Chanting “Impeachment Now” and “Dilma Out,” over a million Brazilians joined a massive protest against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s government in more than 200 cities all over the country this weekend, asking for her resignation and former President Lula Da Silva’s arrest.
Not only is Dilma facing impeachment and nose-diving approval ratings (down to 11 percent), but Brazil is struggling with a fierce recession (some say it’s the worst in a century) and the biggest corruption scandal ever.
Why are Brazilians grabbing their pitchforks? Basically, it’s a perfect collision of several factors:
- First off, there’s what’s known as the “Lava Jato” corruption scandal: According to an investigation, executives of the state-run oil company Petrobras allegedly accepted bribes for contracts and gave a cut to Dilma’s center-left Workers Party, in power since 2003, with kickbacks to millionaires (and even billionaires). The task force has recovered US $700 million and is looking for up to US $3.6 billion.
- Although Dilma is not directly accused in the Lava Jato scheme, she has been accused by a witness of putting a minister on the Superior Tribunal to help obtain the release of some of the executives accused in the scandal.
- Dilma is facing an impeachment trial for allegedly using funds from public banks to cover gaps in her government’s budget.
The protest was pacific (not quite raise-your-caipirinhas style, but with little to no violence), and while the demonstrators are still predominantly from the middle and upper classes, the demonstration is revving more support and protesting crowds are beginning to look more and more diverse, as anger over the corruption scandal heightens and the economic crisis starts affecting all strands of society. On social networks, the hashtag #VemPraRua (“Come to the streets”) is gaining more traction than #MarchaDasCoxinhas (“Posh/snob/cheto rally”).
It’s important to understand that the scandal has deeply polarized society — with wealthier segments of society voicing their opposition to the government and more humble sectors showing support for Dilma and co. — so this new development of a slightly more socially united front against the government is significant.
Dilma’s supporters have said they will stage a rally this Friday in response to what they see as a “judicial coup.” Basically, supporters say that the judges are making things up, such as Lula’ accusations (discussed below), to connect him and Dilma to Lava Jato and are looking for ways to discredit Dilma in order to further push her out of office. But it is getting harder for them to find allies. Some have admitted that the demonstration won’t be as massive as the opposition’s, even if they announce that Da Silva will be there. The Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), one of the biggest members of the Government’s allies (including the Vice-President and six ministers), already threatened to withdraw its support and will discuss further actions in the next 30 days.
Numerous congressmen, some of whom were very close to Dilma and Da Silva, have admitted guilt, and even top industrialist Marcelo Odebretch was sentenced to 19 years in prison for bribery and money laundering. But will it come to this for Dilma and Da Silva? So far, she hasn’t appeared to been involved in the scheme. Although she chaired the Petrobras board of directors for seven years, there’s no proof so far of her involvement, so her legal struggle is focused on the impeachment process.
As for Lula, his declaration to the Police was revealed this Monday. Da Silva is being accused of owning a seafront penthouse which was allegedly refurbished by one of the biggest construction firms, OAS, as a bribe. His defense says that he never owned the place and accuses the prosecutor of being arbitrary. He even said that it would make no sense for him to live there, but admitted having visited the complex: “It was too small, inadequate for an old guy like me. And I could only go the beach when it was raining.” He also denied having asked for donations from companies related to the Lava Jato scandal.
Some officials of the Workers Party suggested naming Da Silva a minister to protect him from charges leveled against him, but he rejected the idea. Time and continued investigations will say if Brazil’s most influential figure in recent years gets to keep his image as a popular leader, or if he will fade with the corruption accusations.