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Brazilians return to streets to urge Rousseff’s ouster

Tens of thousands of protesters returned to the streets of cities across Brazil on Sunday to express their ire against President Dilma Rousseff, reflecting a low ebb for her as she grapples with a colossal bribery scandal and a declining economy.

Still, the protests in some cities seemed to lack some of the urgency of huge demonstrations this year calling for the ouster of Ms. Rousseff, a leftist who won re-election just 10 months ago, suggesting tension may be easing somewhat on the president as congressional and business leaders try to prevent a political crisis from intensifying.

The protest in Rio de Janeiro had something of a Carnivalesque feel to it; some demonstrators wore bathing suits as they marched through the Copacabana district as trucks blared samba. But vitriol also marked the event, with some urging the president to kill herself or calling on the military to take power.


Demonstrators protest against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the ruling Workers Party in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Miguel Schincariol | AFP | Getty Images
Demonstrators protest against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the ruling Workers Party in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"A military intervention may be illegal, but the people have to mobilize to make it legal," said Rosangela Almeida, 53, an accountant, arguing that action must be taken to prevent Brazil from suffering the economic disarray of neighboring Venezuela. Decades of dictatorship in Brazil left a legacy of hyperinflation and human rights abuses, and political analysts consider the chances of the armed forces returning to power through a coup to be negligible. Still, rising polarization is feeding fears that political infighting could prolong an economic slump.

Eying the potential for upheaval if Ms. Rousseff is forced to step down, business leaders have been pressuring political leaders to prevent the crisis from worsening. In a notable move, the newspaper O Globo said in an editorial that maneuvering against Ms. Rousseff in Congress had gone too far.

The head of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, expressed opposition last week to impeaching Ms. Rousseff, while seeking to advance measures to restore confidence in the economy. The possibility that Ms. Rousseff could draw greater support in the Senate bolstered hopes that she could fend off momentum for her impeachment in the lower house.

Still, some observers warn that the political crisis remains in flux. Prosecutors are expected to make more revelations in the bribery scandal involving Petrobras, the government-controlled oil company. The economy is expected to shrink both this year and next. And Ms. Rousseff's approval ratings remain mired in the single digits.


"Conciliation is advancing, but it's still based on a precarious equilibrium," said Bernardo Mello Franco, a columnist for the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

Ms. Rousseff insists she will not resign, even as her opponents hold her responsible for the scandal at Petrobras because the bribery scheme flourished while she was chairwoman of the company's board, before her election in 2010. She also faces legal challenges over whether her campaign received illicit contributions and if her government improperly used money from state banks to cover budget shortfalls.

"There is a process of intolerance in Brazil unseen except in moments of the past when democracy was ruptured," Ms. Rousseff said last week in a televised interview. "The culture of the coup still exists, but I don't think the conditions are there for it to occur."

Many protesters throughout Brazil on Sunday said they were prepared to deal with the consequences of ousting her. "Impeachment would be momentarily destabilizing, but it's allowed in the Constitution, and it needs to happen," said Pedro Lopes Siqueira, 35, a public servant in Rio de Janeiro's judiciary.

Others, however, are not so sanguine. Cássia Regina Dias, 42, who earns a living making sweets, said she wanted Ms. Rousseff removed from power, but expressed dismay about the jockeying for power as the president's influence declines. "No party will be the savior after such damage," Ms. Dias said.