BRAZIL: Call to Impeach Dilma Not As Popular As Portrayed

Reminiscent of the popular movement that led to the resignation of former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992, instead of “Fora Collor,” (“Get Out Collor”) protestors are now waving banners with the words “ForaDilma” and favouring the same English word “impeachment” in a bid to oust the South American country’s current president, Dilma Rousseff. Both leaders were accused of mismanagement and corruption, with Petrobras, the national petroleum company, at the centre of the criticism against Dilma. Likewise, protestors are numbering at least a million. But the similarity is deceptive. Collor was a member of the wealthy élite who ostensibly ran afoul of the interests controlling Brazil at the time, whereas Dilma, the former revolutionary now at the helm of the country as head of the PT, the leftist Workers Party, is a populist who continues to inspire more wide-spread, albeit less reported, manifestations of support outside of the country’s affluent city centres.

According to the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, Landless Workers Movement) website, differently composed demonstrations also took place this weekend in favour of rooting out corruption at Petrobras, but against privatization of the mostly state owned oil company.

“Paralyzing Petrobras is a crime against the Brazilian people. The workers are in the streets to defend the interests of the people,” said João de Moraes, director of the Federação Única dos Petroleiros (United Federation of Petroleum Workers, FUP).”[1]

The MST goes on to describe actions that took place throughout the country.

“Actions with the same list of complaints occurred in more than 17 of the country’s states (AL, AP, BA, CE, DF, GO, MA, MG, MS, MT, PB, PE, PR, RJ, RN, SC, SE.). In total, 22 cities in Brazil had demonstrations defending the same demands.”[2]

In a country whose major cities house 20 million residents each, a realistic scale of the protests can be difficult to imagine. And in a country as big as Brazil, the billions involved in the Petrobras scandal can be daunting to look at as well. International investment banks estimate that $8.1 billion in profits were skimmed as kickbacks to politicians and business leaders.[3]

And while Collor’s corruption and mismanagement in 1992 inspired widespread protests that crossed social strata, the polemic about Dilma is dividing Brazil along class lines. In fact, Sunday’s protests calling for Dilma’s impeachment took place along the Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, and the Avenida Atlântica in Rio de Janeiro, in the shadow of opulent condos whose occupants generally burst from ground floor garages and rarely mix with the general public. The anti-Dilma protestors are waving banners critical of social program spending and calling for a return to military rule.

Also disturbing are the many links between this latest impeachment movement and far right extremist leaders and groups. One major player in the protests’ organization, Revoltados Online (Rebels Online), decries, in typically racist and classist jargon, Northeasterners – those with a greater percentage of the descendants of formerly enslaved and native people – who lie in hammocks collecting welfare. [4] Rio’s racist, sexist and inflammatory politician Jair Bolsonaro is hailed by protestors, many of whom express nostalgia for the military dictatorship and accuse Dilmaand Lula of communism.[5] Telesur is reporting on Koch Brothers involvement [6], and the refrain of impeaching a popularly elected president who has committed no crime will be familiar to many in the United States.

Actually, the Petrobras investigation, Operação Lava Jato (Operation Quick Wash), whose name sardonically refers to money laundering through carwash and gas station franchises, is aimed at corruption that took place in the mostly state-controlled oil company before Dilma’s first term in office, and though she chaired its board of directors from 2003 to 2010, she is not under any charges. Curiously, it was reported in November 2014 that the companies under suspicion gave equally to the recent political campaigns of both Dilma and her main adversary, Aécio Neves.[7] Aécio heads the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party, PSDB), another major player in Sunday’s anti-government protests.

The PSDB is also the party of Brazil’s vice president, Michel Temer, who would presumably assume the presidency if Dilma were forced to resign. And lest one think that the president who stepped down in 1992 was never heard from again, Fernando Collor de Mello, scion of a political family, was quickly cleared and resumed his political career, now serving as a Federal Senator representing the State of Alagoas.

In a country were the vote is compulsory and non-voters are fined, events may not play out in the same way as in other places where the wealthier turn out in higher numbers at the polls. And cuts in social programs leading to resentment can attract voters from across class lines to parties generally protesting higher taxes and investigations into the affairs of the more well-heeled. A substantially lower exchange rate coupled with lower oil prices are hurting the population across the board.

But 2 million people are 1% of Brazil’s population, as economist Theotonio dos Santos points out in an article outlining a future path:

“Continuity of social programs, protecting Petrobras, independent corruption trials, interest rates for human and sustainable development, guarantees for the rights of workers, ending ‘fiscal adjustments’ to service interest payments, mobilizing workers around principles and objectives that meet their needs, policies for the integration of Latin America, alliance with the BRICS, defending the sovereignty of oppressed nations, defending our natural resources, these are the paths by which many more than the 1% will come to the streets, this time to defend the historical goals that led to the constitution of a peoples government in Brazil.”[8]

[1][2] http://www.mst.org.br/2015/03/13/cerca-de-100-mil-ocupam-a-paulista-pela-constituinte-e-em-defesa-da-petrobras.html

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30129184

[4] http://www.publico.es/internacional/quienes-detras-protestas-brasil-dilma.html

[5] http://zh.clicrbs.com.br/rs/noticia/2014/12/iotti-protesto-pela-volta-da-ditadura-e-por-aulas-de-historia-4658862.html The political cartoon’s captions read: “Return to Military Dictatorship Now” and “More History Lessons For These People.”

[6] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/analysis/Are-the-Koch-Brothers-Behind-Brazils-Anti-Dilma-March-20150313-0001.html

[7] http://noticias.uol.com.br/politica/ultimas-noticias/2014/11/25/empreiteiras-da-lava-jato-doaram-r-988-mi-a-campanhas-de-dilma-e-aecio.htm

[8] http://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/168274