Tens of thousands rally across Brazil to seek impeachment of president

It was the second day of protests in less than a month as Brazil turns on Dilma Rousseff

SAO PAULO — Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Brazil on Sunday for anti-government demonstrations across the continent-sized country.

It was the second such day of protests in less than a month and comes as polls show Rousseff, four months into her second term, with historically low approval ratings amid a corruption scandal at the state-run oil company, Petrobras, as well as a spluttering economy, a rapidly depreciating currency and political infighting.

The protest movement has been organized, mostly via social media, by a motley assortment of groups. Most call for Rousseff’s impeachment, but they are joined by others with demands ranging from looser gun control laws to a military coup.

Helicopter television images showed crowds of demonstrators, many of them dressed in the yellow and green colours of the Brazilian flag and brandishing placards reading “Dilma Out,” congregating in the capital, Brasilia, and cities from Belem in the Amazon rainforest region to the southern city of Curitiba.

Still, the crowds seemed thinner than at the March 15 demonstrations, when more than 200,000 people turned out just in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital and an opposition bastion. That rally was among the city’s biggest since demonstrations in 1984 demanding the end of the military dictatorship.

Sao Paulo protester Renato Alves Pereira said he was hoped the movement would succeed in ousting Rousseff.

“She must be impeached because she and the Workers’ Party are responsible for all that is wrong with Brazil — corruption, inflation and unemployment on the rise, terrible public services like health and education,” said the 34-year-old marketing director.

In Rio de Janeiro, a protest along the golden sands of Copacabana drew a sparse few thousand people, a far cry from the strong turnout here last month.

Analysts say a lower turnout could harm the future of the campaign to impeach Rousseff.

“Sunday’s demonstration faces a big problem, which is one of comparison,” said Carlos Lopes, a political risk analyst at Brasilia office of the Insituto Analise consultancy.

“If it doesn’t (match the size of the March 15 protests), people will be less inclined take part in future demonstrations and the movement toward large-scale rallies will begin to fizzle out,” he said in a telephone interview.

One Brazilian president, Fernando Collor de Mello, who was accused of corruption by his own brother, has been impeached since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985, but many legal experts have said that Rousseff could only be impeached if evidence emerges directly linking her to crimes committed during her second term, which began in January.

Still, a survey released Saturday by the Folha de S.Paulo daily found that 63 per cent of Brazilians surveyed supported impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, while 33 per cent opposed them. The same poll, by the respected Datafolha polling agency, showed Rousseff’s approval ratings holding steady, with 13 per cent of respondents giving her a great or good rating while 60 per cent of respondents evaluated her performance as bad or terrible. The survey of 2,834 people in 171 municipalities was conducted on Thursday and Friday. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Much of the protesters’ ire focused on the Petrobras scandal. Prosecutors say at least $800 million was paid in bribes and other funds by construction and engineering firms in exchange for inflated Petrobras contracts, though the scheme apparently began in 1997, six years before Rousseff’s party won power.

Rousseff, a former chairwoman of Petrobras’ board, has not been implicated and so far is not being investigated, though two of her former chiefs of staff are among the dozens of officials caught up in the inquiry.

In 2013, more than a million people took to the streets in a single day to protest against the high cost of living, poor public schools and hospitals and lavish government spending on sporting events like last year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympic games in Rio.

While the 2013 demonstrations were marred by widespread police violence against protesters, this year’s demonstrations have been largely peaceful.