Sunday, March 15, 2015

More Than a Million Hit Brazil Streets to Protest Rousseff


(Bloomberg)

More than 1 million Brazilians, some of them calling for President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, took to the nation’s streets Sunday to protest a government beset by scandal and the rising cost of living.

The largest protest occurred in Sao Paulo, with 1 million people as of 3:40 p.m. local time, according to its military police. Protests occurred in cites of 16 states and the federal capital, according to O Globo website. Its TV network reported 100,000 protesters in Porto Alegre and 45,000 in Brasilia, citing the military police of those cities. While no violence or vandalism was reported, Sao Paulo police apprehended firework rockets from a group of attendees.

Higher taxes and increased prices for government-regulated items like gasoline are rankling Brazilians as the biggest corruption scandal in the nation’s history ensnares elected and appointed officials. The approval rating of Rousseff’s government has plummeted since she won a close re-election last October. Today’s protests may be bigger than the June 2013 demonstrations in which more than a million people decried deficient public services and demanded an end to corruption.

Today’s protest will force the government to present anti-corruption legislation it has already prepared, according to Thiago de Aragao, partner and director of strategy at Arko Advice, a Brasilia-based political risk company. Doing so will allow the government to deflect some fire and argue that protests targeted corruption rather than Rousseff or her party, he said.

Some Response

“The government needs to make some response and since, because of the magnitude, they can’t disqualify the size and pressure of the protest, they have to address one of the issues,” De Aragao said by phone. “The anti-corruption package will be more fluff than anything real, but at this moment it’s one of the main things that the government has to respond with. They don’t have much more than that.”

Rousseff’s government is raising taxes and cutting spending as a means to shrink the budget deficit and avert a downgrade to its sovereign credit rating after years of ballooning spending and subsidized lending. Her press office declined to comment on the size or nature of the protests.
The president met at the end of the day with ministers from her political coordination team to evaluate the protests, Globo reported.

The economic measures hamper the productive sector and act as a disincentive to investment, said Derci Cenci, the head of a farm co-operative, who joined the protest in Brasilia.

Dilma Out!

“I don’t favor impeachment, but this protest is a clear warning to Dilma: She needs to listen to the people,” said Cenci, 65. “We are indignant.” Other marchers chanted, “Dilma out!”

The demonstrations were organized by activists on social networks including Twitter and Facebook, as messages reached citizens via WhatsApp. Protesters nationwide sported canary-yellow shirts, sang the national anthem and waved flags. In Rio, where the march snaked along Copacabana beach, one banner with Brazil’s flag read “Beloved Country,” while another said “Military Intervention Now!”

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Brazil’s return to democracy after a 21-year military dictatorship. March 15 will henceforth be remembered as the Day of Democracy, Aecio Neves, who Rousseff bested in the election last year, said in a video posted on his Facebook page, showing him wearing the yellow jersey of the Brazilian national soccer squad.

Covered Up

“I’m here to protest against corruption,” said Eliana Batista do Norte, a 55-year-old publicist who marched in Sao Paulo. “It’s not just about throwing the Workers’ Party out. We have to get rid of all the corrupt people. There is already enough information to remove Dilma.”

Brazil’s Supreme Court on March 6 authorized a corruption probe of politicians including the heads of the Senate and lower house of Congress, Rousseff’s former Energy Minister Edison Lobao, and her former chief of staff Gleisi Hoffman. All have denied wrongdoing.

The probe is related to alleged bribes and kickbacks at state-run oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA, with some of the diverted money being funneled into the campaign coffers of the Workers’ Party and its allies in the governing coalition. The parties have said that all campaign donations were legal.

The legislation Rousseff’s government will present is likely to make corruption a “heinous crime” and create greater public oversight over its state companies, according to Arko’s De Aragao. Passing it through Congress, dozens of whose members are under investigation in the Petrobras scandal, will be a challenge, he said.

White Roses

Globo News reported 20,000 protesters each in Belo Horizonte and Belem and 15,000 protesters in Rio de Janeiro, citing the cities’ military police. Protests also took place in the cities of Recife, Salvador, Goiania, Manaus, Fortaleza, Santos, Ribeirao Preto, Curitiba and Sao Luis, among others.

In Brasilia, hundreds of protesters tossed white roses into the pond in front of Congress, with some protesters wading through the water to present flowers to armed guards lined up along its edge.

Today’s demonstrations follow marches staged on Friday by labor unions, who supported the government while protesting cuts to pension benefits and access to unemployment insurance. The “very delicate situation” reveals the need for the government to improve dialogue with both society and Congress, Rafael Cortez, an analyst at Tendencias Consultoria Integrada.

Approval Rating

“It calls attention to the important moment through which Brazil’s democracy is passing,” Cortez said by phone from Sao Paulo. “There is growing consciousness in terms of political mobilization. Society is responding in some way to the inefficiency of the current political group.”

Rousseff’s approval rating slumped 19 points to 23 percent in a Datafolha poll conducted Feb. 3-5, with more than three-quarters of respondents saying she knew about corruption at Petrobras. More than half said she allowed corruption to occur, while an additional 25 percent said knew about it but was unable to stop it. The poll of 4,000 people had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

“I’m in favor of impeachment, not because I like the vice-president, but because we need to end impunity,” Daniel Silva, a 17-year-old business management student from Planaltina, said at the Brasilia protest. “I’m fed up with our politicians and this government.”

After stagnating last year, Brazil’s economy is heading for a 0.66 contraction in 2015, according to economists surveyed weekly by the central bank. Annual inflation reached 7.7 percent in February, the fastest in nearly a decade. The central bank targets inflation of 4.5 percent, plus or minus two percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Biller in Rio de Janeiro at dbiller1@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Philip Sanders at psanders@bloomberg.net Harry Maurer