Brazil: Amid coup talk, massive demonstrations for and against Dilma

Mass demonstrations took place Mar. 14 in a number of Brazilian cities in support of President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT). This was a preemptive action against very large demonstrations the following day against Rousseff, in which her impeachment was demanded by the right. By some estimates over a million marched on Sunday.

Rousseff squeaked through to reelection late last year in the context of an economic slump and a corruption scandal involving kickback schemes at Petrólio Brasileiro or Petrobras, Brazil’s huge public petroleum company, which are said to have siphoned off $3.8 billion. The scheme, which seems to have gotten underway before the first Workers’ Party president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, took power, involves a “pay to play” arrangement whereby companies bidding for contracts with Petrobras slipped money to officials of the state enterprise to get ahead of their competitors. Also there are accusations that some Petrobras officials siphoned money to the Workers’ Party. Several people in Petrobras, in the contracting companies and in government are probably headed for prison, including the speakers of both houses of Congress. During part of this time, and before she was elected president for the first time in 2011, Rousseff had been chair of the board of Petrobras, though she is not accused of complicity.

Nobody but the grafters is in favor of corruption, an endemic problem in Brazilian government for many years. But the right wing, losers of the 2014 presidential election, who have a strong presence in the legislature, seem to think that they can use the economic travails and the Petrobras scandal to remove Rousseff from the presidency by unconstitutional means. The working class and the left, and especially the poor and former poor who have greatly benefited from the Lula-Dilma presidencies, fear that the agenda of the right is to impose a full blast neo-liberal program of austerity and privatizations. Things the right has said and written create a worry that if Dilma goes, Brazil might pull out of the Bolivarian system of alliances and find itself once again under U.S. domination. Rousseff herself has proposed some austerity measures to deal with the current crisis, and has been criticized for this by some working-class and labor circles, but the right would go much farther.

Recent new arrests for corruption related to Petrobras have added fuel to the fire. Hauled in this time are the presidents of the Senate, Renan Calheiras, and of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha. These two and some others are not members of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party but of the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), with which Rousseff has had to work because the Workers’ Party and its ideological allies (such as the Communist Party of Brasil, the PC do B) do not have a majority in either house, a situation that was exacerbated in the 2014 legislative election results. But some Workers’ Party officials have also been implicated.

This is why the right, and chiefly the so-called Social Democratic Party of Brazil went all out on Sunday to bring out its base behind a slogan of impeaching President Rousseff (an action not contemplated in the Brazilian constitution) and fighting corruption. But among the banners and slogans carried by the almost entirely white and economically upscale protestors were some that raise eyebrows:

“Less state, less taxes.”

“Military intervention NOW!”

“The communist idealism took our money, health, education and our respect! Get out Dilma, get out PT” (this and several other signs were in English).

“We won’t be another Venezuela” (also in English).

“My country is Brazil, not Cuba or Venezuela.”

And “enough with Paulo Freire!” (Paulo Freire wrote the well-known 1968 book Pedagogy of the Oppressed as part of the Latin American liberation movement.)

These slogans are the more shocking because they did not fall from the sky. They are inspired by declarations by some military people and others on the right. Highest ranking is General Paulo Chagas of the Brazilian Army Reserve, who issued a call last year for a military takeover to save Brazil from “communism.” Similar slogans were used by the military in the 1964 coup, abetted by the U.S., which set up a dictatorship that lasted decades. Both Rousseff and Lula cut their political teeth as opponents of military rule, which may have left some residual resentment among the officer corps.

Although Brazil’s government is one of the least left-wing of the “Bolivarian” group, Brazil is, with its 200 million inhabitants, by far the largest and the most industrialized. Currently there are destabilization efforts going on in Venezuela and Argentina, the second and third largest of the “Bolivarian” countries. So if someone wanted to destroy the whole “pink tide” of governments moving away from U.S. domination in Latin America, Brazil would certainly be a target. Brazil also plays a major role in the BRICS group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) which have been instrumental in creating a multipolar world power framework.

President Rousseff took a conciliatory line with the demonstrators and promised dialogue. The Communist Party of Brazil warned of the coup danger as very real and called for greater unity and action among the left-wing sector in the ruling coalition, as well as support for the elected government.

Photo: “Serenity and firmness in the face of street battle.” PCdoB – Partido Comunista do Brasil Facebook.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.