Kathryn Hochstetler – Foreign Affairs, 3/22/2015
Earlier this month, the streets of Brazil’s major cities filled with protestors. Timed to the 30-year anniversary of the end of military rule in 1985, the March 15 protests were probably the largest since Brazil became a democracy and were certainly larger than the widely reported demonstrations of June 2013. Yet real numbers are hard to come by. Protests were clearly biggest in the city of São Paulo, but estimates of the size of the crowd gathered there range from 210,000 (Instituto Datafolha, which is linked to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper) to over a million (the state-controlled military police). If the lower estimate is correct, some hundreds of thousands of people came out onto the streets across the country. If the higher estimate is right, the total would be around 1.7 million people.
The size matters; those who marched had a harsh message for President Dilma Rousseff, now ten weeks into her second term of office. Many called for her impeachment, evoking memories of the million or so who, in 1992, successfully marched for the impeachment of President Fernando Collor de Mello. Many commentators, therefore, take the number of protesters as a measure of how long Rousseff has left in office.
Although demands for Rousseff’s impeachment made headlines around the world, however, the real story is Brazil’s economic troubles and its ever-growing corruption scandal. Economic growth has flatlined, and inflation and government deficits are rising quickly. In her first term, Rousseff was unsuccessful in stimulating the economy, and she has few new options left except economic austerity. Ironically, meanwhile, Collor is now not only a senator but also among the 34 sitting congressional representatives just placed under formal investigation and possible indictment for corruption. With 16 others, including the treasurer of Rousseff’s governing Workers’ Party (PT), these representatives are accused of taking part in a kickback scheme that skimmed money from the state-controlled oil company Petrobras and redirected it to Rousseff’s 2010 campaign and the personal fortunes of many participants.