We wont accept a coup: groups unite to save beleaguered Dilma Rousseff

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As the Brazilian presidents position weakens, an unlikely popular movement is rallying to her side and many of them do not support her party

The song of a bygone struggle against dictatorship echoed through Brazils cities last week as trade unionists, social activists and musicians rallied against what they see as a coup against president Dilma Rousseff.

Geraldo Vandrs 1968 melody Pra no dizer que no falei das Flores (So they cant say I didnt sing about the flowers) harks back to an era of flower power and brutal military rule, but it has been revived in a very modern battle for the political soul of the country.

More than 100,000 demonstrators joined protests in dozens of cities on 31 March, a date chosen to mark the 52nd anniversary of the coup that deposed a democratically elected president and ushered in two decades of military rule.

In Rio de Janeiro, tens of thousands of people packed the Largo da Carioca square in a carnival-esque atmosphere that mixed music and caipirinhas with defiant political rhetoric.

On a stage, a variety of speakers returned again and again to the refrain No vai ter golpe (Theres not going to be a coup), occasionally adding the line: Theres going to be fight.

It was the most significant show of strength to date for the embattled Rousseff, and indicates that regardless of the momentum currently propelling the impeachment movement, neither her supporters nor their allies on the left will accept her removal quietly.

As well as a protest in its own right, the show of people power was also a rehearsal for what is expected to be bigger turnout on 17 April, when Brazils congress is due to began a plenary debate on whether to impeach.

It is not easy to defend an unpopular, impotent leader who has overseen the biggest economic decline in a century, political paralysis and a massive corruption scandal that has implicated many of her allies. Rousseffs approval rating was just 10% in the latest poll. Far larger anti-government rallies have called for her removal.

But many of those who took to the streets on Thursday said they were defending democracy rather than the president. Regardless of Rousseffs faults, they believe she was chosen by the electorate to serve a four-year term that is now threatened by a legally dubious impeachment threat.

Unlike many of the demonstrators, Kimie Shimabukuro, a 32-year-old biologist from So Paulo, didnt wear red the colour of the Workers party partly because she was afraid of violence and partly because she is unconvinced that Rousseff and her party are worth supporting.

She turned out because of her principles. Im against the coup. I think the impeachment will worsen the corruption situation in Brazil, she says.

Her friend, Ushi Arakaki, another Japanese-Brazilian, went further. I hoped for more from the Workers party. But even so, I am opposed to the opportunism of the opposition, which wants to get rid of a president who was elected by popular vote without a legal basis for impeachment. Thats why I consider this a coup.

This is a critical moment, Marcela Abrantes, a 43-year-old teacher, said. There is no proof that Dilma did anything to deserve impeachment. These are just manoeuvres being carried out by congress and the judiciary.

Technically, Rousseff faces impeachment for breaking Brazils law of fiscal responsibility by using funds from state-backed banks to temporarily mask the governments budget deficit ahead of the 2014 election. Although this practice was used by previous administrations, the presidents critics, led by the House Speaker, Eduardo Cunha, say the window-dressing of government accounts is grounds for impeachment. This has infuriated many voters, not least because Cunha is himself accused of the greater crime of taking $5m from a kickback scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras.

Dilma Rousseff is fighting off the oppositions attempt to impeach her. Photograph: Andressa Anholete/AFP/Getty Images

But in the absence of a no-confidence vote, many politicians see impeachment which is within the scope of the constitution as the only way to end a political logjam.

The battle over this issue in congress could easily form the plot of an episode of House of Cards. In the latest twist last week, the possibility of Rousseff failing to complete her term moved much closer with the defection from her ruling coalition of the Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB).

But her fall is by no means a certainty. Although the Workers party has abandoned hope of killing impeachment in committee on 11 April, it is desperately trying to secure the 172 seats needed to stifle the process when it comes to a debate and vote in the 513-member lower chamber, which is expected to run from the 15th to the 17th or 18th of this month. Before then, the pro- and anti-impeachment camps are said to be offering increasingly lucrative incentives to win over the 90-odd deputies of smaller parties who are likely to decide the outcome. According to Ricardo Noblat, a political commentator for the Globo TV network, the government is currently offering 1 million reais (190,000) of public works contracts for each vote against impeachment, and 400,000 reais for each abstention. Whatever the two sides are offering, it is likely to increase the closer the vote comes.

While the impeachment battle and corruption investigation suck up all the political oxygen, the economy continues to choke. Brazils GDP by far the biggest of any nation in Latin America is suffering its biggest contraction in a century. In the past six months, all three of the worlds most influential financial ratings agencies have downgraded Brazils sovereign debt to junk status. The latest piece of grim news was that industrial production fell 11.8% in the first two months of the year. Everybody agrees the current situation is untenable, but how to restore stability is the subject of furious debate. While the opposition put their hopes in impeachment, others want elections, or for Rousseff to soldier on.

The Workers party warns that removing the president would only make matters worse. I think its a mistake to think that the coup would happen without a reaction. Many sectors of society will not accept this and it will bring the country into a process of conflicts, said Paulo Pimenta, a Workers party deputy.

The peculiarity of the situation has created some unlikely bedfellows. On the issue of impeachment, the Landless Workers Movement is on the same side as its arch-enemy, agriculture minister Ktia Abreu one of several PMDB cabinet members who have defied their partys orders to leave the ruling coalition. Impeachment exists in the constitution and by itself is not a coup, but it can become a coup. It is a traumatic process that will scar the nation. We have no right to be imprudent, Abreu said in an interview.

Back among the red-clad protesters on Thursday, Andrea Oliveira, a 30-year old student whose T-shirt was covered in Dilma stickers, said: I am here because I still believe in this government. I am black and I am poor and I have had the opportunity to go to university thanks to the policies of this government.

But while many in the crowd were petistas, as government supporters are known, a significant number said that they had no love for the president. Abrantes the teacher, who voted for the first Workers party president, Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, but never for Rousseff, said she believed the president would survive the impeachment process. If you look at her history, she has survived much worse than this, she said, referring to the three years Rousseff, then the treasurer of a Marxist guerrilla organisation, spent imprisoned during the period of military rule.

Chants of Dilma, Dilma, Dilma failed to find much of an echo, while cries calling for the resignation of the vice-president, Michel Temer, who has been angling to succeed her, proved much more popular.

Maria Machedo, 55, a university lecturer, said she had always supported the Workers party, or PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) as it is known, but was highly critical of the alliances it had made to stay in power. There are over 30 political parties in Brazils congress and until the PTs major ally, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), quit this week, there were ten in the governing coalition alone.

Political reform is this countrys most urgent priority, she said. After food, and peoples other most basic necessities, we need political reform.

Later in the evening, Chico Buarque, a writer and singer who is one of Brazils most respected artists, took to the stage to a rapturous reception.

People who voted for the PT, and people who dont like the PT, he said, it is clear that we are here united in our appreciation of democracy and in our robust defence of democracy.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/03/brazil-beleaguered-rousseff-anthems-protests-fill-streets-impeachment

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