Brazil Deploying Troops, Barricades Before Impeachment Votes

  • Hundreds of thousands of protesters expected in capital city
  • Authorities concerned polarized climate will lead to clashes

Brazilian security forces are deploying thousands of troops and erecting barricades in the capital city of Brasilia this week to prevent violent clashes as Congress holds key votes on the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

The city’s rare state of alert reflects concern that the country’s polarized political climate will reach a fever pitch in coming days. Inmates from a nearby prison on Monday continued to set up metal barriers that will separate the hundreds of thousands of Brazilians who are expected to demonstrate for and against the president’s ouster.

Protesters already are converging on Brasilia as the nation’s drawn-out political crisis moves into a decisive phase, with a special committee in the lower house scheduled to vote on Monday evening whether to move forward with the impeachment request against Rousseff. The full house could vote as early as April 17, either squelching impeachment or setting the stage for Rousseff’s ouster in the Senate.

An economic crisis that cost Brazil its coveted investment-grade rating and the corruption scandal known as Carwash that ensnared top executives and politicians have left Latin America’s largest nation deeply divided. Growing speculation that Rousseff could be ousted sent the real to the strongest level in seven months on Monday. Yet many centrist legislators remain undecided whether to support Rousseff or side with Vice President Michel Temer, who would replace her and whose party abandoned the ruling alliance last month. Rousseff’s fate seems to be hanging in the balance, unlike former President Fernando Collor de Mello, who in 1992 was ousted by an overwhelming majority in both chambers of Congress.

Vote Tallies

As of Monday afternoon, the anti-government organization VemPraRua said there were 287 votes for and 125 against impeachment in the house. A group of Rousseff allies, including members of her Workers’ Party, said there were 126 votes against the president’s ouster. If 342 of 513 lower house lawmakers back impeachment, the case moves to the Senate, which several analysts say would probably follow the lower chamber’s lead.

Meanwhile roughly six in 10 Brazilians percent support the president’s impeachment, according to an April 7-8 Datafolha poll.

Supporters of Rousseff and Temer in recent days have both sought to sway undecided legislators by offering them government posts. They have also squabbled over procedural issues that could slow the process and push back voting in the full house.

Demonstrators on both sides of the political debate began arriving in Brasilia on Sunday and will be directed to congregate on opposite ends of the mall outside Congress. As of Monday afternoon, 173,000 people throughout Brazil signed up on VemPraRua’s Facebook page to protest on Sunday in favor of Rousseff’s ouster. The figure is similar to the number of people who signed up for demonstrations a week before the March 13 protests, which ultimately attracted over 3 million people nationwide.

Since mid-March, government supporters and dissenters have staged smaller protests with only minor skirmishes reported. Anti-impeachment organizations including Frente Brasil Popular, or Brazil Popular Front, have invited thousands to take to the streets, also on Sunday.

Megaphones Banned

Police will block traffic entirely on the main avenue leading up to Congress beginning on Thursday, according to a statement from the government of the Federal District that includes Brasilia. Authorities are banning megaphones and recommend children stay away from demonstrations, it said.

Some 3,000 local police will be reinforced by troops of the National Force, Brazil’s equivalent of the U.S. National Guard, local media reported. Among the security measures is a prohibition to carry inflatable dolls, like the one of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in prison garb featured in recent weeks by protesters demanding he be locked up in relation to a sweeping corruption probe. He has denied wrongdoing.

Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo said he will challenge the impeachment process before the Supreme Court, citing among other concerns insufficient legal grounds for her removal from office. Rousseff, 68, who was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship that ended in 1985, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said that the push to oust her without sufficient evidence would amount to a coup.

The impeachment committee in the lower house will vote on a report presented last week that concluded Rousseff bypassed Congress in authorizing credits to mask a growing budget deficit. While the report is not binding, the vote to confirm or reject it is the first real barometer on the prospect for her ouster. Cardozo defended the president before the committee on Monday, just hours before it was scheduled to start voting.

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