Takin' It to the Streets—Brazilians Protest President’s Ouster

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Takin' It to the Streets—Brazilians Protest President’s Ouster

(Photo: Rachel Diaz/via The Progressive)

Cariocas, as Rio de Janeiro residents call themselves, poured into the streets by the thousands May 22 to protest the removal from office of President Dilma Rousseff in what Brazil's Chamber of Deputies and Senate call an impeachment.

Protesters decry it as a coup.  

The rally was organized by Povo Sem Medo, which means “People Without Fear.” The group put the turnout at 10,000. It was the fourth protest in the nine days since Russeff’s removal, and the militancy was palpable. Less than ten weeks remain before the Olympic torch will be lit in Rio de Janeiro’s new Olympic Park.

The last name of Rousseff's successor, interim President Michel Temer, means “to fear” in Portuguese, and in a play on words a huge banner at the rally read “Never Temer—Resist in the Defense of Rights.”  

Protesters chanted, “Here is a people, a people without fear, without fear to fight!” That sent waves of protesters jumping up and down for minutes on end.

But the most popular chant was simply “Fora Temer!” “Out with Temer!”

The protesters cut across lines of class, ethnicity and age—and Rio’s LGBT community was out in force. These were not just young anarchists; the middle-aged, middle class and even elderly were as vocal as anyone. And the entire event was preceded and followed by events for children. “We're not here to tell the children how to think,” organizer Rosa Matos said. “We're here to educate them about what is happening in their country.”

The march ended at the Rio de Janeiro state office of the federal Ministry of Culture, which like its counterparts in twenty-one of Brazil’s twenty-six states, has been occupied by protesters since May 16. Artists and musicians have taken the lead in the occupations, and Rachel Diaz of the occupation’s Media Team echoed what other occupiers are saying: they won't leave the ministry until Temer is fora.

Diaz said the occupiers are prepared to stay for six months or longer, referring to the length of time Rousseff must stay out of office pending her trial. “We are here for as long as it takes,” Diaz said. “We want him gone.” It would seem Diaz and the occupiers are not alone. In a recent poll, only two percent of Brazilians said they would vote for Temer in an election.

Like 318 of the 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies that voted to impeach Rousseff, Temer is under investigation for corruption. Already, in his brief time in office, he has made major mistakes. One was eliminating the Ministry of Culture in a country fiercely proud of its music and culture. Temer demoted the ministry to a secretariat and folded it into the Ministry of Education. But he could find no takers to lead the new agency, and ended up reconstituting the original ministry, a major and stunningly quick defeat that left the opposition emboldened, but not placated.

“We are not here about a ministry,” Diaz says bluntly as she sits behind a long bank of computers in the Rio de Janeiro occupation's impressive media and communications nerve center. “We want him out. We don’t recognize him as legitimate. For that reason we won't talk with his government. As far as we are concerned, it is a golpista (coup) government.”

Another Temer miscue was appointing Brazil’s first all-white, all-male cabinet in seventy years, going back even further than the military dictatorship of 1965-1984. The move, in a land that is majority Afro-Brazilian, has angered and energized women and Afro-Brazilians opposed to Temer’s government.  

These missteps seem to be drawing more fire than Temer’s appointment of André Moura as the new leader of the Chamber of Deputies. Moura stands accused not only of corruption but murder as well.  

Temer and the conservative forces have six months to convict Rousseff in a Senate trial, or else she will return to power.The impeachment rests on accusations that Rousseff violated budget laws in her use of gimmickry to hide deficits, a charge that is in dispute. According to Professor Orlando Santos Junior of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, all twenty-six of Brazil’s state governors have used similar budget tricks to hide deficits.

Santos says Rousseff’s Senate conviction is almost—but not quite—certain. Much will depend, he says, on the ongoing reaction from foreign media and foreign governments. On that front, Temer and his allies have taken some solid body blows.  

Venezuela, El Salvador, and Ecuador have all recalled their ambassadors from Brazil, with Salvadoran President Sanchez Ceren likening Rousseff’s removal to a military coup and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro calling it an outright coup. Maduro and former Colombian President Ernesto Samper, now Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations, have denounced Rousseff’s impeachment as unconstitutional and a danger to the entire region. The Organization of American States has called the impeachment a political move.  

The Obama administration, which recently signaled support for the new conservative, pro-austerity government in neighboring Argentina with an Obama visit to that country, has been largely silent on Rousseff’s impeachment.  

Lawrence Reichard

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance writer. He splits his time between Maine and Latin America.

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