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Brazil Protests

Thousands of protesters gather on Avenida Paulista, São Paulo's financial center, this Saturday, July 3, 2021, for a demonstration against President Jair Bolsonaro. (Photo: Amauri Nehn/Nur Photo via Getty Images)

Calls for Bolsonaro's Impeachment Grow Amid Embezzlement Allegations, Massive Protests

"We absolutely have to get this monster out of power and reclaim Brazil," said one protester in Rio de Janeiro.

Brett Wilkins

Following massive nationwide weekend protests against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his administration's mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, bombshell reporting this week personally implicating the right-wing leader in yet another alleged corruption scheme has heightened calls for his impeachment.

"The Bolsonaro family has always been corrupt, [it] embezzles funds via rachadinha as a hereditary political practice."
—Erika Hilton, São Paulo City Council

In a series of articles for UOL, journalist Juliana Dal Piva details Bolsonaro's alleged supervision of a kickback scheme—known locally as rachadinha, or "ghost employees," who pay part of their salaries to their bosses—during his three decades as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the federal Legislature.

In an audio recording obtained by Dal Piva, bodybuilder Andrea Siqueira Valle, the president's ex-sister-in-law, says that Bolsonaro had her brother André Siqueira Valle fired because he never paid an agreed-upon kickback of R$6,000, or about $1,150 U.S., from each of his paychecks.

"André had a lot of trouble because he never returned the correct money that had to be returned, you know?" she says on the recording. "He had to hand over R$6,000, [but] he returned R$2,000, R$3,000. This went on for a long time until Jair said: 'Enough. You can get rid of him because he never gives me back the correct amount of money.'"

Erika Hilton, a member of the São Paulo City Council representing the Socialist and Freedom Party (PSOL), said that the new scandal "unravels what we all knew."

"The Bolsonaro family has always been corrupt, [it] embezzles funds via rachadinha as a hereditary political practice," Hilton tweeted.

Bolsonaro's eldest son, Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro (Patriota-Rio de Janeiro), has been embroiled in a yearslong graft scandal in which he stands accused of laundering the equivalent of over $150,000 via the cash purchase of an apartment. Another of Bolsonaro's sons, as well as his ex-wife, have also been implicated in salary-splitting schemes.

Members of Bolsonaro's family have also come under fire for alleged links to a paramilitary death squad whose members in 2018 assassinated Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro City Council member who was an outspoken critic of police brutality and extrajudicial murders.

News of the latest Bolsonaro scandal follows Saturday protests that drew at least hundreds of thousands of Brazilians into the streets of cities across the nation and around the world to call for the president's impeachment, and for Covid-19 vaccines and $R600 emergency stimulus payments.

"I'm here because we absolutely have to get this monster out of power and reclaim Brazil," Rio de Janeiro protester Magda Souza told The Guardian.

Another demonstrator, 18-year-old Daniel Melo, told the U.K.-based paper that he was attending the protest in memory of his 86-year-old grandmother, who "went to hospital and never came home" because she died of Covid-19. Melo, who called Bolsonaro "genocidal," claimed that the president "wanted to kill everyone."

Last week, the Brazilian attorney general's office opened an investigation into allegations Bolsonaro ignored warnings of irregularities in Covid-19 vaccine procurement. The Bolsonaro administration has been widely condemned for intentionally stalling coronavirus vaccine deals with Pfizer, as well as allegedly conditioning the purchase of other vaccine doses on kickbacks.

Also last week, a study was published examining the scale of Brazil's Covid-19 crisis. It concluded that 400,000 lives could have been saved had the Bolsonaro administration implemented stronger social distancing rules and began vaccinating people earlier.

Saturday's protests were the third wave of anti-Bolsonaro demonstrations, with more rallies set to take place on July 24. The embattled president is beset by multiple calamities, including mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic—which he called a "little flu," and has now claimed more than 520,000 Brazilian lives—the resignation or firing of numerous government ministers and military chiefs, various environmental crises, and widespread calls from across the political spectrum for his impeachment.

Brazilian lawmakers and civil society groups representing a wide range of political parties and ideologies last week filed a "super-request" for Bolsonaro's impeachment, merging 123 previous petitions to remove the president from office based on 23 alleged crimes.

Arthur Lira (Progressistas-Alagoas), speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and the lawmaker with the power to decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings against Bolsonaro, said Monday that "there is nothing to justify the opening of the impeachment process at this time."

"Brazil cannot become politically unstable with the election of each new president," said Lira—who, along with his father, Sen. Benedito de Lira, also of the right-wing Progressistas party, was caught up in the Car Wash scandal that resulted in the 2016 impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff of the left-wing Workers' Party.

Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers' Party), was jailed for his role in the scandal, in which Rousseff's right-wing successor, Michel Temer, Flavio Bolsonaro, and numerous other Brazilian politicians and business figures were also embroiled.

Bolsonaro officially closed the investigation into Car Wash last October, declaring that "there is no more corruption in the government."

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