If on 13th March, over 3.6 million Brazilians across 326 cities took to streets demanding the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff; the arrest of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and an end to corruption, March 18th brought about a bigger surprise. Over a million Brazilians swamped the streets to defend Rousseff’s government and the former president, and to show support for democracy.
Most of the protesters on March 13 were white, wealthy and conservative. Hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on March 18 were black, white, gay, workers, leftists, artists, and teachers. In short, the pro-government supporters were much more diverse than the anti-government protesters.
— teleSUR TV (@teleSURtv) March 18, 2016
The two massive heated protests within a span of one week hint at nation’s growing political chaos.
Newton’s Third Law
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Friday’s rallies were organized in reaction to the growing movement to oust President Rousseff, citing her alleged involvement in a massive corruption scandal in the state oil company Petrobras.
Despite the serious allegations, pro-government supporters, who saw the March 13 protests as an attempted coup against Rousseff’s government, insisted that Rouseff and Lula had helped lift many Brazilians out of poverty.
“I defend them because as a black person, I need to protect my space in the universities and in the schools. The other (political) parties, PSDB, PMDB, and the right think that the place of black people is in the favela, and in the slaves’ quarters,” said Felipe Santos Cabral, an 18-year-old college student.
— Bárbara Camila (@barbara_camila2) March 18, 2016
“The people who are against this government are elite people who not are accustomed to taking of their own house. They can no longer afford to hire domestic servants who live in their houses and work in a state of semi-slavery,” said Camila Hochman Mendez, a 34-year-old professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
“You can have nuances, but politically you have to choose a side. I can’t be on the right because it represents homophobia and xenophobia,” said Felippe Moraes, a 27-year-old artist.
Lula addressed the crowd later in the night, saying “I will show this picture to President Rousseff, so she knows that there are a lot of people here wanting her to stay in power.”
— Contagio Radio (@Contagioradio1) March 18, 2016
The Lula Connection
Lula – the two-time former president – was briefly detained and questioned on March 4, over allegations of money laundering connected to Operation Car Wash, a massive investigation into corruption at Petrobras. Lula denied the allegations, saying they were aimed at preventing him from running for president again in 2018.
Untouched by the massive Sunday rally against her and Lula, Rouseff appointed him as her new chief of staff on March 16, “to help her rebuild her political base in Congress and fight the impeachment proceedings.”
On March 17, the federal police released an explosive secretly recorded phone conversation between Rousseff and Lula, in which she seemed to suggest using his new post as a shield against prosecution. Lula’s swearing-in took place amid chaotic scenes in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, with anti-government protesters shouting “shame,” and demanding her impeachment; pro-government supporters sung “Lula” to the tune of a soccer chant.
Rousseff went on the offensive, calling those pressing for her removal “putschists” and accusing Sergio Moro, the judge who is leading the corruption probe at Petrobras, of violating the constitution and acting in a partisan manner.
“Shaking Brazilian society on the base of untruths, shady maneuvers, and much-criticized practices violates constitutional guarantees and creates very serious precedents. Coups begin that way.”
Pro-government protest rallies were announced for about 45 cities across the country, on March 18. However, minutes after the March 18 protests, a Supreme Court judge stripped Lula of his new ministerial role until at least March 30. Calling his appointment a type of “laissez-passer issued by the president”, Justice Gilmar Mendes said in the ruling: “The goal of Mr Lula da Silva’s nomination is clear: preventing a judge from a lower court from carrying out a preventive arrest warrant.”
Was Rousseff Aware Of Wrongdoings?
On March 19, Senator Delcidio do Amaral revealed that Rousseff and Lula knew of wrongdoings but tried to block investigations and that Rousseff’s successful presidential campaigns in 2010 and 2014, were financed with money from the graft scheme.
Amaral was Workers’ Party leader in the Senate and a close Rousseff ally until he was arrested in November 2015 on charges of attempting to bribe a former executive of Petrobras, in exchange for his silence in the investigation.
“Lula negotiated directly with parties the appointment of directors at Petrobras and knew how the parties used them, especially in campaign financing. Dilma inherited and benefited from the scheme, which financed her political campaigns. Dilma also knew about everything,” Amaral told Veja.
Brazil In Crisis
Under Lula, Brazil became the world’s eighth-largest economy, more than 20 million people rose out of acute poverty. A percentage of Brazilians belonging to the consumerist middle class rose from 37% to 50% of the population, and Rio de Janeiro was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics – the first time the Games will be held in South America. Rousseff’s supporters praise her commitment for social inclusion and her championing of Bolsa Familia, a social welfare scheme that has benefited 36 million Brazilians.
Nonetheless, the long-running corruption probe has divided Brazilians; the catastrophic last week has shaken the country to its core. The current political turmoil comes as Brazil prepares to host the Olympics in August; the country is at the center of an outbreak of the Zika virus and the economy has sharply contracted by 3.5%.
So, is Brazil in danger of turning the clock back on democracy? The Guardian has an answer:
After one of the most extraordinary seven days in Brazilian politics, predicting developments over the next few hours, let alone weeks or months, is a fool’s errand.
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