Why are Brazilians protesting against President Dilma Rousseff? The impeachment question itself invites a deeper conversation about the conflict between left-wing populist governments and neoliberal right-wing parties in Latin America.
Opinion is divided about whether or not Dilma is a viciously corrupt head of state or the victim of a political witch hunt seeking her demise. Clearly, the hundreds of thousands of Brazilians protesting for the ouster of Rousseff’s government on Sunday lean toward the latter philosophy; and if polls are to be believed, those people now make up the majority.
Nosedive In Support
Dilma’s popularity, while still receiving a thumbs-down majority, has improved within the past few months — something experts attribute to national focus on combating the Zika virus. Rouseff reached a career-low approval rating of 15.9 percent in October, 2015. That number rose to 21.8 percent last month in a poll conducted by MDA. Despite these gains, a slight majority — 55.6 percent — maintain that the guerrilla-turned-president should be impeached, reported Bloomberg.
Some might explain away Dilma’s catastrophic drop in popularity by saying these respondents don’t count her Worker’s Party’s primary adherents — the poor and lower middle class. Yet even among them, the president is seeing a growing call for impeachment. According to recent Datafolha’s numbers, 65 percent of the bottom income bracket disapprove of Rousseff. That’s just 10 percent less than Brazil’s top income bracket, reported Forbes in an article that opened with the assertion that she is the most hated woman in her country.
Poor Economic Outlook
So why all of this uproar over tossing out Dilma? The answer largely centers around an economic outlook that is growing bleaker by the day and corruption scandals that have tapped a wide range of Brazilian politicians. Protests are calling for impeachment of Rousseff because she’s the face of a country plagued by an uncertain future. Standard & Poor’s, Fitch, and Moody’s have all downgraded the nation’s sovereign debt status to junk this year.
Practically every other indicator also bodes poorly for Dilma’s economy. The country’s unemployment rate has hit its highest peak since Rousseff took office, and those who have jobs are combatting runaway inflation and decreasing wage values. Brazil’s GDP, long touted as Latin America’s golden child, will likely shrink by 4 percent this year, reported The Guardian.Protests calling for impeachment seem to be the only thing on the up in the Olympic-host country.
Economic woes aside, nothing is dogging Dilma quite as much as the Petrobras scandal and another case which accuses her of using state banks to lower the deficit while seeking re-election. In the case of the former, not only did the Operação Lava Jato investigation take off just after Rousseff won her second term, but she was also the oil company in question’s chairwoman of the board from 2003 to 2010.
Accusations at the heart of the scandal say that overinflated construction contracts were awarded by Petrobras in order to launder money into the government — at least partially, some argue, to finance Dilma’s presidential campaign. Earlier this month, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president and mentor to Rousseff, was detained for interrogation about his role in the scandal. It’s not just within the president’s close circle either: all across the government, past and present public officials are being prosecuted, reported the New York Times.
Though nothing has been proven against Dilma as of now, protests the size of which took place on Sunday are making it more and more difficult for her to bat off questions about her possible impeachment. Still, Rousseff has remained staunch in her statements that she has done nothing outside of the law and has absolutely no intention of resigning.
The real question now is: Will Brazilian protesters succeed in securing an impeachment for President Dilma Rousseff?
[Image via Eraldo Peres/AP Images]