of economists forecasts Latin America’s biggest economy will face its longest recession since 1931.

Corruption Probe

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

Prosecutors are looking into the alleged involvement of more than 30 sitting politicians in a corruption case involving the state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA. Rousseff is not under investigation.

Demonstrators hold banners and signs during a protest in Sao Paulo on Sunday.
Demonstrators hold banners and signs during a protest in Sao Paulo on Sunday.
Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Members of the government described Sunday’s protests as “normal” for a democracy, according to Social Communication Minister Edinho Silva, who was among the cabinet members that met with Rousseff Sunday evening.

Gustavo Raulino, a 38-year-old engineer, said he was protesting for the first time because he’s seen the political and economic crisis worsen in the past three months. His small engineering firm has laid off one-fourth of its employees because of plummeting demand, and he said he fears he may have to close the company.

Impeachment Support

“I’m outraged at Brazil’s corruption in general, especially in the government,” Raulino said, standing in a sliver of shadow beside the National Museum in Brasilia. “I support impeachment because it’s better to have short-term pain to clear out those responsible.”

It’s hard for the government’s interaction with society to get much worse, according to Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at research company Tendencias. He said time will provide some relief for the government, and Rousseff, while weakened, should manage to hang on to power for the rest of her term.

“Today’s protests aren’t going to alter the political balance in Congress, which is a positive result for the government,” Cortez said in a telephone interview.

Congressional Cooperation

It’s not just Rousseff’s impeachment that’s in the hands of Congress -- she also needs its cooperation to pass austerity measures and avoid new bills that mandate additional government spending. The Senate last week showed signs it would be more collaborative with her administration than the lower house, giving some relief to political tensions.

“While Ms. Rousseff is unlikely to be impeached for the time being, her authority and ability to push through key reforms have been severely undermined,” Nicholas Spiro, managing director of London-based Spiro Sovereign Strategy said by e-mail. “The rapidly deteriorating political and social environment is just one of several factors currently weighing on Brazilian assets.”

Latin America’s biggest economy will contract 2.01 percent this year and 0.15 percent in 2016, according to a central bank survey of analysts published Monday. The first back-to-back years of recession since 1930-31 hasn’t convinced analysts inflation will slow back to target. High interest rates meant to tame consumer price increases have fed into popular frustration with restricted consumer credit.

Sunday’s protesters included Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in their complaints about corruption. Sergio Moro, the federal prosecutor leading the investigation of graft at Petrobras, was held up as a hero by demonstrators.

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