Brasilia/Rio de Janeiro: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians gathered across Brazil on Sunday to protest political corruption, a weak economy, and to call for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff on a day that could build momentum for efforts to oust her.
Thousands of demonstrators wearing shirts with the Brazilian flag’s green and yellow colours and carrying banners that said “Out Dilma" marched in locations including Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach and at the National Museum in Brasilia. Nearly 400,000 people had signed up on a Facebook page pledging to take part in opposition marches. Protests and marches are scheduled to take place in at least 14 of the country’s 26 states.
Many Brazilians say they have had enough after enduring the worst recession in decades and a corruption scandal involving politicians and business executives known as Lava Jato, or Carwash in English. The outburst of public sentiment will be decisive for legislators debating whether to remain loyal to the president or join a swelling opposition seeking her impeachment, said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“If the protests are massive, they will increase pressure on the government and make impeachment more likely," he said.
Pressure on Rousseff started building in February with the arrest of her campaign strategist and the publication of allegations that she tried to interfere in corruption probes. The political crisis hit a new high with former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s brief detention for questioning on 4 March. Both Rousseff and Lula have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Patricia Araujo, a 34-year-old lawyer marching in Brasilia was not convinced. “Even if she didn’t steal from the country to put money in her bank account, she still benefited from corruption," Araujo said.
Organizers estimated over 200,000 people were gathered in the capital as trucks with speakers blasted the national anthem and protest songs. “There’s no way she didn’t know what was going on. We have to have some kind of rupture—things can’t go on the way they are," Araujo said.
In Sao Paulo, protest organizers on the city’s main drag, Avenida Paulista, prepared trucks with high-powered sound systems used during Carnival parades weeks before. One float read “We are all Sergio Moro," a reference to the judge who is heading Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption investigation. Hundreds of police gathered in the shade of the iconic Sao Paulo Museum of Art.
It’s not just critics of the government taking to the streets. Supporters of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, known at the PT, also plan demonstrations this month against the impeachment process. They also will show support for Lula, the party co- founder and Rousseff’s predecessor, who was charged this week with money laundering and providing false testimony.
Lula’s legal troubles have increased polarization in Brazil, with detractors and supporters clashing in recent days outside his home in Sao Paulo. Following televised images of the two sides engaged in shoving matches and fist fights, the PT changed the date for its demonstration to 18 March so it wouldn’t coincide with anti-government marches.
Adding to Rousseff’s woes, the country’s top electoral court is investigating whether she illegally funded her re- election campaign in 2014, and the magazine IstoE this month reported allegations that she tried to interfere with Carwash investigations.
More politicians and construction executives with ties to Lula and Rousseff are likely to sign plea bargains in coming weeks as part of Carwash, raising the potential for damaging revelations, said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of politics at the University of Brasilia.
“The worst is yet to come," he said. Bloomberg