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'Protesters no longer identify with Rousseff’s party'

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2013-06-21

Middle-class Brazilian protesters have been voicing their anger at the rising cost of living in Brazil. But there is also disappointment with President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, which is accused of doing nothing to fight corruption.

In the 1980s, the Workers’ Party was behind the biggest street protests in Brazil.

But today, President Dilma Rousseff’s party is a target of the social movement that has been sweeping the country’s big cities in the form of mass demonstrations over the past ten days or so.

“Even in our heyday, we never were able to get 100,000 people into the street,” admitted the president’s chief of staff, Gilberto Carvalho.

Surprised by the wave of indignation that started on Facebook and ended up in the street, Rousseff was slow to react. “My government is listening to these voices for change. My government is committed to social transformation,” she said on June 18, in the wake of one of the biggest demonstrations, in Sao Paulo. It is normal, Rousseff said, that “citizens are asking for more” since “we are increasing wealth, access to employment, and to education”.

With this moderate and sympathetic speech, the Brazilian president aimed to appease the approximately 250,000 protesters who filled the country’s big cities during the Confederations Cup football tournament a year before Brazil hosts the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Fernando Haddad and Eduardo Paes, the mayors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both of the Workers’ Party, appeared to be making concessions on Thursday, June 20, announcing that they would not pursue the rise in public transport cost that has infuriated protesters.

‘The movement is far from running out of steam’

But will that be enough to satisfy the tens of thousands of middle-class protesters, who are denouncing what they say are the limits of Brazil’s redistributive economic policy? The movement, which has no specific political or union affiliation or any clearly identified leaders, is far from running out of steam, according to Stéphane Witkowski, chairman of the board at Paris’s Institute of Latin American Studies (IHEAL). Indeed, its staying power lies in its diversity. “The concerns differ from one state to another,” he specified. “They go from the cost of living, with the rise in the price of tomatoes, to healthcare issues, education, infrastructure, and widespread corruption.”

According to a survey published on June 19 by the Datafolha Institute, a polling agency in Brazil, corruption is the second reason for protesters’ frustration (38% of those polled), right after the rise in public transportation costs (67%). Numerous scandals affecting lawmakers and ministers alike have broken out in recent years – most notably the trial, in late 2012, of several former Workers’ Party leaders allegedly involved in widespread vote-buying.

‘The Workers’ Party has not kept its promises’

The result has been strong Brazilian distrust of politicians. “The protesters no longer identify with the political class,” Witkowski told FRANCE 24.

In particular, Brazilians deplore the fact that the Workers’ Party has not ended cronyism, added Andrei Netto, a journalist at Brazilian national daily “O Estado de Sao Paulo”. “They’re sick of the political system in which cronyism still reigns supreme,” he said.

The Workers’ Party has, above all, “failed to keep its campaign promise from ten years ago to reform Brazil’s institutions in a significant way”, according to the Brazilian reporter.

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who benefited from the country’s economic development during his time in office, never tackled local corruption, confirmed Charles-Henry Chenut, a corporate lawyer and president of the France-Brazil Commission (a ministerial committee that facilitates business ties between the two countries). “And Dilma Rousseff inherited this disaster,” he said.

For Andrei Netto, the president, currently faced with high inflation and flagging economic growth, must propose ambitious reforms – especially since polls have shown her popularity eroding by eight points one year before the next presidential election.

Luckily for Rousseff, she can probably afford to take a hit; before the protests, her favourability ratings hovered around a very healthy 70%.

 

Date created : 2013-06-20

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