BRAZIL

Brazilians take to the streets to protest corruption

President Michel Temer attempts to hold on to office while pushing through economic reforms

Rio de Janeiro - 05 Dec 2016 - 15:35 UTC

Once again, Brazilians are taking to the streets to protest against their politicians. Sunday saw huge marches in cities throughout the country that are being seen as a warning to politicians not to tamper with the judiciary as it attempts to unravel a vast corruption network centered on state oil company Petrobras.

A demonstrator holds up a cardboard cutout of judge Sergio Moro.
A demonstrator holds up a cardboard cutout of judge Sergio Moro.Marcelo Sayão / EFE

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The protests were not directed specifically at President Michel Temer, who took over after Dilma Rousseff was impeached earlier this year, and whose popularity rating is just 14%, but were instead largely aimed at members of his PMDB party, several of whom are under investigation for corruption. Temer has promised to kickstart Brazil’s ailing economy with a series of reform measures he hopes to push through Congress.

The march in Rio de Janeiro attracted a wide range of protesters, from anti-abortion rights activists to those calling for a military government, along with many chanting the name of Sergio Moro, the judge overseeing the so-called Lava Jato investigation into corruption at Petrobras. Among those alleged to have been involved in a complex web of graft are members of the Workers’ Party, including former President Ignacio Lula da Silva, as well as Temer’s PMDB, and the conservative PP, which has supported both parties in Congress.

More politicians are expected to be named in the Petrobras scandal in the coming weeks

“When I marched last year it wasn’t to replace Dilma with Temer,” said Marcia Bilheiro, a state employee protesting in Rio on Sunday, adding: “This is just replacing one corrupt official with another.” Since taking over six months ago, Temer has seen six members of his Cabinet stand down, most of them over corruption allegations.

In large part, Sunday’s protests were sparked by a vote in Congress in the early hours of Wednesday – while the country was in mourning for the victims of the Chapecoense plane crash in Colombia – that watered down a series of anti-corruption proposals put forward by the Attorney General’s office.

Legislators also took advantage of the vote to try to pass a measure that would allow Congress to limit the powers of judges deemed to have overstepped their authority. “This power over the judiciary already exists. The problem is trying to exercise this control to intimidate judges and prosecutors by using vague concepts,” said Claudio Henrique Viana, a Rio de Janeiro state prosecutor.

The march in Rio de Janeiro attracted a wide range of protesters

The conflict between the judiciary and the government was highlighted when the team of public prosecutors investigating Lava Jato, and that had put forward the anti-corruption proposals, threatened to resign if Temer approved the amendments to them. Renan Calheiros, head of the Senate and an ally of the president then tried to push through a second vote to get the measures approved. The move backfired: not only did senators vote against the measures, Calheiros found himself the target of demonstrators on Sunday who called for him to resign, using the same slogan they had chanted during protests earlier this year for Dilma Rousseff to stand down.

In Sao Paulo, where the biggest protests took place against Rousseff, some 200,000 people marched, according to organizers, although the police put the figure at 15,000. In any event, Brazil’s politicians are worried. In the coming weeks, some 77 executives at construction company Odebrecht involved in the Petrobras scandal are due to give testimony in return for reduced sentences. More names of leading politicians are expected to emerge.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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