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Brazilians Stage Massive Protests Against President Dilma Rousseff


The largest country in Latin America is at a moment of political crisis. In Brazil, hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets yesterday. They were protesting the leadership of President Dilma Rousseff. She was reelected, albeit, by a razor-thin margin just four months ago and already her presidency is in deep trouble. We're trying to understand why. Here's NPR South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.


LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: These were indeed countrywide protests. In all, there were demonstrations in almost two dozen states in 50 cities, and they were demanding an end to Dilma Rousseff's administration.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Rio de Janeiro, which is a socially and racially mixed city, the thousands of protesters yesterday were definitely whiter and righter. Anna Carolina Leite, like most of the protesters, was wearing the colors of the Brazilian flag. She carried her 4-month-old in her arms.

ANNA CAROLINA LEITE: I want everybody out and start - maybe, I don't know, if the military answer...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You'd like to see the military back.

LEITE: If it - what it, you know, what it takes to have this government out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is, almost needless to say, a controversial position. Brazil went through decades of military dictatorship. Dilma Rousseff herself was tortured and fought to bring democracy back to Brazil. So it was ironic to see the people who want to unseat her using the anthems of the anti-dictatorship movement.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Still, analysts say this isn't only coming from a disgruntled elite. Polls show Rousseff's popularity is at 23 percent. Many say they feel betrayed by her. When she was on the campaign trail she promised to bolster Brazil's social programs, and now she's introducing an austerity package. Joao Luz is a teacher.

JOAO LUZ: The president lies all the time. I'm a teacher and I get the same money as I got four-five years ago.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has really tainted her government and her party is the scandal surrounding the state oil company Petrobras. An ongoing investigation has uncovered a massive kickback scheme that funneled money to Rousseff's workers' party. Brazil, though, is not alone in this period of political and economic turmoil. Leftist governments in Venezuela and Argentina are also facing upheaval. Greg Weeks is a Latin America specialist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He says over a decade ago, the so-called Pink Tide swept across the region, allowing leftist governments to rise to power on a wave of high commodity prices and generous social spending.

GREG WEEKS: The spending was based on a commodity boom that's currently over. They're either going to have to change people's expectations or get voted out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so we may see a period of change across the region again. Back in Brazil, analysts say Rousseff in for a bumpy ride. After a day of massive protests, she handed over the task of addressing the nation to her justice minister. He promised new measures to battle corruption. In neighborhoods across Brazil, this was the response.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's called the panelaco, or the pot banging. It's become a new ritual for people to bang on pots and pans in protest when anyone from Rousseff's administration is speaking on TV. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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