Thousands marched along Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday demanding the impeachment of their president, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff won her second term in December in the closest election in Brazilian history, with just 52 percent of the vote.
Discontent and frustration with the current Worker’s Party (PT) administration has grown in recent months as a massive corruption scandal at the majority state-owned oil company, Petrobras, continues to unfold, the Real continues to weaken and as gas and electricity prices rise. Many Worker’s Party officials and representatives have been indicated in the “Lava Jato” scandal, where Petrobras managers received millions in kickbacks from contracts with various other firms and money was diverted to Rousseff’s 2014 presidential campaign.
“Fora PT, leva Dilma com você”
Comprising mainly more right-leaning voters, the protest also included many who voted for Rousseff, but whose frustration has boiled over. Corruption headlines have covered domestic papers almost weekly in recent months. There was also a small but very vocal contingent advocating for military intervention in Federal government. However, many of those marching for the impeachment of their democratically elected president were quick to distance themselves from the military interventionists.
Arriving on the city’s metro one might have easily thought they were heading north to the Maracanã to watch the Brazilian seleção — the national team shirt became a symbol of the impeachment and anti-corruption cries.
“We always knew there was corruption, but now it’s become unacceptable” said Jilson, who travelled from Rio’s Recreio neighborhood to join the protest. “Every day on the TV we see a robbery here, a robbery there,” referring to government corruption. “Look at our hospitals, our schools!”
While many protesters acknowledged the unlikelihood of impeaching Rousseff, they are simply fed up with government corruption, which they heavily identify with the Worker’s Party. Aécio Neves, Rousseff’s presidential opponent of the more conservative PSDB who lost to Rousseff in December, says impeachment is not on the party’s agenda.
However, he and others have been bringing up a precedent for Dilma’s impeachment – that of Fernando Collor in 1992. In that case the evidence was more damning than that which exists against Rousseff today. While many claim Rousseff has been well-aware of the corruption plaguing Petrobras and the Worker’s Party, there are yet to be any direct links or evidence indicating her knowledge or involvement.
“A nossa bandeira, não mais será vermelha”
According to Datafolha, a Brazilian polling agency, the principal motivation for protesters in São Paulo was that of corruption, impeachment was mentioned by only 27 percent of those polled. São Paulo’s estimated 210,000 demonstrators outnumbered what Rio’s military police estimated to be 15,000 on Copacabana on Sunday.
In a video posted to her Facebook page on Saturday, the President acknowledged and defended Brazilians’ right to protest, stating, “I personally participated and have the honor of having participated in the resistance against the dictatorship…In this country we have the right to protest.”
The protests may not achieve the impeachment of Rousseff, but Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo announced that in the coming days there will be a “series of measures to combat corruption and impunity.”
As Brazilians continue to pay some of the highest tax rates, receive mediocre public services and read weekly exposés of Petrobras and government officials absconding with millions, one can only hope the protests achieve a new level of accountability.