World·CBC IN BRAZIL

Duelling demonstrations debate fate of president enmeshed in scandal

Allow Brazil's political game to continue or start a new one? In Rio de Janeiro, demonstrators watch the manoeuvring, which could decide the fates of the president and her predecessor, and argue both sides.

Anti-Rousseff protesters far outnumber supporters as corruption preoccupies nation

Duelling demonstrations debate fate of President Dilma Rousseff, caught up in a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal 2:18

Every night they meet in front of Post 5 on Rio de Janeiro's famous Copacabana beach. Every night they blow their whistles and shout, "Impeach the president!"

Every so often, they're joined by Alex Oliveira. But on this night, instead of demonstrating, he's watching the two-hour television news program.

"There are days when we have one hour and a half only talking about corruption," Oliveira says. "This is a political crisis with an economic crisis. Both things together is awful for any country."

The country is in turmoil. More than a million Brazilians lost their jobs last year, some due to a scandal involving the state oil company Petrobras. Many officials and politicians have been swept up in a multibillion-dollar corruption probe, most notably President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

As if Brazil needed more problems, it has to deal with an outbreak of the Zika virus, which has been linked to reports of birth defects.

Alex Oliveira says corruption has brought Brazil to a standstill that is hurting the middle class. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Oliveira is an entrepreneur who says he never voted for the ruling left-wing national government.

"They decided  to make only social programs to the poorest people, and Brazil is suffering right now," he says.

"The country is completely stopped. Nobody is doing anything."

In many ways, says political scientist Geraldo Monteiro, Oliveira  is a typical anti-government protester.

"There has been at least one or two surveys made on people who protest in Brazil, from 2013 to today," Monteiro says. "They're mostly middle-class people, people that have university degrees, they have revenue that is above the mean in the Brazilian population, so it's the middle-class movement. Clearly, it's not a grassroots movement."

One street down, a man about the same age is also monitoring the news. Gustavo Bezerra is a teacher who feels Rousseff has been unfairly smeared.

"We've elected a president for a four-year term," Bezerra says. "It shouldn't have to end before if she hasn't been accused of anything concrete."

 In many ways, Monteiro says, Bezerra is a typical pro-government demonstrator. 

"The people that are demonstrating in favour of the government are mostly linked to trade unions, social movements, ethnic movements, and so on," he says.
Teacher Gustavo Bezerra reads about the latest Brazilian government scandal. He says even though the government is weak, there's no reason to remove President Dilma Rousseff before the end of her term. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Bezerra believes the anti-government protesters are elites who don't represent the average Brazilian. It's symbolic, but relevant, he says, that while his allies rally downtown, his political enemies protest on the beach.

"It's not representative of the places where political change happens in Brazil," Bezerra says.

He acknowledges the government is weak. But new elections now, he says, would just be a bloodless coup.

"It's weird to say, because when you say coup, we usually think of tanks on the streets," he says.

Bezerra says, "Let the game play out."

According to Oliveira: "We need to play the game again."

Monteiro believes all the energy is with the anti-government protesters.

"There is a huge mobilization of the middle class that never had such kind of demonstration," Monteiro says.
Political scientist Geraldo Monteiro says the government won't last more than another 40 days. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"Certainly the different size of the protests, of the demonstrations, is representative of the state of the public opinion in Brazil, because most national surveys show clearly that … some 70 per cent of Brazilians disapprove of the current government."

And with the ruling party losing allies by the week, the coalition government could fall within days.

"I think that it's very hard for the government to recover now because they are in the middle of a vortex … a downward spiral," Monteiro says. "The country cannot wait more than 30 or 40 days for this solution of the crisis, whatever would be that solution."

The solution, say the protesters at Post 5, is obvious: impeach the president. But not everyone agrees.

On the beach, late-night soccer players ask the protesters to stop making so much noise. A few of them support the government. But most want the whistles to stop because they interfere with their game.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff greets supporters Wednesday at the Presidential Palace in Brasilia. (Associated Press)

About the Author

Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.

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